Archives for category: Accessibility

I’ve always felt that making native apps accessible is slightly easier than websites partly because they’re more streamlined in terms of their UX but also because you’re only dealing with one programming language. If you’re looking for an easy place to start making your app accessible you can give it a boost by adding text alternatives for images, buttons and other meaningful UI elements.

Text alternatives have a dual benefit as they’re not only the hook that Talkback users need to understand your app but also the hook needed for automated testing  with tools such as Lint.  For this reason it’s not unusual to see apps where the alternatives are written for devs and testing purposes – such as ‘app_button’ rather than being human readable text alternatives such as ‘Submit’. This should be avoided; text alternatives are for users not testers.

To add text alternatives on Android use contentDescription:


For elements that change state such as an add/remove button use setContentDescription method to edit the alternative at runtime:

String contentDescription = "Select " + strValues[position];

For decorative images the contentDescription should be set to ‘null’:


contentDescription should not be used for labelling form inputs – editText fields. The description is only read before the text field is populated by the user and lost altogether if the field is populated or cleared by the user. The next best option is to use the android:hint attribute. Like contentDescription, android:hint will be announced when the field is empty but ignored when the field is populated. Unlike contentDescription however it will be announced if the user clears the form input.

This is still not an ideal user experience and can be confusing for Talkback users who want to verify what form input is what when checking a form before it is submitted. A more robust technique is to use the LabelFor property which allows a visible label to be associated with an EditText box. This will be announced regardless of whether the input field is empty or populated with text. If a visible label is not possible (although I’d recommend against that) you can make the label invisible so it doesn’t change your visual layout.



Below are the slides I gave at CSUN 2015 on accessible user experience for media player.

The slides are annotated and a transcript can be found on Slideshare.


Yesterday my old team, the BBC Accessibility Team, were honoured with a Knowbility Community Hero Accessibility Award for Institutional Achievement.

It is, on the surface of it, a small team comprised of Gareth Ford Williams, Ian Pouncey and Jamie Knight (I am now at The Paciello Group). They all  work extremely hard behind the scenes to create a framework within which the BBC can deliver accessible digital services across desktop, mobile and TV platforms connecting people with news, sport, weather, radio, TV – you name it – so it is a well deserved recognition.

We all however know that the reality is that while the Accessibility Team provide the all important accessibility framework and leadership, it is the individuals, teams and culture within the BBC that bring it to life. It is the support from designers, developers, managers, testers and stakeholders that make what the BBC does in this space what it is.


It was fitting therefore that Gareth chose to dedicate the award to a respected, valued and well loved colleague who we lost two weeks ago – Cathy Bartlett.

Cathy, who lead the Media Playout Team, was an absolute pleasure to work with, knew her stuff and built a solid team around her. I knew her from day one at the BBC and watched as she and her team turned the BBC Standard Media player around from a basic, fairly inaccessible offering into a beautifully designed, feature rich, accessible player that is truly world class.

On a professional level someone like Cathy doesn’t come along often however it is for her friendship, humour and positivity that I will miss her.  We had both recently left the BBC, we both lived in Brighton and we were both looking forward to more good times hanging out together.

My heart goes out to her family and her sister Claire who also is at the BBC.

Thank you Cathy for the legacy you left behind at BBC, your support, encouragement and most of all your friendship.

Note: Last updated February 2nd, 2016. If you have a suggested link leave a comment and I’ll add it.

Below are a few resources around media player accessibility. With so many of us embedding multimedia content in our sites and apps it’s key that we think about not just the accessibility of the player but also alternative formats, the user journey to the player and onward journeys from the player.

If you have a suggested link let me know.


Below are a collection of formal guidelines from W3C.

Below are a list of standards and guidelines outside of W3C that relate to multimedia accessibility.

Accessible Media players

Disclaimer: I have not tested all the players below so they are self-proclaimed accessible players.

Alternative formats

This section covers captions / subtitles, sign language and audio description.


Audio description

Captioning / Subtitles

Captioning guidelines from the USA

Below is a list of standards and guidelines outside of WCAG that I believe relate to the legal requirement for captioning in the USA:. The following list is evolving:


HTML5 video

Blogs and articles

Disclaimer: I was not sidetracked into watching any TV in researching this blog post. Not one bit.

Here’s a quick round up of some of my favourite things that screen readers announce incorrectly. Note this is all using British English unless otherwise stated.

  • ‘Slough’ – A less than salubrious town just outside London in the UK announced as ‘Sloth’… Hat tip @DesignedByBlind
  • ‘Home page’ – Announced as ‘Homie paage’ it’s good to know that screen readers are keepin’ it real. Hat tip @alastc
  • ‘FA Cup’ – Again screen readers seem to make there opinions known by announcing it as ‘Fuckup’. Sadly I think Jaws, where I first noticed this, might have fixed it now.
  • ‘iOS’ – VoiceOver on iOS6 is very specific about this and announces ‘Arse’. One of the big failings of iOS7 is that it fails to say arse… Hat tip @ianpouncey
  • ‘Screen shot’ – iOS 7.0 happily announces this as ‘screen shit’. Hat tip @andrewronksley
  • ‘Skip to content’ – An old favourite; skip to happiness, all the way to the promised land as screen readers announce content with the inflection of contentedness.

Got any more to add?

Today is my last day at BBC before I join the insanely talented crew over at the Paciello Group.

It’s with a really heavy heart that I leave BBC as I have loved every minute of it. I’ve worked in a small team with two of my favourite people, Gareth Ford Williams and Ian Pouncey, and worked on some wonderful projects with even more hugely talented people. I’ve been lucky as it’s not often you get to work on products you actually use let alone love such as the BBC Olympics,  BBC iPlayer for the web, iPlayer mobile, the BBC Standard Media Player (watch this space), Chromecast, the Weather apps, Radio Player and more.

I have to say a special thank you to Gareth who let me realise what I’d wanted to do for 6 years which is write the BBC Mobile Accessibility Standards and Guidelines.  While written with BBC products, culture and practice in mind we have been able to publish these under an Open Government Licence which is great. He has been incredibly supportive, trusting and let me just get on with it. He has also made me laugh (mostly at him) every day. Ian’s made what we do at BBC possible by being a calm voice of reason and (crucially) is remarkably unflappable  by my stupid questions. Thanks Ian.

I’ve known TPG a long time and have worked with Steve Faulkner, Gez Lemon, Hans Hillen, Léonie Wastson, Patrick Lauke, David Sloan, Charlie Pike and Mike Paciello before at various points in my career. I’m proud to be able to call of them friends so it will be a treat for me to be formally working with them. I’m also looking forward to dipping into their combined genius and learning what I can.

At TPG I will be focusing on mobile platforms and audio video. Two areas of the web that I love and consider key.

So thank you BBC, Gareth, Ian and everyone, and hello TPG!

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