fully accessible cross-browser HTML5 media player.
JavaScript HTML CSS
Latest commit 32da8a7 May 19, 2016 @terrill terrill Merge branch 'develop'


Able Player

Able Player is a fully accessible cross-browser media player. It uses the HTML5 <audio> or <video> element for browsers that support them, and (optionally) the JW Player as a fallback for those that don’t.

To see the player in action check our Able Player Examples page.


  • Supports both audio and video.
  • Supports either a single audio track or an entire playlist.
  • A full set of player controls that are keyboard-accessible, properly labeled for screen reader users, and controllable by speech recognition users.
  • Customizable keyboard shortcuts that enable the player to be operated from anywhere on the web page (unless there are multiple instances of the player on a given page; then the player must have focus for keyboard shortcuts to work).
  • High contrast, scalable controls that remain visible in Windows High Contrast mode, plus an easy-to-see focus indicator so keyboard users can easily tell which control currently has focus.
  • Support for closed captions and subtitles in Web Video Timed Text (WebVTT) format, the standard format recommended by the HTML5 specification.
  • Support for chapters, also using WebVTT. Chapters are specific landing points in the video, allowing video content to have structure and be more easily navigated.
  • Support for text-based audio description, also using WebVTT. At designated times, the description text is read aloud by screen readers. Users can optionally set their player to pause when audio description starts in order to avoid conflicts between the description and program audio.
  • Support for audio description as a separate video. When two videos are available (one with description and one without), both can be delivered together using the same player and users can toggle between the versions.
  • Support for adjustable playback rate. Users who need to slow down the video in order to better process and understand its content can do so; and users who need to speed up the video in order to maintain better focus can do so.
  • An interactive transcript feature, built from the WebVTT chapter, caption and description files as the page is loaded. Users can click anywhere in the transcript to start playing the video (or audio) at that point. Keyboard users can also choose to keyboard-enable the transcript, so they can tab through its content one caption at a time and press enter to play the media at the desired point.
  • Automatic text highlighting within the transcript as the media plays. This feature is enabled by default but can be turned off if users find it distracting.
  • Support for playing YouTube videos within the Able Player chrome.
  • Customizable caption display. Users can control the font style, size, and color of caption text; plus background color and transparency; all from the Preferences dialog. They can also choose to position captions below the video instead of the default position (an semi-transparent overlay).
  • Optional seamless integrated support for JW Player as a fallback player for users whose browsers don't support HTML5 media. The fallback player uses the same custom interface and provides a nearly identical experience.
  • Extensive customization. Many of the features described above are controlled by user preferences. This is based on the belief that every user has different needs and there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. This is the heart of universal design.


There are many ways to contribute to Able Player, and we welcome and appreciate your help! Here are some options:

  • If you spot bugs are have feature requests, please submit them to the Issues queue.
  • If you have code to contribute, please note that all development occurs on the develop branch. This is often many commits ahead of the master branch, so please do all development from develop, and submit pull requests there. We particularly appreciate help with any issues in the Issues queue that have been flagged with "help wanted".
  • If you are multilingual, please consider translating Able Player into another language! All labels, prompts, messages, and help text for each language are contained within a single file, contained within the /translations directory.


Able Player has been tested with the following browsers and assistive technologies.

  • Firefox 3.x and higher
  • Internet Explorer 10 and higher without fallback
  • Internet Explorer 8 and 9, dependent on JW Player as fallback.
  • Google Chrome 7.0 and higher
  • Opera 10.63 and higher
  • Safari 5.0 on Mac OS X
  • Safari on IOS 3.2.2 and higher (audio only, video plays in default IOS player)
  • Chrome on Android 4.2 and higher

Note that mobile browsers have limitations (e.g., volume control and autostart are not supported)


Able Player has a few dependencies, but most are either provided with Able Player or available through Google’s hosted libraries. The one exception is the fallback player—see the Fallback section below for details.

  • Able Player uses jQuery. The example code below uses Google’s hosted libraries; no download required.
  • Able Player uses Modernizr to enable styling of HTML5 elements in Internet Explorer 6 through 8. A Modernizr 2.6.2 Custom Build is distributed with Able Player, and is all that Able Player needs.
  • Able Player uses js-cookie to store and retrieve user preferences in cookies. This script is distributed with Able Player. Prior to version 2.3, Able Player used jquery.cookie for this same purpose.


