Henshaws College and Jisc launch an accessible YouTube website

14 February 2013

Henshaws College in Harrogate has launched an accessible version of YouTube, which was funded by Jisc through Jisc Advance. It allows people with learning difficulties and disabilities to use this mainstream technology independently.

ACCESS: YouTube simplifies the standard You Tube site making it easier to search and play videos, and allows the use of assistive technologies. It is now publicly available so everyone can benefit from this accessible method.

Mike Thrussell, assistive technology coordinator, explains the challenges facing many of his students when trying to use the standard YouTube website:

Students at Henshaws College have a range of needs from visual impairments to additional learning difficulties and disabilities. Our students love YouTube, but the standard site contains a lot of extra content such as adverts, comments and links which can be distracting. This makes the site difficult to navigate using assistive technologies such as screen-readers and as a result some students require support to use it.

Mike has spent the last 18 months developing ACCESS: YouTube to try and overcome these issues, and allow students to use the site more independently: “I have used large fonts, visual cues and a logical layout to improve access using assistive technologies. By simplifying the site and removing content such as adverts and comments, the website is more accessible to screen readers.” For Henshaws students, this means they can independently control their leisure time without the need for support. Staff can also be confident that students will be kept safe as the site automatically filters out any inappropriate material.

Nigel Ecclesfield, programme manager at Jisc Advance said:

We are delighted to have provided the funding for the development of this wonderful tool that opens up the world of YouTube to those with visual difficulties. YouTube provides access to many exceptional educational resources and we are proud to be associated with a project that will make a real difference to the lives of many learners as they can now access these materials independently.

For example, twenty one year old Billy is severely sight impaired and has cerebral palsy which affects his movement. He uses two large switches and scrolls through the simplified menu to navigate ACCESS: YouTube. Screen reader software then reads out each option for him so that he can select or search for videos he wants to listen to.




Twenty one year old Billy using ACCESS-YouTube
Twenty one year old Billy using ACCESS-YouTube

Billy said:

When I first started, I didn’t know how to use it, but now I can play videos without help. I have made my own playlists for my favourite videos including Take That and Kylie Minogue. I can use the site out of college sessions. It’s great to have the freedom to do this.

Chris Surtees, from the North East Autism Society says: “ACCESS: YouTube is minimalistic, clean and allows a learner with additional support needs to increase their independence whilst accessing a form of media which appeals to them.”

Henshaws hopes the technology will have a positive impact even beyond the specialist education sector, as Mike explains:

ACCESS: YouTube is just the first in a whole suite of accessible websites which we are developing at Henshaws College thanks to funding from Jisc service – Jisc Advance. The launch of similar accessible websites later in the year will allow users of assistive technology to search for images online, to give honest independent evaluations using a feedback tool and to access personal email accounts. These sites have huge potential to make browsing the internet easier for a whole range of people.

The developments come at an exciting time for Henshaws as they coincide with the college’s new Media and IT Centre which is due to open this spring. Facilities will include an IT suite, two recording studios and a print centre which will be fully accessible to students and local community groups. The building of this new facility was made possible by the generosity of Henshaws supporters. Henshaws thank the trusts, businesses, individuals and students who made this happen.

Henshaws welcome any comments or feedback on the ACCESS: YouTube website. mike.thrussell@henshaws.org.uk

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