Social factors and accessibility

a man stands in front of a wall covered in bright coloured post it notes which have different ideas and actionsAs our world becomes increasingly digitised, it’s important to ensure that no-one is left behind. However, it seems that influencing designers’ actual practice remains challenging. Design for Social Accessibility is an approach that encourages designers to focus on social as well as functional factors in their design. Researchers from Rochester Institute of Technology and University of Washington used workshops and brainstorming with designers to bring about a change in their attitudes, and to see the effectiveness of the Design for Social Accessibility approach. Their article, Incorporating Social Factors in Accessible Design, is lengthy because it includes quotes from workshop participants and is very thorough in its reporting. They conclude, “Accessible design is not an impossible challenge; instead, is within reach for professional designers, if given appropriate tools and resources. We offer Design for Social Accessibility as one such tool that designers can use to include disabled and non-disabled users and complex social and functional consideration toward accessible solutions. Designing technologies for people with disability does not exclude non-disabled people. The focus of this study is on people with vision impairment. Social accessibility relates to the social factors of using a device or product not just functional aspects.

Abstract: Personal technologies are rarely designed to be accessible to disabled people, partly due to the perceived challenge of including disability in design. Through design workshops, we addressed this challenge by infusing user-centered design activities with Design for Social Accessibility—a perspective emphasizing social aspects of accessibility—to investigate how professional designers can leverage social
factors to include accessibility in design. We focused on how professional designers incorporated Design for Social Accessibility’s three tenets: (1) to work with users with and without visual impairments; (2) to consider social and functional factors; (3) to employ tools—a framework and method cards—to raise awareness and prompt reflection on social aspects toward accessible design. We then interviewed designers about their workshop experiences. We found DSA to be an effective set of tools and strategies incorporating social/functional and non/disabled perspectives that helped designers create accessible design.

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Mapping Access: People, Place and Justice

picture of a Google map with icons for parking and transportCreating access maps using data collected from individuals is part of a Google Maps project. But there is more to this than just knowing how to get from one place to another when you are a wheelchair user. What does it say about architecture and how we value citizens? Codes for architectural compliance do not include the human perspective of how people actually use places and spaces and relate to each other. This point is made in a philosophical article by Aimi Hamraie, “Mapping Access: Digital Humanities, Disability Justice, and Sociospatial Practice“. She covers the history of access mapping and uses a university campus as a case study, and challenges notions that access mapping is just a database of directional information. Hamraie claims she has developed a methodological tool for “excavating the politics of design embedded in the most banal features of everyday built environments”. A good read for anyone involved in mapping, GIS projects and the architecture of digital inclusion.  

Note: This article uses academic language and concepts, but is thorough in discussing all aspects if the issues.

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User Experience Design

Two children sit in front of a laptop computer. the boy has his arms raised in triumph. The girl points and looks amazed.There are three Universal Principles of User Experience Design according to Christopher Murphy in an Adobe blog. They are: Visual Grammar, Language and Typology, and Narrative Design. Understanding of other principles from psychology, anthropology and economics can be overlaid on these principles. As new technologies are imagined and invented they create problems that have never been solved before. Murphy argues that if you keep the the principles in mind at all times, the solutions stand a better chance of standing the test of time. The article goes on to explain the three principles in more detail. For people who are not involved in ICT some of the ideas and strategies are still relevant to other design disciplines – graphics are used in lots of places.

“As designers working in an ever-changing field, it’s important that we develop an understanding of the timeless design principles that underpin everything we do.” The three principles, “…which should sit at the heart of everything we design and build, are critical and will stand the test of time.”

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7 tips for smart Word doc accessibility

Graphic of Microsoft Word with a cartoon person scratchng their head Your website might be W3C and WCAG compliant for accessibility, but what about the documents you upload? In some organisations operational staff are expected to write material such as fact sheets, promotional flyers, and other documents for uploading to the website. Larger organisations might have an editor or someone in charge of media and communications. But do they all know what is required to make these documents accessible?

Media Access Australia provides Seven Simple Tips for smart Word doc accessibility. While some of the advice looks a bit technical, most of it is fairly basic such as creating Alt-text for images so that a screen reader can identify the picture or graphic. Another good point is not using terms such as “Click here” to go to a link. Instead, embed a hyperlink within the name of the file that is in the text. And of course, avoid jargon. Note that .doc files don’t have the same accessibility features as the newer .docx (Word 2010).