For older browsers that don’t support HTML5 media elements, you need a fallback solution. Able Player was developed to work seamlessly with JW Player, specifically JW Player 6 (successfully tested with versions 6.0 and 6.11). JW Player is free for non-commercial use but is licensed separately and is not distributed with Able Player. After licensing and downloading JW PLayer, copy jwplayer.js, jwplayer.html5.js, and jwplayer.flash.swf into the Able Player /thirdparty directory.

If you choose to use JW Player as your fallback player, users with some older browsers will have a similar experience with Able Player as users with newer browsers.

Note that most browsers in use today support HTML5 media elements. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Chrome since 3.0
  • Firefox since 3.5
  • Safari since 3.1
  • Opera since 10.5
  • Internet Explorer since 9.0 (video was buggy in 9; better in 10)

Note the following limitations in Internet Explorer (IE):

  • IE10 and higher work fine without a fallback player
  • IE9 was the first version of IE to support HTML5 media elements. However, its support for video was buggy so Able Player uses the fallback if it's available
  • IE8 works fine with JW Player as fallback
  • IE6 and 7 are not supported

At some point we may decide that it’s reasonable to stop supporting a fallback player. However, according to WebAIM’s 2014 Screen Reader User Survey 19.8% of screen reader users are still using Internet Explorer 8, 7, or 6. Until these users catch up, we think we have to provide a working fallback.

As an alternative fallback, you could link to the media file so users can download it and play it on their player of choice, and/or provide a transcript.

Setup Step 1: Use HTML5 Doctype

Able Player is built on the HTML5 media elements, so at the top of your web page be sure you have the HTML5 doctype:

<!DOCTYPE html>

Setup Step 2: Add JavaScript and CSS

Copy and paste the following code into your web page. This code applies to all use cases, both audio and video.

<!-- Dependencies -->
<script src="thirdparty/modernizr.custom.js"></script>
<script src="//ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/jquery/1.8.2/jquery.min.js"></script>
<script src="thirdparty/js.cookie.js"></script>

<!-- CSS --> 
<link rel="stylesheet" href="build/ableplayer.min.css" type="text/css"/>

<!-- JavaScript -->
<script src="build/ableplayer.min.js"></script>

Setup Step 3: Add HTML

Add an HTML5 <audio> or <video> element to your web page, as follows.


Copy and paste the following code into your web page, replacing the source files with the path to your own media files. Use both OGG and MP3 to ensure cross-browser compatibility, since some browsers don’t support MP3.

<audio id="audio1" data-able-player preload="auto">
  <source type="audio/ogg" src="path_to_audio_file.ogg"/>
  <source type="audio/mpeg" src="path_to_audio_file.mp3"/>


Copy and paste the following code into your web page, replacing the source files with the path to your own media files. Use both WebM and MP4 to ensure cross-browser compatibility, since some browsers don’t support MP4.

<video id="video1" data-able-player preload="auto" width="480" height="360" poster="path_to_image.jpg">
  <source type="video/webm" src="path_to_video.webm" data-desc-src="path_to_described_video.webm"/>
  <source type="video/mp4" src="path_to_video.mp4" data-desc-src="path_to_described_video.mp4"/>
  <track kind="captions" src="path_to_captions.vtt"/>
  <track kind="descriptions" src="path_to_descriptions.vtt"/>

Supported Attributes

The following attributes are supported on both the <audio> and <video> elements:

