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Accessibility and the Olympics

Accessibility and the Olympics

World Usability Day 2013 at the M Shed this year had a host of great talks from usability professionals and enthusiasts from around the world. One talk really caught my attention and that was "BBC Olympics: An Accessibility Study" by Alistair Duggin the lead front-end developer at Money Advice Service. The talk looked back on the BBC Olympics website and the huge task taken on by the BBC to cover the Olympics in the digital age They wanted to make 24 HD live streams, over 2500 hours worth of video coverage as well as huge amounts of stats and data available world wide to a massive audience across mobile, tablet, PC and connected TV.

By the end of the project there had been 37 million UK browses, 66% of the adult population had visited the website as well as having 57 million global browses with 111 million video requests across all available platforms. These numbers were not the only difficulties of the project, the team at the BBC had an immovable deadline of a huge profile event and were working with teams of mixed knowledge in terms of accessibility. On top of this for added pressure the Australian olympics had been sued for being inaccessible.

So the team had one page for each of the 10,000 athletes, 205 countries, 36 sports, 304 medal winning events and 30 venues that they had to make usable and accessible for people with a range of visual, auditory, motor and cognitive abilities. This is where I was really surprised by the talk, I was expecting a full range of teams running huge usability studies and endless testing to make sure everything was perfect deploying more resources than is possible in a normal sized project. In reality the methodology and practices followed by Alistair and his team were reusable on any scale and in fact should be used on all web projects. It is not spending a lot of time changing designs and code to make it accessible, if you have accessibility in the back of your head when creating websites then you should only have to do it one time.

They had a library of common html widgets and reusable components that could be dropped into any page promoting the reusability and consistency of their code. Then for content, html, css and javascript they had a few simple rules to help create usable websites. For content having alt text for images, captions for tables and full text for abbreviations as well as having content in a logical order. Using appropriate html elements, not duplicating links as well as coding forms and tables to the correct standards helped create markup that was accessible for users using screen readers or navigating with a keyboard. For css having a non javascript layout, setting style on focus as well as hover, not using !important and checking for colour contrast were all very important. Feature detection in javascript as well as making sure the javascript generated valid html and there were no keyboard traps that stopped a user being able to navigate past certain points with a keyboard were all employed throughout the pages.

These are all the kind of coding practices that we can all follow on our websites but not necessarily something we check as often as how a page looks in IE7 or displays on a mobile device. I learned a lot from Alistair's talk, especially coming from the view point of a front end developer it showed me how important accessibility is for users, we should not be thinking about making it better for a minority of users but instead creating universal accessibility. He also talked about having a website that is one hundred percent accessible as not being realistic and that we need to prioritise in real world projects but that accessibility does not have to compromise design or ingenuity in websites.

Created on Monday December 09 2013 10:00 AM


Tags: accessibility conference userexperience ux usability


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