[uf-discuss] Re: Putting microformats on the BBC iPlayer

Alasdair King alasdairking at gmail.com
Tue Mar 4 09:27:11 PST 2008

I'd do two things:

1 Decide on a microformat that'll work, and ignore the accessibility
issues. If you do it well, then other sites will copy you and it'll
become a de facto standard. Then the assistive technology vendors
(like me) will code support for it into their solutions. There'll be a
lag, but we'll end up with a microformat standard in actual use.

This is clearly a contentious statement. However, the fact that this
able, technical and motivated forum has been unable to come up with a
agreed accessible format in eighteen months strongly suggests it isn't
going to be able to do so with current assistive technology: better,
"build it and they will come."

I develop a web browser and RSS news reader and various other
accessible programs for blind people, including two applications
specifically for users of the live BBC radio streams and the BBC
Listen Again service. I can attest that microformats would be a great
help to assistive technology vendors, but only if they are widely
adopted. It is therefore better to deploy a inaccessible-on-day-0
microformat than never to deploy it at all.

One extra line of gobbledegook on a web page for a blind user is
really not going to present a big problem, they're quite used to
ignoring sections of inaccessible content. A strong microformat
champion like the BBC would drive other website designers and the
assistive technology vendors will follow on. Better a period of
inaccessibility than microformats never being adopted because of
well-meaning concerns.

If you really really want to do something accessible today then get
into a conversation with Andy Mabbett: he seems to be the most
knowledgeable on accessibility (and will probably vehemently disagree
with my position above!). He'll know the best current solution.
(Sarcasm) Because, you know, you want your inaccessible Flash content
to be accessed via some really accessible HTML! (End of sarcasm)

2 Provide an OPML or RSS feed for your iPlayer content. That's the
really accessible format for your blind users, not having to navigate
HTML pages. For example, they could then put your feed in their
accessible RSS news reader, or I could update my Accessible BBC Listen
Again program to read the feed instead of having to screen-scrape (and
don't get me started on your iPlayer Flash setup. Why do users have to
click on the Flash to start? Why can't I start/stop it
programmatically? I can't even extract the swf url. And don't point me
to Backstage, grumble, grumble...)  No finding the Flash content on
the page, no skip navigation, just straight info.

Love your work, by the way. Hurrah for the BBC and your splendid website!

Best wishes,
Dr. Alasdair King

On Tue, Mar 4, 2008 at 3:53 PM, Toby A Inkster <mail at tobyinkster.co.uk> wrote:
> Adam Craven - Four Shapes wrote:
>  > Does anyone have suggestions how this can be worked around whilst still
>  > keeping relatively good screen reader support?
>  You mentioned hiding the ABBR with CSS as a solution, but IE6 (which
>  plenty of screen readers hook into) ignores the ABBR element entirely and
>  will not apply styling to it. (It's not even in the DOM tree.) So that
>  technique may prove to be of limited utility.
>  The fact is that the microformats datetime design pattern (and to a lesser
>  extent, the ABBR design pattern) suffers from major accessibility
>  problems. This has been known about and discussed for over 18 months, with
>  various alternatives being proposed, some of which have been pretty bad,
>  but others which look very sensible. Probably my favourite so far was Andy
>  Mabbett's recent suggestion on this very list <http://microformats.org/
>  discuss/mail/microformats-discuss/2008-February/011583.html> which I have
>  implemented <http://buzzword.org.uk/cognition/> and found to be no more
>  difficult to parse than the ABBR pattern.
>  However, despite a lot of proposals having been put forward, the community
>  seems to have been very reluctant to actually bless one. It is fair enough
>  to take time to consider these things carefully before issuing an edict
>  (perhaps if that had been done to begin with we would have never ended up
>  with a broken datetime design pattern), but while the community dithers
>  over deciding upon a replacement, more and more instances of this
>  inaccessible pattern are deployed.
>  For what it's worth, the empty anchors in your example code could also
>  cause accessibility problems -- amongst other issues, they can interfere
>  with the tab sequence when keyboard navigation is used.
>  If I were in your place, with as big an audience as the BBC has, I'd go
>  with an accessible alternative datetime pattern and wait for the parsers
>  to catch up with me.
>  --
>  Toby A Inkster BSc (Hons) ARCS
>  [Geek of HTML/SQL/Perl/PHP/Python/Apache/Linux]
>  [OS: Linux, up 34 days, 21:38.]
>                                Bottled Water
>           http://tobyinkster.co.uk/blog/2008/02/18/bottled-water/
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Alasdair King

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