Making access maps accessible

Screenshot of Seattle Access Map.
Screenshot Seattle Access Map

Many people use Google Maps and similar apps to help them navigate the built environment. They focus on road networks and points of interest but lack information for pedestrians. Google has an option to list individual “accessible places” such as a park. But this is of little use to someone with vision impairment. So how to make access maps accessible?

There are two key accessibility issues. One is collecting and integrating access information into maps. The other is designing digital maps so they are accessible to users with diverse physical, sensory and cognitive abilities. There is a third issue. Some local governments have an access or mobility map, but these are often buried on a website somewhere. Many people don’t know they exist. 

A group of researchers set up a special interest group of academics and practitioners to find technical ways to make access maps accessible to a wide range of users. Their initial findings is that technology is gradually solving issues for people with vision impairment and limited dexterity. However, cognition, language and literacy lag behind.

Their conference paper has more detail about the challenges faced in designing and creating digital accessible access maps. The title of the conference paper is Grand Challenges in Accessible Maps published on the ACM website.

New Mobility Technology

Briometrix is creating “Effort-based Mobility Maps” with an emphasis on active travel for wheelchair users. The maps display colour coded footpath routes indicating the degree of difficulty for wheelchair users. It also covers parklands and transport and links between. 

Two white shoes, a smartphone and the directional device. Honda is developing a wayfinding device for people with vision impairment. The Ashirase system links a 3D shoe-mounted vibration device and a smartphone app.

As the wearer walks, the smartphone app indicates direction by causing different parts of the device to vibrate. The front means go straight, left and right for turning, and when it isThe device shown on a model foot. time to stop. The Honda webpage has more detail and a video.

 

Designing technology for all

one hand is holding a smart phone and the other is pointing at the screen. It’s not just a matter of fairness. Technology is generally better for everyone if it’s designed for people with disability. People who are blind use the same smartphones as sighted people. They also use computers by using screen readers. But screen readers can’t improve the way websites are designed. The thing is, a website that causes problems for a screen reader is likely to be more difficult for anyone. So designing for disability is designing technology for all. That’s universal design.

An article in The Conversation explains the issues in more detail. One of the issues for web designers is that prototyping software is not compatible with screen readers. Consequently they can’t get blind users to test their designs. It also means a blind designer wouldn’t be able to make mock-ups of their own.

The researchers said that accessibility is the hallmark of good technology. Many technologies that we take for granted were developed around disability. The article concludes that no matter how much empathy a designer has, it doesn’t replace the benefits of technology built by people who actually use it. 

The title of the article is, “Why getting more people with disabilities developing technology is good for everyone”.

A related postKristy Viers is sitting in a T shirt and shorts with an iPhone in her hands. Designing technology for all. is Kristy Viers, a blind user, showing how she uses her iPhone.

See a screen reader in action in a previous post. 

 

UD, UDL, Accessibility and Ableism

A graphic showing a laptop with a green screen and several smart phones around it also with green screens. It is indicating that they are all connected.Access to information during the COVID-19 pandemic became even more problematic for some users as everything went online. So what can UD, UDL and Accessibility do to help to combat ableism?

An article by John L. O’Neill discusses Universal Design, Universal Design for Learning and Inclusive Design. In this context, the concept of Inclusive Design has a focus on the digital world. He covers the history of each, much of which will be known to UD followers. O’Neill argues that all three can be combined in innovative ways to ensure access to information. This is logical because each has the same goal – inclusion. He uses a case study where he merges the UD principle of perceptible information, the tenet of multiple means of representation from UDL, and adaptive systems from Inclusive Design. This perspective is given the title of “Abilities Design”.

O’Neill claims ableism underpins barriers and that undoing ableism is not a form of charity. Legislation that requires access and accessibility does little to change ableist attitudes.

The title of the article is, Accessibility for All Abilities: How Universal Design, Universal Design for Learning, and Inclusive Design Combat Inaccessibility and Ableism

Editor’s Note: I am not sure that inventing another design category based on inclusion takes us any further forward. However, it is an example of how designers new to inclusive concepts can use existing frameworks to help their design process.

