With talk of Smart Cities, it is important for older people to be included in digital designs. Twenty-two industry built apps were evaluated in this open access study from Trinity College Dublin. Some were designed specifically for older people, and others for a broader target audience. Text re-sizing and zooming were the main issues. Overall, the apps did not meet accessibility principles of being perceivable, operable, or understandable for older people. The platforms supported accessibility settings, but for older people, finding these settings is a problem.
The article is titled, “Are Mobile Apps Usable and Accessible for Senior Citizens in Smart Cities?” It provides a comprehensive review and good conclusions. It is expected that more people will use mobile apps and computers to accomplish daily tasks and to access important information and services. This kind of study and ongoing research is therefore important.
Abstract. The population in cities is expected to exponentially grow by 2050, and so is the world population aged 65 and over. This has increased the efforts to improve citizens’ quality of life in urban areas by offering smarter and more efficient IT-based services in different domains such as health-care and transportation. Smart phones are key devices that provide a way for people to interact with the smart city services through their mobile applications (Apps). As the population is ageing and many services are now offered through mobile Apps, it is necessary to design accessible mobile interfaces that consider senior citizens’ needs. These needs are related to cognitive, perceptual, and psycho-motor changes that occur while ageing, which affect the way older people interact with a smart phone. Although a comprehensive set of design guidelines are suggested, there is no evaluation on how and to what extent they are considered during the mobile App design process. This paper evaluates the implementation of these guidelines in several industry-built Apps, which are either targeted at older people or critical city services Apps that may benefit older people, but are targeted at a broader audience.
It’s all very well having web designers familiar with the accessibility requirements in their designs, but what about the people who post content on the website? In many organisations staff write their own material and send it to the webmaster for uploading. But is their writing and format also accessible? It is easy to post a document that might have been originally meant for another reader, such as a submission to a government body, but perhaps an Easy English version should be considered for the ease of access for all readers?
The Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland has some easy tips to followfor those who write content or upload documents.
There are three Universal Principles of User Experience Design according to Christopher Murphy in an Adobe blog. They are: Visual Grammar, Language and Typology, and Narrative Design. Understanding of other principles from psychology, anthropology and economics can be overlaid on these principles. As new technologies are imagined and invented they create problems that have never been solved before. Murphy argues that if you keep the the principles in mind at all times, the solutions stand a better chance of standing the test of time. The article goes on to explain the three principles in more detail. For people who are not involved in ICT some of the ideas and strategies are still relevant to other design disciplines – graphics are used in lots of places.
“As designers working in an ever-changing field, it’s important that we develop an understanding of the timeless design principles that underpin everything we do.” The three principles, “…which should sit at the heart of everything we design and build, are critical and will stand the test of time.”
Your website might be W3C and WCAG compliant for accessibility, but what about the documents you upload? In some organisations operational staff are expected to write material such as fact sheets, promotional flyers, and other documents for uploading to the website. Larger organisations might have an editor or someone in charge of media and communications. But do they all know what is required to make these documents accessible?
Media Access Australia provides Seven Simple Tipsfor smart Word doc accessibility. While some of the advice looks a bit technical, most of it is fairly basic such as creating Alt-text for images so that a screen reader can identify the picture or graphic. Another good point is not using terms such as “Click here” to go to a link. Instead, embed a hyperlink within the name of the file that is in the text. And of course, avoid jargon. Note that .doc files don’t have the same accessibility features as the newer .docx (Word 2010).
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.
“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.”
Most people think of universal design as being something for the built environment, but it is much more than that. Service design is an important factor in access and inclusion. There have been major disruptions in how we shop, get take-away food, share our accommodation and our cars. Universal design thinking processes have a major role to play in service design. This is the thinking of Airbnb and other similar platforms. The article in FastCompany lists a few things to think about. Here are the headings:
Let a user do what they set out to do
Be easy to find
Clearly explain its purpose
Set the expectations a user has of it
Be agnostic of organizational structures
Require as few steps as possible to complete a task
Have no dead ends
Be usable by everyone, equally
Work in a way that is familiar
Make it easy to get human assistance
Require no prior knowledge to use
Some of these aspects could be applied in other situations too.
Artificial 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 articleand 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.
As 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.
Why 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 explainssome 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.