Main content

Draft BBC Mobile Accessibility Standards and Guidelines

Henny Swan

Senior Accessibility Specialist

Hi I’m Henny Swan and I work in the Accessibility team which is part of BBC Future Media. We support teams within the BBC to ensure they deliver web content and applications that are accessible to disabled audiences.

For the past eighteen months my team have been working hard to improve the accessibility of web content for mobile sites and native apps.

It’s been an interesting journey as there are no internationally accepted guidelines for mobile accessibility so as a result we thought we’d write our own: the Draft Mobile Accessibility Standards and Guidelines which you can find on the Standards and Guidelines section of the BBC website.


Draft Mobile Accessibility Standards and Guidelines

For years BBC teams have used the BBC Accessibility Guidelines to help them build accessible websites. This has proved a useful foundation for mobile accessibility however, we felt we needed something more targeted for device delivery and native applications.

There are differences between desktop only versus mobile web and application accessibility. Take for example colour contrast.

On the desktop web it is widely accepted that a contrast level of 4.5:1 is acceptable. On the mobile web, where users are on the move in changing light conditions dealing with variable levels of glare, it's questionable whether 4.5:1 is enough, so perhaps we should be aiming for something closer to 7:1.

Initially we developed a set of standards and guidelines for HTML, then iOS and Android as these are the platforms we identified most users were accessing content through and also have the most mature accessibility support.

The plan moving forward is to write techniques for additional platforms as and when the need arises, but this doesn’t stop our teams applying these standards and guidelines for Windows Phone, Blackberry and other platforms in the meantime.

By writing three sets of guidelines we laid the groundwork for us to understand where the overlaps between web and native app accessibility are. We then merged the three sets of guidelines into a single set of agnostic standards and guidelines with technology specific techniques.

Maintaining three separate platform specific standards and guidelines would have been a huge overhead and, more importantly, wouldn't have reflected how teams work within BBC where knowledge roles and skills transfer across different teams.

We referenced the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, platform specific guidelines and other resources that had a good cross over with the mobile web.

We worked with SSB Bart Group, an accessibility software, training and consultancy firm in the States, to develop technology specific techniques to accompany the standards and guidelines. This also includes code samples in HTML, iOS and Android.

Evaluation criteria are also provided for each standard and guideline. We felt it was important for our teams to not just know what to do but also how to do it and how to verify they have implemented guidance correctly.

Each checkpoint is listed as either a ‘standard’ or a ‘guideline’ – the same model that our existing BBC Accessibility Standards and Guidelines use. A ‘standard’ is a checkpoint that must be supported and is testable. A ‘guideline’ is a checkpoint that should be supported, may be subjective and therefore might be less easy to test. This helps our Test team builds in concrete test criteria during Quality Assurance.

While the standards and guidelines have been developed we have been simultaneously building, testing and learning various techniques in making web applications accessible.

Our most notable releases to date include BBC iPlayer on iOS and Android, iPlayer Radio for iOS and Android, the Olympics and Sport iOS and Android apps, and the recent Weather apps.

We have also been integrating accessibility from the start for many responsive products including Barlesque (the header and footer of most BBC web pages and the framework providing core libraries, styles and modules), the TV Channel Home pages and more.

As with the standards and guidelines our apps and web content are a work in progress as we trial new techniques and keep up to date with the capabilities of the technologies and platforms to support accessibility. Our work here is far from done but hopefully we are well on our way.

Tell us what you think

This is a first step. We already have a list of updates that we are making to the standards and guidelines for the next release (which we hope will be soon).

What we’re really interested in however is your feedback so if you have any comments, suggestions, or additions for techniques or evaluation criteria we would love to hear from you either by emailing us or by leaving a comment below.

Henny Swan is senior web accessibility specialist in BBC Future Media.

More Posts