Challenges and opportunities to improve the accessibility of YouTube for people with visual impairments as content creators

Abstract

This position paper proposes technology opportunities for supporting people with visual impairments (PVI) as content creators, rather than just content consumers. While previous studies examined accessibility issues with functions and visual content on various social media platforms, little is known about experiences of PVI beyond just watching visual content. Our recent study revealed that there is a community of video bloggers (vloggers) with visual impairments who actively produce multiple categories of video content on YouTube. From the perspective of those vloggers with visual impairments, we would like to discuss challenges and opportunities to improve the accessibility of video-based social media platforms to support those video creators with visual impairments.

Background

Along with the growth of camera technology, videos have become a trending medium on social media platforms. Facebook added a new section specifically for video content, while YouTube has become the largest video platform with 2 billion logged-in users visiting every month [1]. Instead of text-only description, people share their stories and experiences through videos. However, this increasing popularity of video content might add more accessibility issues for people with visual impairments (PVI) on social media platforms. Although previous studies outlined various implications to support PVI consuming visual content and engaging with activities on social media platforms, further research is necessary to understand the needs and challenges of PVI while creating videos.

Prior research with PVI on social media

Previous studies have examined PVI on the variety of social media platforms. In this section, we illustrate how those studies addressed challenges that PVI faced and implications to support PVI when engaging with social media platforms, such as multimedia (e.g., Facebook), image-based (e.g., Instagram), and video-based (e.g., YouTube) platforms.

PVI on Facebook

Many PVI actively use Facebook functions, such as uploading photographs and interacting with their friends [22]. According to prior work, PVI on Facebook showed distinctive behavioral patterns, preferences, and desire to be connected. For instance, PVI had unique patterns in their language and technology use [22], preference on interface (e.g., mobile interface over desktop version [14, 20]), and desire to be connected to the world and express themselves online (e.g., VI teenagers using Facebook just like their sighted peers [6]). While PVI are engaged with various Facebook functions, many of them still have accessibility issues on Facebook. Particularly, they experienced challenges when they face inaccessible text-embedded images [21], create or modify user profile information [3, 4], identify other users [3, 4], and detect dynamic changes regarding on-site content [10]. Thus, even simple activities on social media platforms (e.g., sign-up, friendship) can be difficult to PVI [5].

Researchers have presented design implications to support PVI on Facebook. They developed automatically generated text for photographs [12, 23] with contextual information [25], a browser extension that restructures Facebook’s regular homepage to an accessible version [8], and an entirely new accessible interface for Facebook [13]. Moreover, Accessibility Bot on Facebook Messenger was developed to support PVI for identifying other users [26]. This Bot recognizes friends of PVI by leveraging Facebook’s high-performance face recognition algorithms and the large set of tagged photographs on Facebook.

Whereas these implications help PVI engage with various Facebook functions, there are still opportunities for technology to support PVI when they experience video content. Following the trend of videos, Facebook introduced the “Story” and “Watch” functions which focus on sharing and watching video content. Less is known about how to address accessibility issues with video-based content.

PVI on Instagram

Although PVI experience several accessibility issues on visual content-based social media platforms (e.g., Instagram), they are eager to engage with its visual-based functions. For instance, Bennett et al. [2] revealed how teenagers with visual impairments actively take photographs with their smartphones and upload them to social media platforms. Based on their findings, the authors presented design considerations, such as the use of filters on photographs to increase visibility, for supporting PVI to easily engage with smartphone photography and social media accessibility. In another study [7], researchers examined audio description on Instagram by comparing two ways of describing images for PVI: text read by a screen reader and audio descriptions recorded by the picture’s own author. The findings of this study revealed that the use of audio description allowed PVI to have better comprehension of images. In particular, audio descriptions recorded by its own author would increase the participation of the PVI on Instagram since it provides a greater personal focus to the content.

While these implications address accessibility issues of images on Instagram, they put less weight on PVI’s experiences with video content on Instagram. In the following section, we introduce prior studies that investigate PVI’s experiences with video content on YouTube.

PVI as content consumers on YouTube

Prior studies demonstrated technical interventions to increase PVI’s accessibility to videos. These implications include video text detection [24], and an enhanced interface for YouTube videos [9]. In addition, Tandon et al. [18] illustrated a model to re-rank YouTube video search results based on the accessibility of the video. While these interventions support PVI’s engagement with YouTube functions, they heavily focus on addressing accessibility issues only when PVI search for and watch videos. The accessibility of PVI on YouTube from the creators’ perspectives was not fully addressed in depth.