Required Attributes

  • id - required; any unique ID
  • data-able-player - required

Optional; General-Purpose

  • data-debug - optional; if present will write messages to the developer console
  • autoplay - optional; play media automatically when page loads. For accessibility reasons, this is not recommended unless user is sure to expect media to automatically start. For example, autoplay could reasonably be used in conjunction with data-start-time in a media search application.
  • preload - optional; tells the browser how much media to download when the page loads. If the media is the central focus of the web page, use preload="auto", which instructs the browser to download as much of the media as possible. If the media is not a central focus, downloading the entire media resource can consume valuable bandwidth, so preload="metadata" would be a better option.
  • width - width of the media player in pixels. For video, this value should reflect the target width of the media itself. If not provided will default to 480.
  • data-root-path - define path to root directory of Able Player; generally not required but may be needed in rare instances where Able Player is unable to identify its current path on the web server
  • data-icon-type - optional; "font" or "image"; "font" is the default with automatic fallback to image if browsers don't support icon fonts. Should generally leave as is unless testing the fallback.
  • data-speed-icons - optional; "arrows" (default) or "animals". The latter will substitute a turtle icon for slower and a rabbit icon for faster.
  • data-start-time - optional; time at which you want the audio to start playing (in seconds)
  • data-volume - optional; set the default volume (0 to 10; default is 7 to avoid overpowering screen reader audio)
  • data-seek-interval - optional; interval (in seconds) of forward and rewind buttons. By default, seek interval is intelligently calculated based on duration of the media.
  • data-show-now-playing - optional; "true" or "false" to include "Selected track" section within player; only applies when a playlist is present


  • data-lang - optional; specify language of the player using 2-character language code (default is "en" for English)
  • data-force-lang - optional; include this option to force the player to use the value of data-lang as the player language. Otherwise, the player language will be set as follows, in order of precedence: 1) the language of the web page or user's web browser if either is known and if there is a matching translation file; 2) the value of data-lang if provided; 3) English.


  • data-captions-position - optional; specify default position of captions relative to the video (either "below" or "overlay"; "below" is the default if not specified). Users can override this setting in Captions Preferences.


Able Player can automatically generate an accessible interactive transcript from the chapters, captions, and descriptions tracks. There are three types of interactive transcripts supported:

  • "external" - Automatically generated, written to an external div (requires data-transcript-div)
  • "popup" - Automatically generated, written to a draggable, resizable popup window that can be toggled on/off with a button on the controller
  • "manual" - A manually coded external transcript (requires data-transcript-src)

The following attributes control which of the above types, if any, are generated:

  • data-transcript-div - optional; id of an external div in which to display an interactive transcript.
  • data-transcript-src - optional; id of an external div that contains a pre-existing manually coded transcript. Able Player will parse this transcript and interact with it during playback.
  • data-include-transcript - optional; set to "false" to exclude transcript button from controller.

If none of the above attributes are present, the transcript will be displayed in a draggable, resizable popup that can be toggled on/off using a button on the controller. Note that a toggle button is added to the controller only if the transcript is a "popup" type; there is no toggle button for either the "external" or "manual" transcript types.

Additional transcript-related attributes include:

  • data-use-Transcript-button - optional; set to "false" to exclude transcript button from controller. If using the data-transcript-div attribute to write the transcript to an external container, you might not want users to be able to toggle the transcript off.
  • data-transcript-title - optional; override default transcript title (default is "Transcript", or "Lyrics" if the data-lyrics-mode attribute is present)
  • data-lyrics-mode - optional; forces a line break between and within captions in the transcript

To manually code the transcript, one simple strategy is to first allow Able Player to automatically generate a transcript. Then copy and paste its content as a starting point. To manually code a transcript from scratch, use the following markup (see Video Demo #7 for an example):

  • Wrap the entire transcript in a container with class="able-transcript", and wrap that in another container with class="able-transcript-area".
  • Add an empty <div> just inside the outer container with class="able-window-toolbar".
  • Wrap all audio description in a <div> element with class="able-transcript-desc".
  • Add a <span> element to the start of each audio description block, with class="able-hidden" and text "Description:". This helps screen reader users to distinguish between caption and description text.
  • Wrap each block of caption text in a <div> element with class="able-transcript-block".
  • Wrap each clickable segment of content in a <span> element, with class="able-transcript-seekpoint", plus data-start and data-end attributes. The values of these two data attributes are the video start and end times expressed in seconds (decimals points are allowed).
  • If the clickable span is caption text, also add the "able-transcript-caption" class.
  • Wrap unspoken content such as names of speakers or descriptions of sound in a <span> element with class="able-unspoken".
  • Use any other markup desired to add structure and style to your transcript. Able Player will ignore it.


