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BSL comes to the iPlayer

  • By Paul Crichton
  • 27 Aug 07, 10:28 AM

As you probably know by now, the BBC iPlayer has gone into extended beta testing. Thousands of people are now trying the catch up service, which lets users download TV programmes aired in the last seven days.

As the iPlayer is still in a trial period, new features, enhancements and, yes, bug fixes are appearing all the time. The latest of these developments is the provision of British Sign Language (BSL) content for hearing impaired users. Signed programmes this week include Top Gear and The Secret Life of the Motorway.

If you have ever seen a show broadcast during Sign Zone late at night, then you’ll be familiar with the format. The programme plays in slightly reduced screen real estate, allowing room for a signer to interpret the audio track. No need for staying up all night to watch the Sign Zone any more, then.

The addition of BSL content has received a cautious welcome. On his blog Fintan Ramblings, Fintan, who is hearing impaired, writes that, “Whilst watching it I thought the interpreter was small but watching on the Full Screen is better.” This is a critical point, as understanding BSL depends not just on following hand movements, but on facial expressions and general body language. Fintan added, “I understand it’s at beta stage so I am watching how it develops with interest.”

Navigation still remains an issue for users, however.

Currently, there is no simple way of finding subtitled or BSL content, either through search or by having an access zone, or any other method. Whilst Andrew Strachan, of the BBC’s Future Media and Technology Accessibility Team indicated in a previous Access 2.0 blog that improved search was coming, it is still a cause of frustration in the here and now. As Alison Bryan, a frequent blogger on hearing impaired issues and technology, says on her Noesis blog, “BSL is subject to the same crappy navigation issues as subtitles are. Why make BSL available, and not tell anyone its there?”

So it seems generally that the BBC has a good online BSL product but they're not shouting about it enough. BSL users want to see a 'signed content' link in the navigation all across the site. Speaking to Gareth Ford Williams, Content Producer for Accessibility in New Media, the BBC are aware of this issue and are taking steps to improve search. "We are trying to resolve one issue so that we can introduce search facilities for accessible content. In the future, the iPlayer will also provide filters for more sophisticated searching, as well as logos to highlight acceessible programmes," said Gareth.

Comments   Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 03:27 PM on 03 Sep 2007,
  • E F waters wrote:

There is reason to question the BBC's commitment to access via Iplayer. Virtually no content in the trial is available subtitled and I found this characterisation of a BSL sign language interpreter, which appeared recently in a posting on their message-board entirely unacceptable, but evidently the moderators of their message board find entirely acceptable.

The posting was in the discussion section and headed please let us choose versions without sign language please.

Here is what I read:

'' It is very distracting having an unattractive woman standing in the foreground making faces and waving her hands around constantly during the programme'.

This was clearly inflamatory as the heading to the post showed the person posting knew it was sign language they were describing yet they chose their words carefully to make it sound as unpleasant as possible.

If the people running the trial do not have sufficient awareness to realise such comments are deeply offensive, what hope is there of the trial really taking account of the needs of Deaf people or of other people with disabilities.

  • 2.
  • At 04:31 PM on 29 Sep 2007,
  • P Haggar wrote:

E F Waters makes a fair point, in particular the insulting way the poster commented on the lady signing.

But to force signing on people who aren't used to it/don't need it is about as useful as unsigned/unsubtitled programmes for the Deaf.

Both make us stop watching in about 10 seconds.

With this technology, it is only about capturing and encoding twice instead of once and 2 hyperlinks for each programme - Signed or Unsigned.

Yes slightly more work, but you keep the audience happy.

  • 3.
  • At 08:56 PM on 10 Jan 2008,
  • Oly wrote:

I completely agree.

It is essential the BBC provides subtitles or BSL on every programme. But if should give the viewer an option. I think the iplayer is fantastic and is certainly the future of TV broadcast, but I simply can't watch it due to the distracting person signing on the side of the screen.

The BBC do need to take into account these basic issues and put it right.

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