No fine print: Small business and ICT

Front cover of the guide with two men and one woman with a pair of hands on a computer keyboard in the foregroundThere are many resources and articles that remind us of the economic value of including people with disability and older people. Each person with disability can influence the spending decisions of another 12 to 15 people who are colleagues, family members, business owners and other service providers. Making products, services and buildings accessible is only part of the job of inclusive business. The task is completed by creating promotional materials, websites, telephone systems and customer services usable by all. The Accessible Information and Communication: A Guide for Small Business was developed by a consortium in Canada. It provides tools for small business operators to help create accessible information and promotional materials. There are checklists to help assess the current situation, some thoughts on organisational commitment and employee training, and some technical information about accessible formats. It also includes an example of an Information and Communications Accessibility Plan and implementation strategies. This is a detailed document that covers all aspects of information and communication. There is no place for “fine print”. The guide was developed in Canada by GAATES* but the content is applicable anywhere. There is also a web-based version of the document.

* Global Alliance for Accessible Technologies and Environments (GAATES). 

Better world with Google Maps

A cartoon drawing with figures with wheels - wheelchair, wheelie walker and a woman pushing a baby strollerSmart phones have changed many things about the way we live.There are apps for almost anything. Some are of particular benefit to people with disability and create greater convenience and independence. Smart phone owners will be familiar with Google Maps for navigating both short and long distances. The maps also contain additional information about parking, places to eat, toilets, and more. For people with wheels, knowing the level of accessibility is critical to their journey and destination planning, whether its a holiday or a local restaurant. Google is encouraging people to sign up to their mapping project that will expand their database of accessible places, spaces and points of interest. You can find out more about this project and see two really interesting videos. One is a wheelchair user in Chicago, and the other is in Indonesia – she uses a modified motor bike to get around. There is also a short introductory video with the key points.

Of course, parents with strollers or anyone with wheels, or with difficulty walking will find this map information useful, so this is taking us closer to a universally designed world. 

What does that icon mean?

A brightly coloured abstract painting consisting of painbrush lines going in all directions.Which icon does what, and where will the video end up so that it can be found again? Hampus Sethfors in an Axesslab articleuses the example of trying to download a TED Talk on a smart phone for viewing later. He explains why icons are ruining interfaces  He argues icons need labels otherwise users give up after a few unsuccessful tries and become unsatisfied with the app. Sethfors says, “Icons are like abstract paintings. They get different meanings for different people. It’s all through the eyes of an observer. And that ambiguity is really exciting with art. But not so much in user interfaces.” Saving space at the expense of usability is not the way to go. Sethfors also uses  Instagram, Gmail, and Apple apps as examples of what not to do. He goes on to look at icons on a washing machine dial, and then to icons that really work. You can really see the difference.

People who design these things make a lot of assumptions about previous experience with instructions and ways of doing things.

Minimising brain drain

graphic of a side-on view of a head with a mosaic of brightly coloured triangles filling the spaceReducing cognitive load means reducing the mental effort required to do something. With so many messages coming to us on our devices and even as we walk around, we can all do with some help to sift and process the important messages. Jon Yablonski has developed seven design principles for reducing cognitive load in relation to user interfaces in the digital world. However, some of these principles can be applied to other areas of design. The seven principles make a lot of sense and are explained simply. You can go to Jon Yablonski’s website where he explains further the concept of cognitive load.  The principles are:

  1. Avoid unnecessary elements
  2. Leverage common design patterns
  3. Eliminate unnecessary tasks
  4. Minimize choices
  5. Display choices as a group
  6. Strive for readability
  7. Use iconography with caution

Colour contrast checkers for web

The colours of the rainbow arranged as a wheelCourtesy of the Axess Lab website, here are seven great free tools that help you measure color contrasts and create beautiful, accessible color schemes that fulfill the contrast requirements in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). With almost everything in life being linked to the internet, it is important to make sure sites are fully accessible. Colour contrast is important for many with low vision, but accessibility does not have to equal boring. By going to the website you can see more on each of these seven free tools. 

  1. Contrast Ratio
  2. Tanaguru Contrast Finder
  3. Colour Contrast Analyser – by the Paciello Group
  4. Color Tool at Material.IO – by Google
  5. Accessibility Developer Tools – by Google
  6. Colour Contrast – IOS APP by Userlight
  7. Android Accessibility Scanner – Android App by Google

You can see more about colour vision deficiency and how it affects different people by going to a previous post, Seeing Red – or it it Green?

What is audio description?

logo for Audio Descriptions. black bacround with white upper case letters AD and three curved lines indicating soundIf you’ve ever wondered what audio description is, then the Microsoft video below is a good example. Audio descriptions tell people who are blind the visual information on the screen during natural breaks in dialogue. In the Microsoft example, the speech of the audio describer is a bit fast in places, but it shows the type of describing they do. The video was developed as a staff training video on disability awareness and the first three and a half minutes are dedicated to basic information. The video descriptions start at 3 mins 27 seconds into the video. They use different case studies to show where audio descriptions work well in enabling people to be productive in the workplace.

