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. 


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.” 


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.


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. 


What is the meaning of inclusion in inclusive technology?

Line drawing of jon and kat. They re both wearing jackets and scarves around their necks. A very interesting conversation between a WordPress designer and an advisor to Automattic where they discuss inclusion and how people understand the concepts of inclusive design in different ways. They claim that a diverse team does not necessarily mean that diversity will be reflected in designs – it is a company-wide culture change that is needed. “Success is when inclusive design is the default way to design any aspect of society.” The conversation is between John Maeda of WordPress, and Kat Holmes the advisor to Automattic. Nicely written, large text, lots of good points and tips, and easy to read with extra links at the end of the article.  


Can everyone hear me?

People sit around round tables discussing questions. There are four round tables shown in this pictureFinding a way to include people who are hard of hearing in workshops, brainstorming sessions and similar events is not easy. Time delays with live captioning and signing tend to reduce the spontaneity of contributions when working with people with normal hearing. Researchers have developed a device to help overcome these issues and provide instant talk to text. In the process they found some interesting things about the way hard of hearing and deaf people communicate. It seems electronic instant speech to text does not always work well for this group. Captioning provided by a living person cuts out all the ums and ahs and hesitations, but an electronic device does not. This makes comprehension difficult, especially for people who do not generally communicate this way. The article, Live-Talk: Real-time Information Sharing between Hearing-impaired People and People with Normal Hearing charts the development of prototypes involving users throughout. As always, a reminder that one in six people experience hearing loss. This is not a small group. Older rock stars such as Roger Daltrey, Eric Clapton and Phil Collins have gone public about their hearing loss.


Less is more on websites

A computer screen advertising the Jaws for Windows screen reading software.A study of blind users of websites has found that getting straight to the point is better for finding relevant information. Isn’t this a good criteria for everyone? With so much of our lives dependent on digital delivery methods, is it time for writers to carefully edit their work, and for web designers to minimise graphics? The article, Web accessibility: Filtering redundant and irrelevant information improves website usability for blind users, reports on a study of blind users and screen readers. As with captioning for people who are deaf, it is likely that considering blind users will also have benefits for many others. You will need institutional access for a free read.

Abstract: Accessibility norms for the Web are based on the principle that everybody should have access to the same information. Applying these norms enables the oralization of all visual information by screen readers used by people with blindness. However, compliance with accessibility norms does not guarantee that users with blindness can reach their goals with a reasonable amount of time and effort. To improve website usability, it is necessary to take into account the specific needs of users. A previous study revealed that a major need for users with blindness is to quickly reach the information relevant to the task, by filtering redundant and irrelevant information. We conducted three experiments in which seventy-six participants with blindness performed tasks on websites which filtered or not irrelevant and redundant information. Cognitive load was assessed using the dual-task paradigm and the NASA-RTLX questionnaire. The results showed a substantial benefit for information filtering regarding participants’ cognitive load, performance, and satisfaction. Thus, this study provides cogent arguments for improving usability of websites by information filtering for users with blindness.


Tool to assess usability of smartphones

A black smartphone being held landscape with a blank white screenSmartphones could almost be considered “wearables” given that most people carry one at all times and refer to it often. Whether it is to socialise, get information, shop, or watch entertainment, they are a prominent part of many lives. Having easy to access content is now essential. It is therefore a growing area of universal design. Researchers in South Korea have tested and piloted a Checklist for Assessing Blind Users Usability of Educational Smartphone Applications.  Their paper is a chapter in a SpringerLink publication and requires institutional access for a free read, or it can be purchased. The abstract provides a good overview of the method and the results.

Abstract: The purpose of this study is to develop a checklist which specifically evaluates blind users’ usability of educational smartphone applications. To carry out this task, researchers developed checklist items based on the previous usability literature, evaluation tools, and research on e-learning and Web accessibility for users with/without blindness. As a result, a checklist with 29 items covering three levels of interface design (structure, behavior, presentation) was developed. In order to accomplish this, usability principles were first categorized into these three levels and then transformed to become relevant to the blind user. The initial version of the usability checklist items was reviewed and evaluated for their representativeness and comprehensibility by interface design experts and teachers of blind learners. Content validity index (CVI) and Cronbach αα values were calculated to check the validity and reliability of the tool. The revised second version was reviewed in the same way by a group of blind users, and CVI and Cronbach αα values were calculated as well. The final version was implemented by the blind user group for evaluating two learning applications. Reviewers’ comments were reflected in the second and final version as well. Evaluation results indicated low usability for both applications even when accessibility requirements were met.


Digital world still scary to some

A close up of an ATM with a person holding their hand over the pin keyboard to hide their numbersOlder adults are still suspicious of digital transactions. This is one of the conclusions from a study in Ireland. It would be interesting to see if we would get similar results in Australia. With institutions such as Centrelink and Medicare going digital, it is important that we don’t leave people behind. This report, “A Social Policy Report of Older People’s Everyday Experiences of Banking and Telecommunication Providers in County Roscommon” gives some good insights into older people’s behaviours in this digital world. Using ATMs was not popular mainly due to concerns over safety, so there is still a preference to physically visit the bank. Online banking and telephone banking was not favoured either, in spite of many people having a smart phone and a computer. At least visiting the bank means an outing and some exercise for people who spend most of their time at home. Perhaps this should be factored into policies as well. The report lists the key findings at the front of the document. The Economist posted an article on a similar theme. Would be good to see an Australian study.