Situation Awareness and Universal Design

A smartphone with a map and wording of Fires Near Me. It is the app of the NSW Rural Fire Service.Why do some people appear unable to take in what is happening around them in an emergency? Being able to act quickly requires a good sense of the situation – situation awareness. However, not everyone has situation awareness in an emergency. Consequently they find decision-making difficult and fail to act appropriately. A Norwegian study has investigated a universal design approach to mitigate “situational disability”.

In an emergency, sight, hearing, use of hands and ability to concentrate can all be impaired. Smoke, dust, cold, noise and paralysis from fear can affect anyone’s ability to think clearly. Smart phone apps are a good way of reaching people quickly with important information, but do they account for likely cognitive and physical changes?

The issues and solutions for situational disability are outlined in a technical paper from Norway. It raises our awareness that individuals are likely to behave in unexpected ways during a disaster. With an increased rate of climate-based disasters, and the move to digital information systems, this is a timely study. The underlying concern of how people respond is an important one. The paper shows that universal design principles can guide the way in accommodating situational disabilities.

The full title of the article is, Towards Situational Disability-aware Universally Designed Information Support Systems for Enhanced Situational Awareness.

Inclusive Courts Checklist

This new courtroom has timber backed seats and a long timber desk that seats the justices. A abstract painting covers the wall behind the bench. Daylight comes in through large windows.Courts and justice systems across the world are going through a digital transformation. It’s happening behind the scenes and up front. But are these systems and processes inclusive?  A survey in 2018 revealed that court administrators don’t know about the advances in inclusive solutions. With the current pandemic, reliance on technology has increased. So this matter is more urgent now.

Technology is making it easier for court staff. For example, their payment and filing processes. But we run the risk of making it more difficult for people who find themselves the subject of court processes. The survey by G3ict and International Disability Alliance revealed that people with disability face significant barriers in the justice system – digital and non-digital. As a result of this survey, G3ict has come up with an Inclusive Courts Checklist. It lists 10 Core Capabilities and related Enabling Activities.

The ten core capabilities include, a digital inclusion strategy, leadership, budgeting, and a culture of inclusive engagement, diversity and transparency. The checklist provides a short overview of the issues and the survey, and the checklist is presented as a table. The checklist is on the G3ict website where you can find more useful publications.

Elements of this checklist apply to other organisations that are moving to digital processes and practices. This checklist has a focus on people with disability, but could equally apply to people from diverse backgrounds and to people who have little or no experience of digital applications.


Accessibility is everyone’s business

A brightly coloured graphic indicates different kinds of digital communication: social media, camera, phone and video.“We need to do this for compliance, let’s figure out what to do and then we are done.” What you measure, is what you get and no more so than when standards ask for minimum compliance. It is the same in any field of design.

However, the big tech companies claim they do much better than compliance these days. And it has more to do with company culture than teaching better design.

Accessibility is a fundamental part of good design says Matt May from Adobe. He is an accessibility engineer and was part of bringing Adobe up to speed on this topic. He offers some tips for prioritising accessibility in a magazine article. They could apply to any design discipline:

    • Take the time to educate all teams on the elements of an accessible product. May ran a training to encourage all teams from design to product, engineering, and even sales, on how to think about and prioritize accessibility.
    • Introduce a diversity of users to the team to show how different people engage with the tech. Adobe hosts a speaker series where the company brings in a variety of users to highlight how they interact with tech.
    • Take a holistic approach to accessibility. Adobe’s teams integrate accessible design features in the planning phase to create a more fluid experience for all users.
    • Focus on what each team can do to improve accessibility, rather than making it all about the business value.

The article goes into more detail including making accessibility relevant to each employee’s role. The article is titled, Adobe’s approach to accessibility? Everyone’s responsible. 


Don’t click here for web links

A graphic with six black hands with forefinger pointed each on a circular button.Writing “click here” to link to a web page or electronic document is intuitive for the writer. But not to all readers. This is particularly the case for people who use screen readers. Writing “click here” or “download here” requires the reader to make sense of the words before and after to get the context. This is workable when you can visually read the page. However, a screen reader is a machine and can’t do this for the user.

It’s hard for a user navigating the page audibly if the link text isn’t clear. They can’t be sure where the link will take them. When a link has a focus the link text is announced by the screen reader. If it isn’t created clearly it can be difficult to understand. Link text is clear when it makes sense on its own away from other text

Once you know how a screen reader works, it makes more sense. It makes even more sense when you hear a screen reader working. Online newspapers, such as The Conversation, are good at using clear link text.

CanAXESS blog has a seven minute video explaining why “click here” isn’t helpful and gives examples of how to avoid it.  The key information is in the first five minutes and the last two relate to the WCAG guidelines which don’t cover this very well.


Google Search likes great user experience

A graphic of nine computer screens showing different patterns.Websites that don’t work are very annoying. It’s hard to get the information you need when the site is slow to load or badly designed. Now Google Search is in the process of optimising for more intuitive, user-friendly page design in their searches. Perhaps designers could look no further than universal design. 

From next year Google Search will favour websites with great user experience (UX). It won’t just be looking for keywords – it will be looking for a good user experience. Google is one of the large companies that is also promoting web accessibility. So access features should be included in their user-friendly mix.

The title of this short news item in FastCo is, Google Search will now favor websites with great UX.  

“As part of a new set of best practices, the company will start factoring user experience into its search results, as well as the top stories feature in mobile search. Google is no longer just optimizing for information that’s closest to your keywords, but optimizing for a more delightful web. Intuitive, user-friendly page design is about to become even more important.”