  • data-chapters-div - optional; id of an external div in which to display a list of chapters. The list of chapters is generated automatically if a chapters track is available in a WebVTT file. If this attribute is not provided and chapter are available, chapters will be displayed in a popup menu triggered by the Chapters button.
  • data-use-chapters-button - optional; set to "false" to exclude chapters button from controller. If using the data-chapters-div attribute to write the chapters to an external container, you might not want users to be able to toggle the chapters off.
  • data-chapters-title - optional; override default chapters title (default is "Chapters"). A null value (data-chapters-title="") eliminates the title altogether.
  • data-chapters-default - optional; identify ID of default chapter (must correspond with the text or value immediately above the timestamp in your chapter's WebVTT file). If this attribute is present, the media will be advanced to this start time. Otherwise it will start at the beginning. (See also data-start-time).
  • data-seekbar-scope - optional; default is "video" (seekbar represents full duration of video); if set to "chapter" seekbar represents the duration of the current chapter only


Metadata is added using the <track> element with kind="metadata". It must be in Web Video Text Tracks format (WebVTT). Able Player supports two types of metadata:

  1. "text" - The WebVTT file contains text, intended to be written to an external container at the designated times. You must provide the external container; Able Player does not generate that automatically.

  2. "selector" - The WebVTT file contains jQuery selectors which target hidden content that is already present on the web page. At the designated times, the hidden content referenced by the jQuery selectors is made visible. In addition to selectors, the WebVTT file can contain either of the following keywords, each on a line by itself:

  • PAUSE instructs Able Player to pause the video at that point.
  • FOCUS: followed by a jQuery selector, places keyboard focus on the designated element, which should have a tabindex attribute with a value of either "0" (element is part of the regular tab order) or "-1" (element is not part of the regular tab order, but can receive focus in this context via JavasScript).

This combination of exposing new content, pausing the video, and placing keyboard focus on a newly exposed element, can be used to provide supplemental content including clickable "hot spots" overlaid on the video.

The following attributes make all this possible:

  • data-meta-type - required for metadata; indicates the type of metadata contained within a metadata track. Supported values as described above are "text" and "selector".
  • data-meta-div - required for "text" metadata; id of an external div in which to display the text.


  • data-search - optional; search terms to search for within the caption tracks, separated by a space
  • data-search-div - optional; id of external container in which to display search results

Fallback Player

  • data-fallback - optional; specify a fallback player. Currently the only supported option is "jw" (JW Player)
  • data-test-fallback - optional; force browser to user fallback player (recommended for testing only)
  • data-fallback-path - optional; override default path to directory in which the fallback player files are stored

The following attributes are supported on the <video> element only:

  • data-allow-fullscreen - optional; if set to "false" the player will not include a fullscreen button
  • data-youtube-id - optional; 11-character YouTube ID, to play the YouTube video using Able Player.
  • data-youtube-desc-id - optional; 11-character YouTube ID of the described version of a video. See the section below on YouTube Support for additional information.
  • height - height of the video in pixels. If not provided will default to 360.
  • poster - path to an image file. Will be displayed in the player until the video is played.

The following additional features are supported by Able Player:

Multiple source files

As with audio, we recommend including two versions of each video, one in H.264 (MP4) and another in WebM or OGG for browsers that don’t support MP4. Browsers will play the first media source that they support.

Closed Captions

Captions are added using the <track> element with kind="captions". Captions must be in Web Video Text Tracks format (WebVTT). WebVTT tags within captions are currently ignored.

NOTE: Able Player only supports valid WebVTT files. Be sure to validate your WebVTT using a WebVTT Validator.

If captions are provided, a CC button will be added to the Able Player controller.

Audio Description

Supplemental description of key visual content for blind users can be added using one of two methods.

The first method is the same as closed captions, a <track> element, with kind="descriptions". This points to a WebVTT file, which is essentially the same as a closed caption file, but its contents are description text rather than captions. With this method, description text is written to a container that has ARIA role="alert". Supporting screen readers automatically announce the new text as soon as it is written to the page.

The second method is to produce a separate video with description mixed in. If multiple video sources are already provided (e.g., an MP4 and WebM file), then the described version must be available in both of these formats. For each video source that has a described version available, add a data-desc-src attribute to the <source> element for that video. The value of this attribute is a path pointing to the described version of the video. With this method, the described version of the video can be played instead of the non-described version, and the two versions can be swapped with clicking the "D" button on the controller.

