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What is YouTube

YouTube is a popular video sharing website. It contains a variety of user-generated videos including user reviews of products and short original videos. YouTube also has a range of professionally created content including clips from television shows and commercials, movie clips and music videos. Users who visit the YouTube website can view these videos, but only people who have registered with the website can put videos online.

YouTube remains Australia’s most popular video sharing website with approximately 14 million unique Australian visitors per month, as reported by Social Media News Australia, and over a billion users worldwide.

Why try YouTube?

The popularity of YouTube and its clips has made the website a useful entertainment portal, available on a variety of different computer platforms and mobile devices. Sharing favourite videos discovered on YouTube with family and friends has become a popular talking point, and uploading videos to YouTube provides an opportunity to share your own thoughts and ideas. Aside from entertainment, YouTube is also known as a great place to learn how to do things, with guides and tutorials on just about any subject matter.

For people with disabilities, YouTube also provides an opportunity to watch videos on how disability-specific issues have been addressed and can provide an opportunity to share similar ideas with others. Many YouTube videos also feature captions, providing accessibility to the content for people who are Deaf or hearing impaired. The captions can also be translated to a number of other languages.

YouTube features

Here’s a quick tour of the most common YouTube features:

  • Watching videos: you can watch videos posted to YouTube from all over the world.
  • Sharing your videos: you can also share your own video.
  • YouTube videos can be easily shared on other sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

YouTube accessibility issues

Since YouTube was first launched in 2005, the website has been criticised for its lack of accessibility. In particular, the criticism was focused on its challenging interface for keyboard users and its lack of captioned content. While keyboard issues remain to some degree, the captioning issue was addressed by providing playback support for closed captioned video allowing users to upload caption files in Subviewer (.sub) and Subrip (.srt) formats.

While the inclusion of closed captions was a significant step forward in accessibility, it still required users to create their own captions. This issue was also addressed when YouTube announced in March 2010 the creation of an automated caption service. This allows users to upload their videos then submit them to Google for captions to be automatically generated using voice recognition software to be incorporated into the video approximately 24 hours later. While the quality of the captions is often inaccurate to the point of humour, the captions can be easily modified using a free caption editing tool.

While a number of web accessibility issues remain on the website, the ongoing improvements in closed captions and the support for HTML5 video playback has created a number of accessibility improvements. There are also a number of ways to overcome the barriers that remain.

Overcoming YouTube's accessibility issues: tips and tricks

The research conducted by Media Access Australia and feedback from YouTube users have provided a number of accessibility tips for watching YouTube videos, turning on captions and including captions in personal videos.  

Accessible YouTube players

People with a vision or mobility impairment who rely on a keyboard may still find the standard website challenging. Fortunately there are a number of other YouTube portals that have been created that allow you to access the videos using keyboard shortcuts. YouTube alternative viewing portals include:

Using a YouTube app on iOS and Android

The default YouTube apps on both iOS devices such as the iPhone and iPad, and Android devices, have been reported as broadly accessible. These apps may be easier to use than the YouTube website.

Turning on captions when watching videos

If captions are available, they can be toggled on or off by selecting the ‘CC’ button. The button is located just under the bottom-right area of the video.

When watching your chosen captioned video, click the caption button on the player (the red box with two horizontal lines) and select “English” as your option. This provides human-generated captions. The option of “English transcribed” provides machine-generated captions and may be inaccurate.

Requesting auto-captioning for your YouTube video

YouTube has the ability to automatically caption videos that contain English using its own speech recognition software. While the captions may not be entirely accurate, it can save a lot of time and the file that contains the captions can be downloaded for editing.

Creating or editing captions for YouTube videos

If you wish to create captions for your video from scratch, or you would like to edit your existing YouTube captions, there are a number of free tools which can help including the free web-based Amara and YouTube’s own built-in captioning editor.

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