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Digital Divide: Age and Equity

Two hands of an older person are poised above the keyboard of a laptop computer.Older people are getting left behind in this digital world, especially if they are women and don’t live in a major city. The Conversation reports on the Australian Digital Inclusion Index (ADII) which measures which social groups benefit the most from digital connection, and which ones are being left behind. The score is based on access, affordability and ability to manage digital devices. While regional areas don’t have the same access to internet services as cities, there are programs that can help older people get internet-savvy. Telstra has its Tech Savvy Seniors program and the federal government has a Be Connected Program, and there is the Australian Seniors Computer Clubs Association. There are others listed in the article including an internet cafe set up by Umbrella Multicultural Community Care. The title of the article in The Conversation is, The digital divide: small, social programs can help get seniors online.  

The ADII also measures how things change over time for people depending on their circumstances. After all, Australia’s digital divide is not going away. 

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The Ability House

A diagram of a two storey house with indications of the different types of technology that can be used and operated with a mobile phoneThe technology used in the Ability House could be used in any home. It shows how many everyday inventions can be used by people with different kinds of disability. Indeed, everyone could enjoy most of these creative technological adaptations. The website Technology for Independence uses the latest web technology to provide visual walk-throughs of a home showcasing all the different technology. The website has two separate videos. It is designed to provide information about alternative methods to operate home appliances such as: doors, the bed, lights, windows, the telephone, TV, music system, curtains, blinds, air conditioner, heater and fans. When you enter the Ability House you can select the appliance and find the solution. This website is information only as AbilityTech is not a supplier of devices. 

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Can something be too useable?

A toddler sits smiling at a laptop computer screen.“Design is never neutral” is the title of an article by Adobe’s Khoi Vinh in the FastCompany newsletter. Is there is a down-side to making apps and websites too easy for children to use? The dilemma of course is that if young children can use these applications, most everyone else can too. But is this actually good? is the question: 

“Habits are formed around the usability of a product; if an app or website makes it easy to complete a task, users are likely to do it more often than not. Usability advocates often treat this as an inherently good quality; by and large every business wants their products to be easier rather than more difficult to use. But as the aforementioned research suggests, it’s become clear that guilelessly encouraging longer, more frequent sessions isn’t necessarily better for kids.” 

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Accessible Comics

A black graphic style demon sits on a person laying on the ground with the text of We're accessible! The person says Horray.Most people would not think about making a comic accessible for people with a vision impairment. Comics are, after all, very visual. The article from axesslab has two short videos showing the before and after treatment of a comic strip. The best that has been achieved in this area so far is basic alt-texts that are picked up by screen reader. They tend to just say things like “background”. The accessible comic reads well thought out alt-texts which explain what’s happening visually and what’s written in the text. A bit like audio description for documents. The comic is “100 Demon Diaries” and the article was found on the axesslab website, which is a good example of web design – love the large text. 

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Service design done with UD principles

Distored digitised picture of young people sitting in a group.Most people think of universal design as being something for the built environment, but it is much more than that. Service design is an important factor in access and inclusion. There have been major disruptions in how we shop, get take-away food, share our accommodation and our cars. Universal design thinking processes have a major role to play in service design. This is the thinking of Airbnb and other similar platforms. The article in FastCompany lists a few things to think about. Here are the headings:

  1. Let a user do what they set out to do
  2. Be easy to find
  3. Clearly explain its purpose
  4. Set the expectations a user has of it
  5. Be agnostic of organizational structures
  6. Require as few steps as possible to complete a task
  7. Be consistent
  8. Have no dead ends
  9. Be usable by everyone, equally
  10. Work in a way that is familiar
  11. Make it easy to get human assistance
  12. Require no prior knowledge to use

Some of these aspects could be applied in other situations too.

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Open Sesame! Packaging made easy

Exploded view of the package and all its partsIn marketing terms, the packaging is part of the product. The package shape, colour and brand are important in enticing consumers to buy. But all too often we have to get a sharp knife, a pair of scissors and wrestle with the packaging in order to get to the product inside. Microsoft has come up with a nice solution to packaging their Xbox Adaptive Controller – a gamepad for people who might not have use of their limbs. Good thinking – no good having a nicely designed accessible product that you can’t get out of the box! The video below shows the simple but effective design. There is another video on the FastCompany website or see the engadget website. Package designers take note. 

The title of the article is How Microsoft fixed the worst thing about product packaging.

 

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