From the Abstract

Discussions about accessibility surged at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic as people became more dependent on accessing information from the web. This article will explore different disability models to understand the oppression of people with disabilities. It will examine how the different principles and methods of Universal Design, Universal Design for Learning, and Inclusive Design can be combined in innovative ways to ensure that all citizens have access to information without barriers.

Gadgets, appliances and devices: not so accessible

The electronic display panel on a Samsung appliance showing many wash options and cycles. It’s easier to go with what you know. Learning how to use new gadgets, appliances and devices takes extra time especially if unfamiliar with new tech. In some cases the designers of these products assume users have prior knowledge. An article on the Choice magazine website covers the issues from the perspective of older users. Current younger generations will no doubt have similar experiences as they grow older. So it is worth considering everyone in designs and make them accessible.

A Samsung fridge and a smartphone side by side. A view of what's inside the fridge is on the phone. No need to open the door.Familiarity is the key to understanding any device. But there are many skill sets and assumed knowledge built into these designs. Claims that products are fun and easy to use is not the case for everyone. For example, assumed knowledge includes: a smartphone needs wi-fi in the home, which then means Internet experience. The ability to download and set up apps and email is also assumed. Then there’s software updates and virus protection. Even the manual needs to be downloaded and we haven’t even got to the phone interface yet. 

People from middle age onwards are finding it difficult to keep up with changes. In spite of the research confirming this, it seems designers are not taking note. They still rely on advertising telling us that things are fun and easy to use. Real accessibility is rare. As we move further into a digital world it is easy to leave lots of people behind without realising it.

The Choice article, Ageing and accessibility, also has a link to a research article, Intuitive Interaction and Older People.

Choice also has specific reviews on appliance accessibility, such as washing machines and dishwashers.  

Images courtesy Samsung.

Older people and internet use

A pair of hands belonging to an older man hold a mobile phone.2020 has been a year of digital connectedness. Many of us relied on the internet to keep working and stay connected to family and friends. Access to virtual health services turned out to be important too. But access to the internet and digital connection wasn’t available to everyone. It’s assumed that older people are unable or unwilling to use digital communications. The assumptions by others about the capabilities of older people doesn’t help. It reinforces a negative mindset in both older people and their younger family members. 

Understanding older people’s relationship with the internet was the subject of a survey in rural Queensland. 1500 households were surveyed and asked about the general adoption of internet use. Within this survey, respondents were asked to indicate their understanding of older people’s relationship with the internet. Researchers found three general assumptions: older people aren’t interested in the internet, and they generally can’t use it. However, family members did believe the internet would be useful for older people.

If family members act on these assumptions they are unlikely to assist older members of the family to use the internet to communicate with others. If society continues to assume older people incapable or disinterested in internet communications it will lead to reinforcing the digital divide.

The researchers conclude that distinctions should be drawn between older people in rural areas and the tendency to apply urban norms to this population. 

The title of the article is, Perceptions of older age and digital participation in rural Queensland. It is academically dense in parts but the issue is clear. Older people will be unable to join with younger cohorts in independently using internet technology if we continue to apply these assumptions.

Abstract

Participation is thought to build and sustain individual and community resilience. What constitutes participation today significantly involves networked digital communications. With Australia’s ageing population set to increase exponentially, and with a growing concentration of older people living outside of larger cities and towns, a need exists to address how participation in later life is understood and facilitated. Coupled with the need for regional communities to find relevant change processes that build resilience, this multidisciplinary paper highlights variations in perception about older people’s digital abilities in regional Queensland. Following the general increase in appeal of digital devices to older people, defined here as those aged over 65, the paper suggests that how older people’s digital connectedness progresses is foundationally influenced by the speculative, antithetical and potentially ambivalent perceptions of others. In doing so, we seek to understand rural connectedness in later life through a suite of literacies informing digital participation.