If descriptions are available using either of the above methods, a Description toggle button appears on the controller (represented by the universal Description symbol, the letter "D"). How descriptions are ultimately delivered depends on which of the above methods is used, and on user preference. If a user prefers text-based description announced by their screen reader, that’s what they’ll get. If they prefer an alternate video with description mixed in, that’s what they’ll get. See the section below on User Preferences for additional information about preferences.

In some applications, text-based descriptions might be a required part of the interface (e.g., if video pauses so users can interact with HTML overlays; text-based description could be used in this context to provide additional instructions for screen reader users). In such cases the Descriptions button can be eliminated from the controller with data-use-descriptions-button="false".

Sign language

Sign language translation is supported in a separate video player, synchronized with the main player. Tips for filming a sign language interpreter are available from Signing Books for the Deaf:

If multiple video sources are already provided (e.g., an MP4 and WebM file), then the sign language video must be available in both of these formats. For each video source that has a sign language version available, add a data-sign-src attribute to the <source> element for that video. The value of this attribute is a path pointing to the sign language version of the video. If a sign language version is available, a sign language button will be added to the media controller. This button will toggle the display of a secondary window in which the sign language video will appear.

This is an experimental feature and a work in progress. Ultimately the intent is for the user to have full control of the size and position of the sign language video.

Setup Step 4: Review User-Defined Variables in ableplayer.js

The JavaScript file initialize.js includes a block of user-defined variables that can be modified from their default settings, such as volume, color of controller buttons, seek interval for rewind and forward buttons, and others. Explanations of each variable are provided in the comments.

If you make changes to this or any other JavaScript script files,
the player will need to be recompiled before your changes will take effect. To do so, run the shell script compile.sh.


An Able Player playlist is an HTML list of tracks. The list can be either ordered (<ol>) or unordered (<ul>). The following attributes are supported on the list element:

  • class - required; must be able-playlist
  • data-player - required; must reference the ID of the media player in which the playlist should be played.
  • data-embedded - optional; add this attribute if you want your playlist to be embedded into the media player. If this attribute is omitted, the playlist will be external to the player and will appear wherever you place it on the web page.

Within the playlist, each list item must include data-* attributes where * is the media type and the value of the attribute is the URL pointing to the media file of that type. For example, the following audio playlist includes three songs, each of which is available in MP3 and OGG:

<ul class="able-playlist" data-player="audio1" data-embedded>
  <li data-mp3="song1.mp3" data-ogg="song1.ogg">My First Song</li>
  <li data-mp3="song2.mp3" data-ogg="song2.ogg">My Second Song</li>
  <li data-mp3="song3.mp3" data-ogg="song3.ogg">My Third Song</li>

Supported data-* audio types:

  • mp3
  • ogg or oga
  • wav

Supported data-* video types:

  • mp4
  • webm or webmv
  • ogg or ogv

When a playlist is included on a page, the <source> elements within the <audio> or <video> tags are optional. If they are provided, they should match the first item in the playlist.

Interactive Transcript

Able Player interactive transcripts are generated automatically from WebVTT caption and description files. If a transcript is available, a Transcript button will be added to the Able Player controller.

Features of the interactive transcript include the following:

  • Clicking anywhere in the transcript starts playing the media at that point.
  • This same functionality is accessible to keyboard users, who can tab through the transcript and press Enter at any point to start playing the media at that point. Since this creates a lot of extra tab stops on the page, this might be undesirable functionality for some keyboard users so it’s disabled by default. It can be toggled on/off in the Preferences dialog.
  • Text in the transcript is highlighted as the media plays. This can be toggled on/off in the Preferences dialog.
  • If subtitles are available, the transcript can be displayed in any supported language. Available languages can be selected from a dropdown select field.

YouTube Support

To play a YouTube video in Able Player, simply include a data-youtube-id attribute on the <video> element. The value of this attribute must be the video's 11-character YouTube ID.

If a described version of the video is available on YouTube, include a data-youtube-desc-id attribute on the <video> element. The value of this attribute must be the 11-character YouTube ID of the described version. If users turn on the Description button on their player controller, the described version of the video will be loaded instead of the non-described version.

Starting with 2.3.1, a YouTube Data API key is required for playing YouTube videos in Able Player.
Get a YouTube Data API key by registering your application at the Google Developer Console. For complete instructions, see Google's Getting Started page. Note: All that's needed for playing YouTube videos in Able Player is a simple API key, not OAuth 2.0.

