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Something Special: Out and About released

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Phil Buckley Phil Buckley | 11:44 UK time, Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Justin on a web page introducing options

Something Special: the Out and About game

I remember extremely clearly when the first series of Something Special came out in 2005. We accompanied the series with a website, and as the TV show was aimed at children with special needs we made the site as simple and usable as possible.


 

Screenshot of old web page.

 

I liked the site, but didn’t think too much about it until some feedback was sent round following broadcast of the TV show: pages and pages of emails from parents saying how deeply their children had been affected. Some said that that the whole family appreciated the support in learning the signs; some that their children were so happy to see people like themselves on TV; and others their children had started to communicate with them for the first time using the signs from the show. Tears poured down my face. Even thinking about it now, I still feel the pride in working here which I felt then.

This sparked an interest across the department in making our web content as accessible as possible. We have boiled a number of our games down to a format whereby they can be operated with the simplest controls: either just tapping the space bar, or for those who struggle to do this, with a controller (switch) such as a large button, a tube to blow into, or even an infra-red blink detector which plugs into your USB port. Each time you use your device, it is the same as pressing the space bar on your keyboard and you can control the game from there. We have a page on CBeebies containing all our Switch accessible games and further information for parents and carers of special needs children on our Grown Ups site.

For the techies among you, you may be interested to know that we have always chosen Adobe Flash to make our accessible games. Historically Flash was seen as inaccessible due to blind people being unable to use screen reader tools with it; our research and testing showed that special needs schools almost always used Flash due to the quality and simplicity of the interactions it allowed. The question therefore became how to use Flash in an accessible a manner as possible.

With Something Special now reaching its hundredth episode, we have tried to increase the accessibility even further with the ‘out and about’ game released last week.

This includes some extremely simple games - such as Pop the Balloons, and Tumble Faces where you click on Justin’s nose and he makes a funny face - along with more signs to learn and some videos of Justin and Mr Tumble. The site also allows huge amounts of customisation, so that carers can make sure that the site works for all the children they work with.

Our Senior Designer Ian Hamilton will post a blog with more detail about the Something Special website and how we developed it; though I would like to take this opportunity to thank the rest of the team who worked on this too, including Aardman Digital, the agency who produced the game, for all their fantastic work. More information on switch accessibility is available on the recently improved My Web My Way accessibility pages which are designed to help all users get the best from BBC Online as a whole, and the wider web.

Phil Buckley is Product Manager, CBBC and CBeebies

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