A Note of Thanks to Hulu for Their Accessibility Improvements

Like most people, I enjoy a good TV show now and again, with tremendous emphasis on the “again” part. However, I’ve fallen into the category of people known as non-linear viewers, which means that I don’t watch TV programs as they are being broadcast. Instead, I enjoy using apps or services, either on my iPhone or on our Roku player. Between Amazon Prime and Hulu I have access to a huge library of programs. Perhaps not every show that I want to watch is available to stream at no extra charge (will someone please carry Babylon 5) but I do have access to a large amount of content which I find to be most satisfying.
In particular, Hulu appeals to me because they don’t just offer newer programs. They have a nice catalog of older programs, such as the original Star Trek, the Incredible Hulk, Abbott and Costello and many other classic TV shows. Using the service on my iPhone with VoiceOver proved to be an accessible experience. There are small things Hulu could do to improve the experience but all of the features were always accessible to me. I could browse programs, add them to the queue, play and pause episodes, etc.
A few months ago, an update broke some of the accessibility. Specifically, when browsing by genre I was unable to navigate through a list of available movies. Navigating through a list of TV programs presented no difficulties. However, as soon as I would double-tap the “movies” button VoiceOver would not allow me to hear any of the movies. Swiping to the left or right with one finger gave me no verbal feedback, except for the tabs on the bottom of the screen. Sliding around on the screen caused VoiceOver to beep but still did not read any of the titles.
After contacting Hulu support with the problem on July 10, I immediately received a reply, advising me, with some other suggestions, to remove and then reinstall the app. This was something I really didn’t want to do. I knew exactly where the app was located on my home screen and reinstalling it would likely cause it to land somewhere else. This may not sound like a big deal but I do have 13 pages of apps. However, having been a tech support rep myself I understand the need to have the customer try a variety of options, even if the customer feels they won’t make a difference. I therefore resolved to be a nice and compliant user and did as Hulu advised, removing and then reinstalling the app. It landed on page 4 of my home screen on the bottom right hand corner of the grid of apps and I was determined that this is where it would stay.
I opened the app, double-tapped the “browse” tab, double-tapped Genres, double-tapped “science fiction”, double-tapped movies … and received absolutely no feedback.
I emailed support on July 11 and, shortly thereafter, received a response on July 12 and was told by the support rep that he could not duplicate the problem as he understood it and asked for further clarification. I emailed him back with the steps I was using to attempt to browse through the list of movies and requested that they try duplicating the problem on an iPhone 5C or a 5S. On July 14 I received the following email from Hulu support.

Paul C., Jul 14, 1:52 PM

Hi David,

I wanted to reach out and let you know that, although I was unable to reproduce the issue on our iPod Touch running the same version of the software, we were able to reproduce the issue using an iPhone 5. We have since begun investigating the issue. I notified our developers, and although this doesn’t immediately resolve the issue, we should make some progress pretty soon. Your feedback has been very valuable since this is likely an issue we will not receive many contacts about. Thank you, again.

Thanks,
Paul C.

That was wonderful news. It just goes to show that identifying the specific product you are using could make a huge difference. On July 27 I received the following email.

Daniel P., Jul 27, 11:41 AM:
Hi David,
I appreciate that you took the time to reply back. I would like to inform you that we are still working on the update and it should be out soon.
Thanks for your patience and cooperation. Our developers will email you when the update is available. Have a great week! Thanks,
Daniel P.

On August 4 I received this encouraging note.

Marcel M., Aug 4, 12:06 PM:
Hi There,
We just wanted to again follow-up and make sure everything was “ALLSET” in regard to the issue you were having with your iOS device. As I mentioned, we’re happy to inform you that our developers have pushed a fix with Apple. When you have a chance, please update our Hulu app (v. 4.4.2) in the Apple App Store. This should fix the issue you were encountering. I hope this helps. Please let us know if the issue persists after the update. Thanks,
Marcel M.

Unfortunately, the update did not correct the problem and I sent the following quick reply to Marcel.

Hello, Marcel M.
I am currently running version 4.4.2 of Hulu for iOS and the bug still exists where it is not possible to browse a list of movies by genre, although browsing TV programs is possible. Is there a later update after 4.4.2?.
On August 5, I sent another note to Marcel, giving him step by step instructions on how I was able to duplicate the bug.
On Wednesday, August 25, I was on the train platform waiting for the evening train when I decided to check for app updates on my phone. I was excited to see that Hulu was releasing version 4.5.0. I double-tapped the name of the app to view a list of newly added features and fixes. To my absolute astonishment one of the items said “bug fixes for VoiceOver users.”
Normally, I don’t update my apps until I get home, when I can download them using my Wifi connection, rather than using cellular data. However, I was so curious and excited that I made an exception and updated the app on the spot. It was only 20 megabytes and this hardly made a dent in my 2.5 GB allotment of data, anyway.
The app downloaded and I was then presented with the “open Hulu” button. I did so.
Now we get to the moment of truth. I double-tapped the “browse” tab, doubel-tapped “genres”, double-tapped “science fiction”, double-tapped “movies”, and what came out of my phone was a totally accessible list of science fiction movies, eagerly waiting to be played.
This small bit of advocacy, admittedly, didn’t accomplish anything earth-shattering or that might make a huge, positive difference in the lives of blind consumers. To be honest, I did all of this so that I could enjoy Hulu’s catalog of movies. However, perhaps the correspondence I had with them raised their awareness to the fact that blind people do actually use their app and that we care about enjoying movies. More importantly, perhaps Hulu now knows a bit more about accessibility than they did prior to my correspondence with them. It is very important that all of us engage in advocacy and contact developers of apps and services when things aren’t working the way they are supposed to and to politely alert them of any problems we may be having with their products. If we all engage in this type of advocacy, we just might make some earth-shattering changes which really could have a positive impact on the lives of blind and visually impaired consumers.

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3 thoughts on “A Note of Thanks to Hulu for Their Accessibility Improvements

  1. Hi David,

    I am passing your blog entry on to the iDevices and Real-Eyes lists, and letting everyone know to inspire folks to do the right thing and post their issues with the developers. This is very exciting news about Hulu.

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