Our research with PVI as content creators on YouTube

While the majority of prior studies focused on understanding the community of PVI on text/image-based social media platforms, we investigated the community of PVI on a video-based social media platform by gathering videos produced by PVI on YouTube [15,16,17]. To understand the experience of PVI on YouTube beyond watching videos, we collected and analyzed the videos created by video bloggers (vloggers) with visual impairments on YouTube. We queried the videos from YouTube using combinations of keywords (e.g., “visually impaired” and “vlog (video blog)”). The eligibility criteria for identifying videos were: (1) Video must contain either “blind” or “visually impaired” in its title and/or description and (2) video features only one person. Instead, we excluded commercial, marketing, sponsored, or product review videos that focus more on advertising products or organizations, as well as game plays or animated videos that do not feature the vlogger. We found such commercial videos tended to be created by a professional editor, not by PVI. After eliminating duplicates, we identified a final set of video blogs (i.e., vlogs) produced by individual vloggers with visual impairments (VVI).

The preliminary findings of our study revealed the community where VVI interact with videos and people on YouTube [15, 16]. We identified 56 individual VVI (37 female vloggers) after reviewing 115 filtered vlogs. The vloggers produced 6,178 videos in total (avg: 110.3, std: 160.4). This high standard deviation indicates that there is a large gap between those who produce many videos and those who do not. Also, we identified five distinct categories of vlogs produced by the vloggers that present the characteristics of the vlogs: Daily logs, Awareness, How-To/Guide, Tag vlogs, and QA. In particular, the Awareness category was most popular to viewers, as the median of number of views for Awareness vlogs was the highest. In addition, we found that 29 VVI were connected with each other by their Tag videos. On a Tag video, each video producer asked another vlogger to answer the questions in a certain questionnaire and to recommend other vloggers to repeat asking other vloggers to create such Tag videos. The connected network of the vloggers through Tag videos on social media shows that vlogging activities have the potential to facilitate social and peer support from the vloggers. For instance, the “Visually Impaired People (VIP)” Tag vlogs consist of 10 questions (e.g., What is the best part about being blind or visually impaired?) that help VVI present their vision conditions, share their thoughts or stories about blindness with others, connect to other PVI on YouTube.

From the interview study with 10 VVI, we also found that a major motivation of VVI for uploading videos and interacting with people on YouTube was to use YouTube as an educational tool [17]. While VVI educated other viewers about blindness or visual impairments as vloggers by sharing with other viewers their stories, experiences, and opinions, they also learned how other VVI use accessibility tools in their daily life as viewers. Based on this preliminary findings, we presented design opportunities for technology to support PVI not only watching videos, but also recording, editing, and uploading videos to social media platforms.

Open research challenges for discussion

Overall, our research aims to make video-based social media platforms accessible to PVI. Extending prior studies about the accessibility of social media platforms, our research demonstrated the technology opportunities to support PVI as content creators, rather than just content consumers. We found that PVI create, edit, and upload their videos actively on YouTube. In this process, they faced more accessibility issues than watching videos as an audience. Our preliminary findings revealed the needs of PVI when they interact with videos and other users on YouTube and highlighted the necessity of design implications to support them beyond just watching videos. Thus, we suggest that researchers in the UAIS community discuss directions of accessibility research to address challenges and opportunities to improve the accessibility of video-based social media platforms (e.g., YouTube) for PVI as content creators.

The accessibility issues for PVI on social media platforms are already well noted from prior studies. Morris et al. [11] revealed that the prevalence of images and the popularity of such image-based posts increased the inaccessibility of Twitter for PVI. Moreover, this issue of image prevalence was also identified on other social media platforms [19]. Among multiple challenges PVI faced on a wide range of social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and Instagram, Voykinska et al. [19] articulated the problem of images and photographs without sufficient text description. In addition to the existing accessibility issues associated with images, photographs, and any other types of visual contents on social media platforms, videos might bring another issue for PVI. In particular, little is known about the experiences of PVI on a video-based platform (e.g., YouTube). The findings of our recent work [17] call attention from researchers and designers to consider PVI’s experiences and accessibility issues on a video-based social media platform.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the 2020 Research Fund of the University of Seoul.

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Correspondence to Hyunggu Jung.

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Seo, W., Jung, H. Challenges and opportunities to improve the accessibility of YouTube for people with visual impairments as content creators. Univ Access Inf Soc (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10209-020-00787-8

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Keywords

  • YouTube
  • Vlogger
  • Blind
  • Visual impairments
  • Qualitative study
  • Accessibility