After obtaining your YouTube Data API Key, insert the following code into your HTML page:

  var youTubeDataAPIKey = "paste your API key here";    
  var googleApiReady = false;
  function initGoogleClientApi() {    
    googleApiReady = true;
<script src="http://apis.google.com/js/client.js?onload=initGoogleClientApi"></script>

If captions or subtitles are available on the YouTube video, these will be displayed for all users,
and can be controlled using Able Player's CC button. Alternatively, if you include your own <track kind="captions"> elements, these will be used instead of the captions on YouTube.

The advantage of managing captions entirely on YouTube is that you only have to manage them in one place, and they're available everywhere your YouTube video is played.

The advantages of including captions locally in <track> elements include:

  • Able Player can repurpose the captions into an interactive transcript
  • The captions are searchable using the data-search attribute
  • Users can control how the captions are displayed (e.g., color, background color, opacity)

Adjustable playback rate is available for some videos.

MIME Types

If your media doesn’t play, one possibility is that your web server is attempting to serve up the media with the incorrect MIME type. On Apache, this can be correct by adding the following commands to the .htaccess file:

# Audio MIME Types
AddType audio/mpeg mp3
AddType audio/mp4 mp4 
AddType audio/mp4 mpa
AddType audio/ogg ogg
AddType audio/ogg oga
AddType audio/wav wav 

# Video MIME Types
AddType video/mp4 mp4
AddType video/ogg ogv
AddType video/webm webm

If you don’t have access to your server’s .htaccess file, you should be able to view and add MIME types somewhere within your server’s control panel.

If your site is running on a Windows server, consult the documentation from Microsoft. For example:

Keyboard Shortcuts

Able Player includes several keyboard shortcuts that enable users to control the player from anywhere on the web page, as follows:

  • p or spacebar = Play/Pause
  • s = Stop
  • r = Rewind
  • f = Forward
  • c = Captions
  • d = Description
  • m = Mute on/off
  • v or 1-9 = Volume
  • e = Preferences

Note that modifier keys (Alt, Control, and Shift) can be assigned by clicking the Preferences button on the player. If users find that shortcut keys aren’t working as advertised, they might have better success by selecting different combinations of modifier keys to accompany the default shortcut keys.

By default, keyboard shortcuts must be accompanied by Alt + Control.

User Preferences

One of Able Player’s accessibility features is that the player is highly customizable by users. The controller includes a Preferences button that allows users to change default preferences and settings. Their changes are stored in a browser cookie and in most cases should therefore be preserved the next time they visit the site. Specifically, users can control the following:

  • Modifier keys: Add Alt, Ctrl, or Shift to the Able Player keyboard shortcuts to avoid conflicts with other applications.
  • Closed captions on by default
  • Description on by default
  • Use text-based description if available.
  • Automatically pause video when text-based description starts
  • If using text-based description, make it visible
  • Transcript on by default
  • Highlight transcript as video plays
  • Keyboard-enable transcript

Building the Able Player source

The source JavaScript files for Able Player are in the /scripts directory, and the source CSS files are in the /styles directory. These source files are ultimately combined into several different files (in the /build directory) using npm and Grunt:

npm install

The npm and Grunt build process is defined by the Gruntfile.js and package.json files. (Note that the version number is specified in package.json, and must be updated when a new version is released).

Files created by the build process are put into the /build directory:

  • build/ableplayer.js - the default build of ableplayer.js
  • build/ableplayer.dist.js - a build of ableplayer.js without console logging
  • build/ableplayer.min.js - a minified version of the dist file
  • build/ableplayer.min.css - a minified combined version of all Able Player CSS files


  • Able Player development is supported in part by the AccessComputing project at the University of Washington, with financial support from the National Science Foundation (grants #CNS-0540615, CNS-0837508, and CNS-1042260).
  • Additional support has been provided by the
    Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC).
  • Turtle and rabbit icons (available as optional alternatives for the speed buttons) are provided courtesy of Icons8.
  • Sample video tracks are provided courtesy of The DO-IT Center at the University of Washington. Additional videos are available on the DO-IT Video website, which uses Able Player.
  • Sample audio tracks are provided courtesy of Terrill Thompson from his album Flavors, by Flow Theory.