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The Story Behind the BBC Mobile Accessibility Guidelines

By Henny Swan.

The BBC has now published a set of draft Mobile Accessibility Standards and Guidelines to the wider web development community, a ground-breaking project which has been in development for a year now [see also – news, earlier in this issue of E-Access Bulletin]. While written primarily for BBC employees and suppliers to use, the corporation’s hope is that they might be useful for any individual or organisation building mobile web content and native apps.

For years, BBC teams have used the BBC Accessibility Guidelines to help them build accessible websites (
http://www.bbc.co.uk/guidelines/futuremedia/accessibility/ ).

These have also proved a useful foundation for our work on mobile accessibility, but we felt we needed something more targeted for mobile and responsive websites and, of course, native applications. Furthermore the BBC Accessibility Guidelines were produced in 2005 when mobile was not as dominant as it is now. They are also geared towards HTML and don’t speak to designers and developers working on native apps.

The same goes for the widely-used Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) published by the international Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium: while much of the WCAG content is suited to the mobile web, and forms the foundation of the BBC guidelines, it didn’t fit what we needed exactly and wasn’t something that native app developers or designers identified with.

Moreover, while various platforms such as Blackberry, Windows Mobile, Nokia, Android and Apple have their own guidelines for accessibility, they tend to focus only on the capabilities of that particular platform. So, for example, where Apple iOS may have an in-depth focus on technical accessibility for its built-in screen-reader, VoiceOver, their guidance may not focus as much on visual accessibility. This means some platform accessibility guidelines are less complete than others or might contain some really useful advice that could work across all platforms. In addition to this, some advice and techniques relating to accessibility are not highlighted as ‘accessibility’ and are buried deep within the documentation that companies publish for developers.

Asking teams to deliver accessible and usable content against this fragmented and unequal backdrop is unrealistic. We had to provide a single resource that was tangible and testable to follow rather than ask teams to follow various different sets of guidance.

From a project management perspective, where a single product might be available as a responsive site, an iOS app and an Android app, it made sense therefore to develop technology-agnostic standards and guidelines with technology specific techniques. Teams working on deploying the same content across devices and platforms therefore work towards a common framework of accessibility support (as far as the platform allows), which in turn helps us maintain a level of consistency across devices.

What we aim to do is not simply make content consistently accessible but to also make it a familiar and enjoyable user experience, whether you are looking at BBC content on your desktop or within an app. What we want to avoid are situations such as the following, described by Leonie Watson, a screen-reader user: “You download a new app, you start using it and it looks really good, and feels really good, then something frays a bit around the edges and then you’re like, ‘Ugh, here we go again!’ You kind of lose a bit of confidence in it.”

There are other new opportunities, too. Thinking beyond the technicalities of making content accessible, there are huge opportunities to create apps that help disabled users access what’s happening around them. We see this already with apps which allow blind users to tag and then “geolocate” shops, so when they walk down a street they know where they are. Or apps where people can tag music or TV shows. As a broadcaster, using mobile devices as companions to TV opens up the opportunity to merge broadcast and web content in new ways, to provide access to information about TV content that is topical, live and highly accessible.

How and where we view TV, listen to radio and consume the news is changing. These are all key mediums for any of us to remain connected. Mobile accessibility is therefore vital to ensure no-one is left behind.

Note: copies of the new guidelines can downloaded below:

Short link:
http://bbc.in/128pjNL

Full link:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/guidelines/futuremedia/accessibility/mobile_access.shtml

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