Standard Media Player: accessibility

Senior Accessibility Specialist

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The Standard Media Player (SMP) is at the centre of BBC online delivering audio and video content across all BBC products such as News, Sport, Weather, iPlayer, Radio and live events. It is a responsive player that replaces a variety of legacy players with a goal of delivering great quality playback, consistency and a better user experience across products and devices.

The SMP also acts as a platform on which new features, in the form of plugins, can be added to help users search, discover and save their favourite content as well as customise their audio video experience. You can read more about it in Cathy Bartlett’s blog post.

Masterchef in the SMP showing a plug in for adding programmes to favourites

Making the SMP both accessible and usable for disabled users is core to the player’s success. At the BBC we don’t just aim to comply with our standards and guidelines for accessibility but also consider the needs of disabled users when prioritizing features. We aim to add features that we know add value, improve user experience and ease of use for disabled users and not just able-bodied users. A good example of this was adding Chromecast to iPlayer earlier this year.

Other barriers of access can fall outside of traditional standards and guidelines. By removing legacy players we removed a very significant barrier: inconstancy - not just in terms of what features were offered within players but also levels of accessibility. More effort can now be put into a single unified, accessible player, which in turn frees up resource so we are not just maintaining accessibility but also building on what is already there.

For this initial release of the SMP we focused on three core areas of accessibility: better visual design, better presentation of subtitles and improved support for assistive technologies such as screen readers and voice input software.

Better visual design

Previously buttons would have hover states for mouse users but default to the Flash yellow outline for keyboard only users. Whilst technically accessible this didn't make the player feel very inclusive for sighted non-mouse users. We've now replicated hover states on focus and added visible tooltips, where necessary. In doing this we also reviewed our selected/active states so that if, for example, subtitles are switched on colour alone is not used to indicate selected states but also an underlines. This helps users visually understand what is on and off within the player.

Subtitle active and inactive hover and focus states

One subtle benefit of this is that the SMP inherits the colour of the BBC product it is being viewed in so, for example, on iPlayer pink is used. Using the pink for the underline to indicate ‘on’ helps not just reinforce meaning but also brand.

Better subtitles

One very important aspect of the visual design is the size, colour and positioning of subtitles. A new feature of SMP is the ability to find related content from within the player via a 'More programmes' panel or plugin. The positioning of the 'More programmes’ panel however is on the lower half of the screen just above the player controls where subtitles are traditionally positioned. This is obviously less than ideal as by obscuring subtitles users have no way of knowing if there is dialogue when simultaneously viewing content and exploring what's coming up next.

We commissioned some research with 24 subtitle users in order to understand where users wanted subtitles to be positioned on desktop and tablet (there is no ‘More’ panel on mobile).

Users placed paper cut outs of subtitles where they would like to see them on desktop

As a result of the findings the subtitles now get pushed above the player controls when the controls are open and to the top of the page when the 'More programmes' panel (visible in iPlayer in full screen) is open.

Subtitles positioned at the top of the screen in full screen

We have also implemented different colours for different speakers and plan to do further work around size and positioning based on some of the feedback we have already received.

Support for assistive technologies

We've worked hard to improve screen reader and voice input support where we can. This has included better keyboard accessibility as well as clear alternatives for buttons so screen readers and voice input users can navigate the SMP on desktop, tablet and mobile.

We ensure changes of state - such as Play/Pause, Turn Subtitles on/Turn subtitles off - are communicated audibly just as they are in the visual design via a tooltip and a colour change and underline. We've also followed standard keyboard conventions and communicated this via audible tips for screen reader users so they can get the most out of the player.

The HTML player, which is available on iOS tablets, has been brought in line with the Flash player so that the player sounds and 'feels' the same to the screen reader user as it does on desktop.

While Flash is a great technology we are restricted in the number of screen readers we can support as some screen readers, such as OSX VoiceOver, don't handle Flash at all while others, such as Jaws and NVDA might behave differently to one another. Screen reader behavior can be further complicated by whether they are working in Internet Explorer, Firefox, or when working in page or in full screen. We provide a link from the player to the SMP accessibility FAQ which contains guidance, tips and details about supported software, how to access and possible issues.

The Media player help link becomes visible when focused

We now have Audio Described programmes working on mobile and tablet browsers. This is the first time AD content has been available on iPlayer via anything other than computer. Additional work is also being carried out on on adding AD in to our TV and mobile apps.

You can read more about adding support for screen readers in Dan Oades forthcoming blog post creating an accessible media player in Flash. Here I’d like to touch upon a couple of usability aspects of ensuring the SMP is usable for blind users.

Now that the initial release of the SMP is live we are looking ahead to what we can do to build on it as an accessible audio and video platform. Key areas are:

• continuing to improve subtitle, sign language and audio description delivery across all platforms and devices that can support it including live subtitling,

• continuing improvements for screen reader and for voice input users,

• creation of tools and features to enable fast and efficient discovery of content.

Finally we are considering making the SMP open source. For the BBC, open source software development is an extension of our Public Service remit. By making the Standard Media Player open source audiences would get additional value from work they’ve funded as well as speed up the pace of innovation in a more accessible player that would benefit users beyond the BBC. In a small way we already get invaluable feedback from our disabled users who contact us with questions, comments and feedback. We always review this feedback to make technical improvements and help us assess features that might add value so open sourcing SMP would fit very well with this model.

As the Standard Media player evolves so will the accessibility. Hearing feedback from you and other users is invaluable and really helps us better understand how to make the player more usable so if you have any comments or questions please post them below or email us.

Henny Swan is Senior Accessibility Specialist, BBC Future Media

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