Learn how the BBC makes accessibility improvements

Date of webinar: 
6 Apr 2021 - 13:00

"I do one lecture for one of the universities... that's all I have, just three hours, and if that's all they get in four years it's not enough," says Emma Pratt Richens, Accessibility Specialist at the BBC, sharing her experience on lecturing about accessibility.

We welcomed Emma as the April 2021 guest in our Accessibility Insights webinar series, hosted by AbilityNet's Head of Digital Inclusion, Robin Christopherson MBE. In this monthly series, Robin chats with individuals who are working to improve digital accessibility and inclusion.

Highlights from the webinar

Annie Mannion, Robin Christopherson, Emma Pratt Richens

In the webinar, Emma discussed the BBC Accessibility Champions network, the need for further accessibility training in education settings and also the BBC's recently developed 'Disability Passports'. 

The passports make it easier for staff to move from project to project, which if you work in production could be every few months. So the passports let new managers know what adjustments an employee may need and how they can help.

Watch the captioned webinar recording below. (Download the transcript.)

You can also listen to the podcast version of this webinar.

Slides from the webinar

You can find slides used in the webinar below. 

For additional information read answers to frequently asked questions about AbilityNet webinars and get further accessibility news via the AbilityNet newsletter.

Useful BBC links from the webinar

Questions and answers from the webinar

Emma has been able to provide answers to some of the questions posed by attendees during the webinar:

Question: I work at a university in Learning and Organisational Development. We are really trying to have a whole university approach to accessibility (digital platforms/content etc). What approaches are out there for the testing of content for all disabilities? We have users of screen readers we can ask to look at things from their perspective, but how do we test for other needs, ie, dyslexia, neurological disorders etc? 

Emma Pratt Richens (EPR): In my experience, testing that something works with different hardware, software and settings is relatively straightforward and can be done by developers and testers who learn how to use those things. And there are some great tools out there that can help. Search for “accessibility developer tools”. However, it is very difficult to know how someone else thinks. So, checking how accessible something is for cognitive impairment, or whether something is understandable and a good user experience, requires user research approaches and possibly some co-creation approaches. Involve the people who will benefit.
(Find out more about AbilityNet's online training course - How to do inclusive usability testing)

Q: You mentioned procurement and the change of focus to make the BBC accessible workplace, do you adopt a hard stance here in that if a tool is not accessible it is not procured? What challenges does including accessibility into procurement bring?

EPR: The BBC has long included accessibility in the requirements for tools and software that is procured in. Though it has been a higher priority in recent times, in line with the focus on diversity and inclusion. In my limited experience of that side of things, the BBC try to work with third parties toward improvements where they are needed.

Q: I would be very interested to learn about the network of accessibility champions at the BBC, how you set it up, if it's a voluntary role, what they do, etc.

EPR: The BBC accessibility champions are volunteers from the various digital teams. They champion accessibility within the role they do and teams they work in. The team I’m part of support them with resources and training, so they can learn more about accessibility and share that with colleagues, and when needed they can request direct technical advice. To some extent the BBC had champions long before the term was used for them. The network kicked off about seven years ago and took a few years to grow to the numbers we have today, so we adjusted and adapted along the way and continue to do so. The champions are our eyes, ears and voices across the organisation, and have been fundamental to significant cultural changes.

Q: As I have a moderately severe hearing loss I not infrequently find it at best unsatisfactory and often impossible to hear some radio programmes which have a background of music. What are the expectations placed on producers to monitor this issue?

EPR: I don’t know what expectations there are on producers. However, I do know of a neat Research & Design project that was looking into a user control that adjusted the audio balance. You can read about it on the BBC website.

Q: Would you consider providing training on using BBC for users of screen reading software?

EPR: That’s an interesting idea, though I’m not quite sure of the scope you would want that training to cover. Most BBC web pages and apps should work with screen readers. Please let us know if they don’t. And many new TVs are starting to have built in screen reader technology as well, so our teams are working toward a future where BBC TV apps also work well with screen readers.

Q: Re. the autocaption technology, Emma seemed to accept that her accent (relatively subtle to my ear) should be difficult to detect. Would be interesting to map the evolution of an attitude of acceptance to one of challenge and expect better.

EPR: Accents are just one complexity that can make things difficult for automated captions. Natural speech doesn’t flow as smoothly as written text, groups of people often interrupt or speak at the same time, and much TV and radio content layers music and other audio into the mix. I think the machine learning behind speech to text and natural language processing is incredible and improving all the time. But it isn’t as good as a human just yet, in regard to filtering sounds and nuances of speech.

I’ve used auto-captions during presentations, and as one speaker with no audio interference they cope with my muddled accent surprisingly well, though not nearly as well as a good palantypist. For situations like video meetings, where someone can ask for clarification if needed, I think auto-captions are a brilliant addition to those tools. For broadcast content where an error could completely mislead or confuse someone, not quite yet.