There’s a related article from 2015, Internet use: Perceptions and experiences of visually impaired older adults. Published in the Journal of Social Inclusion, it provides some excellent qualitative research – the comments from older people with vision loss are especially revealing.

Universally designed emergency management

With the increasing frequency of extreme weather events, the need to have inclusive emergency systems is paramount. While there is some awareness of people with disability within emergency management, there are few tools that embrace universal design principles. Research in this area has focused on the general public, but not on stakeholders such as first responders, control room personnel and decision makers. The Australian experience last summer meant that many of us turned to our mobile phones and downloaded apps to keep us up to date on our situation. But how inclusive are they?

A research paper from Norway takes the topic of emergency management beyond the physical environment, such as escape routes, to communications technology. Appropriate technology can improve disaster management for everyone.

The paper is a literature review of universal design methods in emergency management. Among the findings was awareness of people with disability was increasing and systems were being adapted accordingly. However, gaps remain. Some of these are:

    • Most of the work on ICT tools and platforms for Emergency Management does not take into account Universal Design nor accessibility.
    • There is a lack of communication support between emergency medical responders and people that are deaf.
    • In use of social networks in emergency situations, the age gap was identified as significantly more severe than the disability gap.
    • Good efforts towards accessible tools and platforms exist, but most of them are on the conceptual or at best on the prototype level.
    • Research on the use of assistive technology by older adults during disasters is a neglected issue.
    • Accessibility is often limited to access to Internet, rather than concerning the diversity of stakeholders and their access to digital solutions in Emergency Management.

They also found that participatory design methods gave best results but were rarely used. Maps for visualising disasters were unlikely to be accessible, but had high value for users. The article is comprehensive and covers every aspect of emergency and disaster management, particularly from the perspective of emergency personnel. 

The title of the article is, Universal Design of ICT for Emergency Management from Stakeholders’ Perspective. It is open source.

Abstract: While Universal Design principles have been adopted in many areas to ensure that products and services are usable for the broadest possible diversity of users, there is still an open area when it comes to the emergency management domain. This article aims at providing a systematic overview of the current state of the emerging research field of Universal Design of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for Emergency Management, and to highlight high-impact research opportunities to ensure that the increasing introduction of ICT in Emergency Management can contribute to removing barriers instead of adding more barriers, in particular for the elderly and people with disabilities. A systematic review on relevant literature on Universal Design, ICT and Emergency Management between 2008 and 2020 was employed using predefined frameworks, to answer the following questions: (1) Who are the target audiences (stakeholders) in research on Universal Design of ICT in Emergency Management in the different categories of Emergency Management ICT tools, and to what degree is Human-Centred Design and Universal Design taken into account? (2) What are the most important challenges and gaps in research on Universal Design of ICT in Emergency Management? We identify a set of gaps in the literature, indicating that there are some challenges where Universal Design is still limitedly addressed in technology development. We also derive promising future research topics based on areas that are missing in the literature.

Blinded by science: UD and data access

The figure of a woman is overlaid with purple and pink computer coding in tiny writing forming a backdrop.It’s all very well saying that information is available to everyone, or that government processes are designed to be transparent. But how many people can access the scientific and long-winded sentences in these documents? Even the abstract below on this very topic needs interpretation into everyday words. It’s easy to talk about universal design. However, academics often make research on accessibility and inclusion inaccessible and exclusive. How about more walking the walk, and talking the talk? 

The article on Open Government Data Through the Lens of Universal Design is about accessing data sets. This might include population census data, or data that underpin policy decisions. By casting the lens of the seven principles of universal design over the data sets the authors found ways to improve accessibility. Nine issues were found, three related to the web and the rest to data presentation.

This is an important aspect of inclusion. It helps people with disability and others to see how data are used, and to give them a voice. Information is power. The article includes recommendations for discussion on how to improve the situation.

The article can be downloaded from ResearchGate where you can request the full text from the authors. Otherwise it is available on SpringerLink where you will need institutional access for a free read.  