You can find out more about audio describing from Media Access Australia, and an article on a trial of audio describing with ABC iView.

85% of Facebook video is watched without sound

Black and white photo of Charlie Chaplin from silent movie daysIt seems silent movies have made a come-back. According to the Digiday website, as much as 85 percent of video views for some publishers on Facebook happen with the sound off.  That is, if they can view them that way. And that means having closed captions to interpret speech, or text over vision without narration. Apparently this is the new way to catch the immediate attention of Facebook viewers. It might also be a reason for Facebook to upgrade its auto-captioning because this doesn’t work well (sometimes known as “craptioning”). Once again, taking an inclusive approach to videos to include people who are deaf or hard of hearing with captions has proved popular with many others.  Read more about the changing habits of Facebook users in the Digiday article. 

Apple leading innovation in usability

Jordyn Castor, blind engineer at AppleA leader in standardarising accessibility functions over specialised accessibility is Apple. Their products are recognised as being easy to use with intuitive functionality. With organisational values such as “inclusion inspires innovation”, the experience of engineers like Jordyn Castor provides a personal perspective when designing for usability. Born 15 weeks early, Jorydn beat the odds and being blind from birth doesn’t stop her from some masterful coding. 

In the Mashable Australia article, Castor says her own success – and her career – hinges on two things: technology and Braille. That may sound strange to many people, even to some who are blind and visually impaired. Braille and new tech are often depicted as at odds with one another, with Braille literacy rates decreasing as the presence of tech increases.

But many activists argue that Braille literacy is the key to employment and stable livelihood for blind individuals. With more than 70% of blind people lacking employment, the majority of those who are employed — an estimated 80% — have something in common: They read Braille. For Castor, Braille is crucial to her innovative work at Apple — and she insists tech is complementary to Braille, not a replacement. “I use a Braille display every time I write a piece of code,” she says. “Braille allows me to know what the code feels like.”

This blind Apple engineer is transforming the tech world at only 22

Digital Access and Usability

Layers in designing a website compared to a M&M with HTML at its core, CSS, Javascript and packages for accessibilityThe Interaction Design Foundation understands that accessible design is not just for people with disability, but about how all users engage with design. Aside from recognising that World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative (W3C-WAI) should be considered at the start of the design process, they also offer other helpful tips in making your website user-friendly in their article, Accessibility: Usability for all. Here are some examples of their tips and advice: 

  • If you use a CMS, choose one that supports accessibility standards. Drupal and WordPress, for example, support these. If you’re going to amend a template rather than create one for the theme, make certain that the theme was designed with accessibility in mind. It can save time, effort and money.
  • Use header tags to create headings in your text; ideally, ensure that you use CSS to make this consistent throughout the site. Try not to skip from one heading level to the next (e.g., H1 to H4, rather H1 to H2); this can confuse screen reader software. Users with more severe vision impairments may access your site using a refreshable Braille display or terminal, which depends on screen readers.
  • Use alt text on your images; if you use images to enhance content, then a screen reader will need to explain them— that’s what the alt text is for. However, if your image is purely for decoration and adds no other value (other than looking good), you should skip the alt text to avoid confusing someone having the site content read to him/her.
  • Have a link strategy. Screen readers sometimes stutter over links and stop on the first letter. That means it’s important not to have “click here” links scattered through the text. The best link descriptions have a text description before the link and then a unique name for the link. (E.g., “Read more about the Interaction Design Foundation, at their website.) Consider offering a visual cue (such as a PDF icon) by links to make it clear what the link will deliver. Use underlines on links (they help color blind people distinguish links from text). Highlight menu links on mouseover to assist with locating the cursor.
  • Choose colors carefully; if in doubt, test your color schemes with some color-blind people. Color blindness is an incredibly common disability, and the wrong palette can make it difficult for a color-blind person to read your text or navigate your site. You also need to ensure that you provide high levels of contrast between text and background; older people, for example, can find it hard to see text unless the contrast is high.
  • Don’t refer just to the color of something when giving instructions; “click the red button” isn’t helpful to a color-blind person. …

Read the full list on the Foundation’s websiteScroll down for the section on website design. There is also good information on other design ideas.   

Mobile banking for everyone

two male icons showing how a disability can excludeBarclays Bank has been a leader in inclusion and accessibility of their branches and now taking the next step to mobile banking. The short video below explains clearly how inclusive design is good for everyone as well as the bank’s profits. The video ends with a call to action: “Accessibility – make it your mantra”. Mark McLane from Barclays Bank will be speaking at the AND national conference on diversity in Melbourne in May. There is a great line-up of speakers.