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BBC iPlayer Radio: Transition From Listen Again For Blind Users

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Jonathan Hassell | 10:46 UK time, Thursday, 7 August 2008

iplayer.gifOn Tuesday, I had the chance to go on the Radio 4 In Touch programme [factsheet] to listen to the views of a blind person who had contacted us to let us know that he, and a number of others, are finding difficulties with the transition from the old Radio Player "Listen Again" service to the new Radio in BBC iPlayer.

I'll summarise here what I said on that programme.

In many ways, this kind of transition difficulty is very understandable and not uncommon on the launch of any new service. Due to the much larger amount of programmes available on BBC iPlayer - from TV as well as radio - navigation in iPlayer works in a different way to Listen Again.

Knowing that this might be a challenge to blind users, we consulted and tested iPlayer with two blind accessibility experts all the way through its creation, so we are confident that the site is accessible by blind people.

However, in response to feedback on the programme, we are working on a help document which will enable blind users to understand how to get the best from BBC iPlayer. I hope to get this onto the iPlayer help site later in the month.

Blind users have also been concerned that they cannot currently jump around within programmes in the way they are used to from Listen Again. This is due to iPlayer's use of a "scrub bar" to enable users to jump to any place within a video clip, in a way which should be familiar users of web streaming video sites such as YouTube.

Unfortunately, the visual way the scrub bar works doesn't make so much sense to blind users, and there are very few examples of sites available which have solved this problem. So we have been working on new ways of making the scrub bar, and the volume control, work well using just the keyboard and speech. We have done a lot of thinking and research with blind people into what the best controls should be. And it does seem that the jump buttons used on Listen Again are among the best solutions available.

We are almost there with our research, and will be including keyboard shortcuts for all of the iPlayer video player's controls (including some form of jump and volume control functionality) by early October.

In the meantime, blind users can still get radio in Real Media (and sometimes Windows Media) formats by using the Text Only version of iPlayer. This, incidentally, uses a much simpler navigation interface than the graphic version - just select the station you want, then the day of the programme, and you can browse through the available programmes in your screenreader's List Links dialogue by pressing P to cycle between all available programmes (each programme's link starts with "Play audio").

This will allow you to select links to play radio programmes in players with transport controls similar to those you may already be familiar with from Listen Again - both will allow you to control the volume, but unfortunately neither yet can manage to rewind or fast-forward streamed clips.

Blind listeners to BBC radio, St Dunstans, May 1st, 1927.

Jonathan Hassell is Head of User Experience & Accessibility, BBC Future Media & Technology.


  • Comment number 1.

    Keyboard shortcuts will be very much welcome even for us non-blind users. Not being able to pause using the space bar is very frustrating! It also means programs that map remote controls to keyboard keys can't be used with iPlayer.

  • Comment number 2.

    Some major catastrophe has occurred to Radio 4's iPlayer / Listen Again and I can find no information about it. For well over 24 hours - I'm writing at 7am, Sunday 10th August - whichever way you try to listen again to a vast number of programmes, up comes the console with the words "Audio Stream is unavailable at this time." The Archers, Today Programme, Now Show, Any Questions? and many, many more are unavailble. Yet there's nothing posted on any site to explain this; no acknowledgment that there's any problem at all. Anyone got any idea what's going on?

  • Comment number 3.

    If you are moderating this blog please can you make sure that the appropriate people know that the Radio player is not working. Thanks.

  • Comment number 4.

    Interesting stuff - do let us know your findings and how you implement them. Presumably you can add keyboard shortcuts to the flash player?

  • Comment number 5.

    The main thing people seem to be looking for is being able to pause using the space bar. Is this something thats going to change? by the looks of it, it would make alot of people very happy.
    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 6.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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