Abstract: Open Data are increasingly being used for innovation, developing government strategies, and enhancing the transparency of the public sector. This data is aimed to be available to all people regardless of their abilities, professions and knowledge. Research is showing, however, that open data, besides being physically inaccessible to people with special needs, those are also semantically inaccessible to people who lack data science expertise. In order to identify specific accessibility challenges associated with open government data portals and datasets, we conducted an analysis using seven principles of Universal Design. In total, nine challenges are identified based on issues discovered. Three challenges are identified on the web portal interface level, namely: dataset filtering and categorization, access using a keyboard, and breadcrumb and back navigation. The other six challenges are identified on dataset level: dataset previewing, dataset size, dataset formats, dataset purpose, dataset labelling, and dataset literacy. For each challenge, we propose recommendations as a means to incite a discussion about the features that open data should possess in order to be widely accessible, including people with disabilities and those lacking data science expertise and knowledge.

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.

Designing software with adolescents with autism

Two male adolescents sit on the kerb looking at the phones.With the right supports and understanding adolescents with autism can make a significant contribution to software design. Applications for people with differing needs is a challenge for designers. So going directly to the users and working with them is the best solution. An Australian study did just that and found that once participants felt safe they readily engaged in the workshop activities. Participants also learned from their input and engaged with the iterative design process. The agreed overall goal of all stakeholders was to devise a platform where adolescents with autism could interact and socialise. Designers usually start out with goals in mind, but they used an open-ended approach so that participants could explore their needs to determine their goals for the software. The outcome was a co-designed app for smartphones and smartwatches. 

While this article is about software design, the processes and learnings are relevant to other design disciplines. The article uses the term “Autism Spectrum Disorder”. However, the notion of autism being a disorder is challenged by many people with autism. The article is titled Co-designing with Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder: From Ideation to Implementation.  It is open access and the researchers are based at James Cook University.

Abstract:  Most co-design-based Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) research is conducted with children and does not involve the participants directly. Studies have shown that people with ASD can take on the co-designer role in early phases of the software design process. We present a longitudinal study that investigates how adolescents with ASD participate as co-designers in an iterative software design process. In this work, we conducted seven co-design workshops with six adolescents with ASD over eight months. The team exchanged ideas and communicated through group discussion and drawings. Our findings suggest that: (1) parents, community group and fellow participants play a pivotal role in supporting a longitudinal ASD co-design study and (2) adolescents with ASD are also able to make better design decision over an iterative software design process. These findings should be considered when engaging adolescents with ASD as co-designers in a software design process.

Interacting with Interaction Design

Two men in dark suits stand in front of an interactive whiteboard showing a webpage with lots of information.Higher education institutions teaching interaction design are not producing graduates skilled at producing accessible interaction experiences. An article from Norway reports on the investigation of study programs to see what level of interaction design is included. Few programs include universal design expertise. And graduates are not necessarily conversant with legal and ethical accessibility responsibilities. This is a concern given that we live in a digital world and we all need accessible user experiences. An important finding and it would be good to find out if this is the case in higher education institutions in other countries.

In a nutshell, interaction design is about shaping software so that the end user understands where to find information.

Abstract
The interaction designer plays an important role in facilitating high-quality interactions and accessible user experiences. Currently, interaction designers have diverse and often interdisciplinary backgrounds, in which may create recruitment challenges for the industry. It is also a likely contributory factor to reported challenges on student recruitment to interaction design (IxD) programs – and consequently the reported industry shortage for IxD skillsets. Thus, we need to better understand the interaction designer’s expertise and skills. Facing this fact, the present study provides analysis of Norwegian higher educational (HE) programs within IxD. We investigate in-depth what characterizes the programs, and describe their current content, focus and organization. Overall, the programs educating interaction designers are quite heterogeneous. One of the main finding is that few programs include adequate universal design expertise, and graduates are as such not necessarily conversant with their legal and ethical responsibilities as IxD professionals. We also find a discrepancy between online program presentation and actual content. The paper concludes that added work is needed to alleviate an inadequate articulation of IxD expertise, graduates skillsets, and better support academic and industry recruitment.