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.



AI for captioning

A speaker stands at a lectern and captioning sceen is behind his right shoulderArtificial Intelligence (AI) can take captioning to another level claims Microsoft. AI for automatic speech recognition removes the need for a human captioner for lectures in universities, and elsewhere. The Microsoft AI blog article and video below focuses on deaf students, but as more people take to captioning on their phones, it could make like easier for everyone. We already know that captioning helps all students by adding another layer of communication and this point is made in the article. The captioning is turned into transcripts and students have a reference to read after the lecture. They can also have the lecture automatically translated into several languages. This is a detailed article and covers automatic speech recognition, translations, and a growing demand for accessibility. This technology is not expected to take over from Auslan or ASL as they are languages in their own right. However, this is another example of how technology is helping humans by taking over from humans and bringing the advantages to more people.  



Inclusive Self Service Terminals

A pink cupcake ATM.Gone are the days of having face-to-face customer service as we transition to the digital age and the Internet of Things. Self Service Terminals (SST) in banks, shops, and transport hubs are taking over and humans are disappearing. So, how to make these terminals accessible and useable by all? Well it starts at the beginning of the design phase. At a recent conference, Computers Helping People with Special Needs, held in Austria, there were seven papers focused on this topic dealing with design issues and standards for self service. One paper was about SST in Norway, another about standards development and yet another about touchscreens.  See below for abstracts. You will need institutional access   for a free read.

Accessibility of Self-Service Terminals in Norway  Abstract: 

This short paper outlines a project on SST accessibility conducted by Funka on behalf of the Norwegian Agency for Public Management and eGovernment (Difi). The aim of the project was to establish a set of usable guidelines for the accessible placement of SSTs in Norway. To do this, Funka reviewed and compared the relevant existing standards. From the resulting corpus, Funka culled requirements relevant to issues of placement and harmonised them. The eventual result was a step-by-step guide for the accessible placement of self-service terminals. Funka would like to continue the work on role-based filtering tools. Funka has already launched such a tool for its Swedish market, drawing on several open-source standards. Something similar could be done for SST accessibility on the basis of, for instance, the EN 301 549 European standard.

Standards Guidelines and Legislation Related to Self-service Technologies Abstract: 

The intention of the standards, guidelines and legislation discussed here, along with other initiatives mentioned, is to ensure accessibility for all is built into self-service technologies from the outset. This paper presents developments in relevant standards, guidelines and legislation since 2013. In reporting on this work, the intention to give an idea of its scope, but also to place these standards, guidelines and legislation within a critical framing that reviews both the material and its impact on efforts to make SSTs accessible to all users.

Accessible Touch: Evaluating Touchscreen PIN Entry Concepts with Visually Impaired People Using Tactile or Haptic Cues, Abstract:

Findings are presented from a user test of several different concepts to enable personal identification number (PIN) entry on a touchscreen by people who are blind or partially sighted. A repeated measures experimental design was used for the user test, with all participants using all concepts in a randomised order. Results are presented, and wider implications of this study and the subsequent approvals are discussed.


Accessible video, forms, chatbots

A young woman sits at a desk with her laptop open. She has her face covered by her hands and is indicating distressAs the digital age moves ahead we need to make sure we aren’t creating a digital divide between those who are up to date and those who aren’t or can’t be. The canaxess website has three on-line and downloadable fact sheets that provide some of the simplest but effective advice. For example, in Principles of accessible video – don’t set to the video to scroll on opening. In Principles of accessible forms – don’t use an asterisk to indicate a mandatory field – screen readers announce “star”. In Principles of accessible bots – placing in lower right of the screen is difficult for keyboard users. For people who upload information or documents to their website, there are some good tips. For others who know about coding there is really helpful information. There is more information on the canaxess website.  


Making PDF Documents Accessible

graphic of a page with PDF on it red and whiteWhy is a Word document often preferred by some readers over a PDF document? They are more accessible for more people. Not everyone can see well; can use a mouse, can read English well, can remain focused easily when they read, and not everyone uses assistive technology. And not all PDF documents can be read by screen readers. In a slideshare Tammy Stitz explains some of the issues and solutions. She covers some of the technicalities as well as basics such as colour contrast, reading order and Alternative Text (alt-t). Logical structure, use of headings and placement and attributes of hyperlinks. The slideshare goes on to cover a list of things that need to be checked. Finally you can test the document using PDF Accessibility Checker. There is also such a thing as a PDF Association.  