Writing alt-text for buildings and architecture

A word poster in upper case with the heading of the blog post: How to write image descriptions for buildings and architecture.Alt-text is a description of an image that’s shown to people who for some reason can’t see the image. Alt-text mainly helps people with little or no vision, people who turn off images to save data, and search engines. So what should you write? 

As more people are getting the hang of writing alt-text, we are seeing a little more finesse emerging.  A recent blog post from Veroniiiica explains what to include when describing buildings and architecture.

    • The type of structure that is being shown, such as a house, church or monument.  
    • For landmarks, mentioning the name of the structure is helpful, such as the Space Needle or a building at a specific university
    • The general size of the structure – is it a small house or large skyscraper?
    • The colour and material of the structure, which is especially helpful for historical structures
    • Any distinctive features
    • Any text or relevant signs in the image

More specific details about building might include:

      • The size of the structure, such as the height or number of storeys
      • The city or country the structure is located in
      • The scenery and time of day, if it alters the appearance of the structure such as a night view or a rainy day
      • Depending on the reading audience, you can include the name or description of the architectural style 

However, this is not an exercise in prose so don’t try to include everything, but relate it to the accompanying text or purpose of the image. There is more information in the blog.  

If you want to learn more about alt-text and how to do it, have a look at two previous posts on this website: How to write meaningful alt-text and Every picture tells a story.


IBM Equal Access Toolkit

A graphic in purple indicating levels of design. There is a graphic of someone at a desk and other using a wheelchair.Make your product more usable by more people in less time. That’s a great aim, and it is the opening line in the IBM Equal Access Toolkit.  With many websites remaining inaccessible, this toolkit assists web developers and designers increase accessibility.  It comes with Accessibility Checkers and has reporting tools for accessibility conformance. 

Non-tech people should also have a look at this Toolkit especially if they are in charge of contracting a web developer for their website. Or when they update their website. 

There are five steps: Plan, Design, Develop, Verify, and Launch. The process inolves the whole team regardless of their level of expertise.

The Equal Access Checklist is where it gets technical and links to the WCAG2.0/2.1 Checkpoints. There are four principles underpinning the process.

    • 1: Perceivable – Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
    • 2: Operable – User interface components and navigation must be operable.
    • 3: Understandable – Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.
    • 4: Robust – Content must be robust enough so it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.

For an overview, G3ict has a media release explaining why this toolkit is needed. Accessibility is an issue that comes up in legal and policy discussions in many organisations. While many websites have improved their accessibility there is still a long way to go. It is worth noting that a new site might be fully accessible but as new material is uploaded, it isn’t always checked for accessibility over time


Involving users in evaluating web accessibility

A graphic with five yellow stars and icons of people in different colours.When organisations decide to refresh their website they usually focus on factors such as positive brand imaging and deciding what information is the most important. So the idea of involving users at any point can be a bit scary.  What if they want to change things? What if all our brand work is undone? Can we really afford the time to do it? 

The bottom line is that if you don’t involve users from the outset then your website will receive less traffic. Being willing to accept feedback, particularly on accessibility, gives all website visitors a good experience. And don’t assume your web designer has all this in hand. Very few home pages are accessible in spite of legislation requiring this.

The W3C Web Accessibility Initiative has a toolkit to guide web designers AND organisations through the process of involving users.  The toolkit includes a one minute video of why designers should include users from the outset. The material is focused on users rather than technical aspects. It helps avoid some of the pitfalls and at the same time improve general usability for everyone.

The toolkit is extensive and each section is downloadable separately. The title is, Involving users in Evaluation Web Accessibility.


Customer Engagement by Universal Design

Front cover of the toolkit with three overlapping circles, bright pink, purple and turquoise.Communicating effectively with customers is essential for any business or government service. And right now, online communication is taking centre stage. 

The new guide for Online Meeting Accessibility is a supplement to the Customer Communications Toolkit for Public Service. It takes you through the steps of planning and conducting an online meeting, and following up afterwards. The focus is on accessibility and inclusion with many helpful tips.

The Customer Communications Toolkit for Public Service covers planning, training and informing staff and contractors. It takes a universal design approach and is useful for any organisation.

The Centre for Excellence in Universal Design has two more toolkits  for private and public entities. They are guides to effective and inclusive communication using a universal design approach. 

Customer Engagement in Tourism Services Toolkit covers best practice guidance for customer engagement using case studies. The four sections cover business objectives, written communication, face to face, and web communication.

Customer Engagement in Energy Services provides best practice guidance for customer communication. In four parts it covers: written form, face to face, telephone and video.

The Centre for Excellence in Universal Design has many more resources on the built environment, products and services and technology/ICT.

The process for developing the guidelines and what was learned covers research, policies, standards and guidelines. Lessons from Good Practices to Guide Universal Design Toolkits includes advice for other toolkit authors. 

Smart Cities: Inclusive Innovation Playbook

Front cover of the Smart Cities for All Inlcusive Innovation Playbook.Smart innovations need to be inclusive and accessible and not pose additional barriers for our diverse populations. The Smart Cities for All global initiative is tackling these issues, specifically in urban environments. 

The Smart Cities for All Toolkit has a companion publication – the Inclusive Innovation Playbook. It is a collaboration between AT&T, the City of Chicago, New York City and G3ict. The Playbook focuses on five steps that cities can take to make their innovation ecosystem more inclusive: people, economic assets, infrastructure, enabling environment, and networking assets. These are the five “Plays”. 

Each of the five Plays lists actions for cities to consider, and is followed by a Playbook Checklist. Each step is detailed and easy to follow. This Playbook is a must for urban planners, transport planners, public safety and anyone interested quality of life and inclusion for all citizens. It’s time to take action to minimise the digital divide.