YouTube TV is meant to be live TV that replaces your cable. You can live stream cable channels like MSNBC, Fox, The CW, ABC, CBS, and others. Using the service, it is possible to watch shows aired on these channels using your mobile device. Reviews of the service are so far positive, but as we know reviewers are notorious for ignoring blatant accessibility issues with new products.
My research started with a call to Google, to see if they could tell me more about the new service and accessibility options. In the past I have had very good luck with both Apple and Microsoft when these questions have come, because both companies have dedicated departments devoted to answering inquiries of this nature.
A woman answered the phone, and I told her I was interested in learning more about the accessibility features of the app—if it would work with 3rd party screen readers on the computer, and if it would work with the built-in screen reader on the iPhone and other iOS products. The conversation quickly turned to, “You can post a question to the support forum.”
When I asked to speak to someone at their accessibility department, or someone who dealt with assistive technology, she said there was no contact information.
I decided to give up and just do some firsthand investigation. Using my power of living in the New York area, I have access to the service on the first day so I signed up for the free first-month trial offer, and played with the program, so you don’t have to!
Using the YouTube TV app on iOS with VoiceOver
A description of the app’s visual layout is necessary for me to explain the overall product. The app has two navigation sections located at the top and bottom of the screen. At the top left corner is the YouTube logo (which is a red square with a white triangle pointing to the right), but this won’t appear to VoiceOver. VoiceOver will always start at a button for casting a show onto another device, which sits directly to the right, then is the search button, and then user account. Along the bottom navigation area, are three tabs. These are read as buttons to VoiceOver. First is Library, Home, and then Live.
Problems start immediately after downloading the app. It takes users through a tutorial intended to orient them. Visually, it’s easy to use. There is a blue bubble that appears either at the top or bottom of the screen and tells about the distinctive features available in-app. You can click Exit Tutorial or Next and the bubble moves to the next thing.
Using VoiceOver, though, this process is frustrating. The screen reader does not immediately start at the tutorial bubble, or indicate where it is in any way. Users just kind of need to use one-finger swiping to move around the screen until they find it. After they read it, and click next, VoiceOver will jump back to the top of the app. Except when it doesn’t, because at least once during the tutorial when the info bubble moves to the top of the screen instead of the bottom, VoiceOver jumps to the Library button on the bottom navigation area. When the tutorial is finished, there is an overlay that appears, saying that the tutorial is finished, but VoiceOver doesn’t automatically move to it. So, users won’t know it is there until they swipe right enough and find it accidentally.
Navigating The App
The navigation of the app takes place primarily in the center of the screen, visually. It is set up in a way that looks like other streaming services. With videos being lumped together into vertically arranged categories, and users can swipe the horizontal carousel of video options within each category.
The app is sketchy to navigate. After the tutorial, I reset my orientation using four-finger double tap to the top of the screen, and started to single-swipe right through the items. The first category new users will find, is read aloud as, “Popular on Live TV Heading”. So far so good. Keep swiping and it might keep you going through the options under that category, or it will jump to the Library button. It also might jump to another category entirely. One time I got bumped to a Sports category. I tried this several times, each time reorienting myself to the top of the page and flicking to the right. Sometimes it skips the first category entirely, or sometimes it reads the first few options—it’s very spotty.
To get beyond Popular on Live TV Now, I used the router so I could use single-finger swipe down to jump headings. This works more consistently, but it still skips. Additionally, there is a button on the side of the category headings that VoiceOver reads as “More Actions Button” if you click on it, you’ll have two choices: don’t show me this for one day, or cancel. If you click cancel, VoiceOver will jump you back to the top of screen so users will need to navigate back to where they were. Which is a problem when there’s only a 50% they’ll make it back through the maze.
The search feature is better still, and if you are going to slug your way through using this thing, use that. Once users find the show they are looking for, navigation improves slightly. They will be able to follow the show at least. But if users want to go through the list of past episodes, VoiceOver might not read the complete list and they’ll find themselves hearing “Library Button” again.
Watching a Video
Opening a video from the Steaming Now category is easy if users can navigate to it. Need only to double tap, and it opens. When you switch your device into landscape mode, and you want to pull up the video controls, you want to tap and swipe around until it says, “Video Controls Heading” and double tap. Swipe right until you get to the video controls. Hilariously, if users have subtitles on at the same time it will try to read those as well, but sadly VoiceOver won’t read them when the video is just playing. So, for anyone who was hoping for Braille access to closed captions, this won’t do it.
There are closed captions on the iOS app, for deaf and hard of hearing users. The television shows I looked at seemed ok, although I couldn’t get the one show from National Geographic to work. They are terrible if you want to use the service for watching videos though. I opened How to Train Your Dragon and the CC was incredibly tiny, and squished at the bottom of the screen. I also watched The Avengers that was being streamed live, and the captions were fine.
For DeafBlind users, this is not a good option for watching videos. You can’t change the CC font style the way you can on Netflix, Xbox, and other services.
For anyone looking for a TV Streaming service on an iOS device that can stream with hearing aids, that does work beautifully. However, that isn’t because of the app per se, but because apple cares about accessibility in their devices.
Should you get this if you hard of hearing, deaf, DeafBlind, or blind?
If you rely solely on screen readers, I really don’t recommend this. Even if you want to bypass the app and use the browser, YouTube TV is incompatible with Edge, Internet Explorer, and Firefox. It only appears to work on Chrome, and chrome is not known for playing nicely in the sand box with screen readers.
If you are deaf or hard of hearing and are looking for something to watch cable TV, it could potentially work. It might be spotty at times with closed captions. I don’t recommend it if you don’t also plan on keeping another streaming service like Hulu or Netflix because you won’t have good access to movies.
For DeafBlind users, I don’t recommend it. Stick to Netflix, and while I cannot personally vouch for it, I have heard that Apple TV is also an excellent product for DeafBlind TV watchers.
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