Web guidelines don’t cover everything

one hand is holding a smart phone and the other is pointing at the screenA nicely written and easy to read article on the Axess Lab website explains that the WCAG – the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines were only updated to include vision impairments and assistive technologies. But what about hand control? Motor impairments were not included, but this doesn’t mean they should be overlooked. Uusing a smart phone can be very frustrating when bumping to a page that’s not wanted and having to get back again – frustrating for anyone, but more so when it happens all the time. Axess Lab have provided some simple design solutions. See the article for more and for more about WCAG. Axess Lab lives the message and has a really clean site with easy language – a good example for others. Lots of resources here.  


How to write meaningful alt-text

A laptop computer on a desk showing several pictures.When meeting a deadline to get something published on the web or social media it’s easy to leave out the description of the image in the alt-text box – but should you?. Alt-text is a description of an image that’s shown to people who for some reason can’t see the image. Among others, alt-texts help:

  • people with little or no vision
  • people who turn off images to save data
  • search engines

People with little or no vision are probably the ones that benefit most from alt-texts. They use a screen reader to navigate the web. A screen reader transforms visual information to speech or Braille. If you don’t include alt-text you run the risk of a screen reader trying to convey something like: “publicity_pre_launch_43.0001.jpg” or “cropped_img32_900px.png”. While Facebook has a built in feature to describe images automatically, the descriptions are too general. “Cat indoors” doesn’t say what the cat is doing. It’s all about context and meaning. Find out more from Axess Lab on how to convey context and meaning without writing an essay! Once you get into the habit, it doesn’t take long to do.

Some really useful tips here from Axess Lab – good information for everyone, nicely laid out and easy to read. As is often the case, attention to detail makes for greater accessibility and inclusion for everyone.

Editor’s Note: the alt-text for the picture on this page is, “A laptop computer on a desk showing several pictures.” And I’ve learned that a full stop at the end is important for screen readers. 


Google spells out accessible, inclusive, usable

A woman stands on a stage with a woman sitting behind her. She is making a presentation to an audienceIt would be good if all designers took their lead from the likes of Apple and Google: inclusion, accessibility and usabilty are about the design process. Apart from clearly explaining how these terms are linked and can be used together, Google’s half hour video also has some tips and tools for designers. It shows how three different users have the same need: a man with a mobility disability (permanent), a boy with a broken arm (temporary) and a woman with an armful of shopping (situational). Individual situations might be different but they all have the same need for accessibility. And people have the same goals they want to achieve regardless of their situation. While this instructional presentation is aimed at an audience interested in designing apps, particularly the second half of the video, the messages in the first half can be applied to other design disciplines. 


Seeing with saying: wearable AI

close up of the device sitting on the right arm of the wearer's glasses.Orcam MyEye is a wearable for people with low vision. It tracks your finger, reads what the finger points at and announces it. The device is worn on the arm of a standard pair of glasses. This is also a great device for people who have difficulty reading. Another design idea for one group that also suits another. The captioned video clearly shows how it works.

From the CoDesign website: “There is a clever, intuitive interface based on a gesture everyone understands: pointing. All users have to do is point at whatever they want the device to read; the camera identifies their hand, then takes a picture of the text and reads it. It’s so precise that you can point to a specific line on a page and it will start reading from that point. “We believe that pointing at something is the most natural thing a human does,” says Aviram, who serves as the company’s CEO. 



A young man enters the therapy room. He is using Canadian crutches. He is shaking hands with the therapistJUST UD IT, is an acronym to help people remember the principles of universal design. In a short fact sheet published by Special Olympics Health, the principles of universal design are described generally, but also for people with intellectual disability. It points out that poorly presented information or communication can become a barrier to accessing health promotion programs or services. It also points out that universal design and accessibility are not synonymous and explains why. The acronym is as follows:

J: Jazz it Up – Ensure that your communication and presentations are engaging and interesting. No one likes to be bored!
U: Use Multiple Methods – Different methods help maximize your reach to the audience and allow more people to understand and participate. Written text, audio, pictures, video, touch, interactive activities are all great options to share your message.
S: Simplify – Removing jargon, using concise and simple wording, and using large easyto-read font that is spaced out allows more people to understand your message.
T: Test it out – Ask for feedback. Don’t assume that your method is reaching everyone, instead ask your audience how your presentation or product was received and then adapt accordingly.