Accessibility Technology

Accessibility at the BBC

Presenter:  Ian Pouncey, @IanPouncey

(Be sure to look at Ian’s Feb 23 retweet of theVine video of a guitar playing with a dog drumming.  It’s awesome.)

This is the third presentation I attended on Wednesday, March 4 at the #CSUN15 conference.  Ian’s presentations have been entertaining in the past, so I’m looking forward to this one.

Ian shared a couple quotes from BBC higher-ups:

  • “Everyone deserves the best” quote from Tony Hall, BBC director General, 2013
  • Hugh Huddy quote on the iPlayer

BBC Accessibility Team

  • 3 people responsible for: training, standards & guidelines, techniques, framework support
  • Not responsible for accessibility of sites or apps.  We have 7,000+ content producers, our team would need to be enormous to cover all this!


  • Accessibility for web developers:  this is an online course that takes about two hours and shows how real people with disabilities use their products.
  • Introduction to screen readers:  one-day workshop that provides hands-on use of screen readers, including iOS and Android OSes.  It’s primarily for front-end developers.
  • Question:  is it for Jaws?  Yes, but if the users have NVDA, we provide guidance for them as well.
  • Question:  can you make this training publicly available (laughter ensued).  For the web developer course, we’d really like to, but we may not be able to for competition reasons.

Upcoming training

  • QA
  • UX
  • Product Management
  • Mobile application development

Standards & Guidelines

  • Mobile Accessibility
  • HTML
  • Assistive Tech

Mobile Accessibility Standards & Guidelines

  • Technology agnostic, but platform specific techniques
  • All have success criteria

HTML Accessibility Standards

  • Minimal set of expected standards for our products
  • Standards are unambiguous so there can be no arguing when we engage with content partners

 Assistive Technology Testing Guidelines

  • Currently for screen reader only
  • Not support guidelines
  • Showed a very long list of guidelines that they use for testing

Question:  How do you choose/define your “window of support?”  We have a standard approach for screen readers and browsers.  Generally, we use “current version minus one,” with an exclusion for some versions of Internet Explorer.

Question:  do you have any tools for automated testing?  Yes, I’ll discuss that shortly.

Standards vs Guidelines

A standard is:

  • Must or must not
  • unambiguous
  • Unambiguously testable


  • Should or should not
  • Must or must not that is:  open to interpretation; testing requires judgement

Anatomy of a well written standard

  • Short description:  a document must have exactly one H1 element
  • Rationale:  must be useful, i.e. “Users should be able to use the document’s <h1> to identify its main content.  Documents should have one main subject”
  • Examples
  • Testing Criteria:  Procedure, i.e. “Use WAVE toolbar or similar to generate a document outline, there must be exactly one <h1>”

Secret bit

  • bbc-a11y ruby gem

Standards vs Understanding

  • Understanding is more important than standards, but organizational awareness is more important than understanding
  • Goal is to enable people to do their jobs as easily as possible
  • We don’t want accessibility to be a checklist activity, but we realize that sometimes it does work that way
  • It should be embedded into everything we do so that the knowledge gets “locked in”

Accessibility Champions Network

  • Extends our team’s reach
  • Spreads knowledge and understanding
  • Our eyes, ears, and voice in products
  • Not just for developers
  • Don’t have to be an expert
  • Not responsible for accessibility
  • Shares knowledge

Benefits of being a champion

  • Additional training
  • Closer contact with accessibility team
  • Work with other teams
  • 10% time project
  • Prestige!  Fame!  Glory!
  • There will

Question:  do you do any assessments of the work the developers are doing?  Occasionally, but it’s often more about the frameworks and components that are used in a product.

Question:  How often to accessibility champions answer to their team?  It’s a new thing we’re starting.

UX:  Roles and Responsibilities

  • Visual design
  • Semantics
  • Markup and content order
  • Hidden content

Design is Critical

  • Development may not be the most important part of the project!  This one looked painful for Ian to say 🙂

Beyond Design & Development

  • Product Owners:  encourage training; make the accessible decision, not the easy decision; plan for testing with disabled user
  • Content producers:  understand alternatives, plan for audio desc, subtitling, etc.

Global Experience Language:  GEL

  • Similar to Google’s, but not as well maintained.  It’s a bit out of date
  • Showed an example of an overlay/carousel panel

Document design knowledge

  • Enable design iteration
  • prevents repeated mistakes
  • encourages evidence based desing
  • educates

Code Based GEL

  • Production quality code
  • White labelled
  • Acceptance tests included



By Paul Schantz

CSUN Director of Web & Technology Services, Student Affairs. husband, father, gamer, part time aviator, fitness enthusiast, Apple fan, and iguana wrangler.

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