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BBC iPlayer: Media Player Keyboard Upgrade For Blind Users

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Jonathan Hassell | 18:26 UK time, Thursday, 27 November 2008

Back in August I blogged about the difficulties blind people were having getting the best out of the BBC Media Player because of its lack of screenreader-accessible controls to jump around within a programme and change its volume.

Today I'm delighted to announce that we have launched a new version of our Media Player, which includes the ability for blind users to tab around all of its controls - including the volume and timeline controls - purely using the keyboard.

keyboardhands
(picture by djukami on Flickr)

Both controls use the same pattern for use: tab to the control, select it to enter into it, tab to the volume or location setting (in increments of 10% of the programme length) you desire, and select to jump to it. We've used this 'hierarchical' tabbing approach to minimise the number of tabs you have to do to move around the controls, ensuring that you don't have to tab all the way through the volume or location settings to get to the next control

This facility to tab through BBC iPlayer's controls allows greater access, not only for blind users, but also for anyone with dexterity impairments who can now control each of the BBC Media Player's controls purely using two keys - tab and space/enter - which can be easily mapped onto switches for those who use them.

I'd like to thank the blind and switch users who have helped us in testing the keyboard-accessible Player against different screenreaders, levels of familiarity with those screenreaders, and different switch setups.

I'd also like to thank User Vision who conducted the user testing, and AbilityNet who have been our expert accessibility testing partner in this project, ensuring that the keyboard experience of BBC iPlayer works in the same way across different screenreaders, many of which work with Flash in different ways.

This is the first of two steps we have been working on to make the Media Player as easy to use via the keyboard as we can.

The second step, which Julie Schiller and Liam O'Sullivan from our Accessibility and iPlayer teams are still working on, is to provide an additional set of keyboard shortcuts which will allow keyboard users to control all of the Media Player's functions directly. These shortcuts should allow users to jump around within a programme by time intervals of 1 and 10mins forwards and backwards, on top of the rest of the functionality in the current player.

While it may seem a simple thing to do to add such shortcuts, the work we are currently doing is to ensure that they do not clash with: those key-combinations used by screenreaders for their navigation functionality (which are different for each screenreader); those key-combinations which screenreaders can pass through to Flash; and those key-combinations which browsers use for their shortcuts (which are different for each browser). We are also working to ensure that the shortcuts perform in a predictable way where multiple instances of the Media Player appear on one page (as they often do on News pages).

I hope that blind and switch users will find the new BBC Media Player greatly improves their experience of using audio and video content across BBC Online, and especially the iPlayer.

If you have any comments or suggestions about how the accessibility of the BBC Media Player could be further improved, please do leave a comment. The BBC Audience Accessibility Team would also love to hear your views.

Jonathan Hassell is Head of Audience Experience & Usability, BBC Future Media & Technology

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