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.

Accessibility in UX Design

Infographic showing three groups of disability: permanent, temporary and situational.
From the Microsoft Inclusive Toolkit

The Web Accessibility Guidelines aren’t just for web designers and tech people. We all need to have an overall grasp of what they are about. As we do more online it is important we don’t make things inaccessible by mistake. Claire Benidig introduces the concepts of accessibility in UX design using the guide from Microsoft.

Cognition, Vision, Hearing, Mobility and Mental Health are all covered in an easy to read way. So, non-tech people can understand.

If we know about the basics of web accessibility, we can give a decent brief to a web designer. Then we will we can check if the Web Accessibility Guidelines were built in. Many designers still think of accessibility as an add-on feature.

Claire’s article is titled, Accessibility in UX Design.  She says that accessibility is not confined to a group of users “with some different abilities”. Anyone can experience a permanent, temporary or situational disability. An example of situational disability is having just one arm free because you are holding a baby or the shopping. 

Microsoft inclusive design principles state:

“Exclusion happens when we solve problems using our own biases. As Microsoft designers, we seek out those exclusions, and use them as opportunities to create new ideas and inclusive designs.”

Avoid Unintended Barriers Accessing Assistive Technology

An image of a braille keyboard and an audiobook keyboard.
Alternative keyboards, including braille keyboards, and audiobook players assist in reducing barriers to accessing technology.

Have you ever been given a tool or a piece of technology with the promise of it making life simpler…only to find it adds more complexity to your life because you just don’t know how to use it?

Consider the needs, then, of our learners using assistive technologies to access learning who may face unintended barriers. Being aware of some practical strategies to avoid inadvertently building more barriers to access learning through assistive technology is beneficial.

For anyone frustrated with an unresponsive program on their device, it is likely the keyboard command ‘Ctrl-Alt-Delete’  will come to the rescue. Having keyboard commands as alternatives to mouse functions supports accessibility. Therefore,  provide alternate keyboard commands for mouse actions.

To improve access for learners and ensure students have alternatives to using a keyboard, deploy switch and scanning options. With the click of a switch, switch control assists uses to, for example, enter text, select from menus and move the cursor. Switch control is available in the ‘accessibility’ menu of many computers.

For keyboard users with physical, sensory, or cognitive challenges, standard keyboards pose functional barriers. Depending on your learner’s needs, AbilityNet highlights the following alternatives to standard keyboards:

      • ergonomic keyboards
      • smaller, compact keyboards
      • separate numeric keypads
      • keyboards with larger keys
      • high-contrast keyboards
      • early learning keyboards
      • more specialist keyboards – Braille, chording and expanded devices
      • typing without a keyboard

Spectronics provide information regarding a range of on-screen keyboards to limit or remove barriers to computer use stemming from a range of physical or cognitive challenges.

Tactile feedback overlays added to touch screens can improve their accessibility to vision-impaired users. Microsoft’s touchplates are tactile guides that provide tactile feedback for touch screens. Touchplates are physical guides that overlaid on the screen that are recognised by the underlying computer application. Additionally, customised overlays for touch screens and keyboards provide support for interacting with large touch screens or accessing spatial data. Read more regarding the challenges with touchscreens faced by vision-impaired users, and some overlay options.

Implementing the above practical strategies could go a long way in supporting access when using assistive technologies. Be sure that any software selected for use works flawlessly with the tools!

There are more practical suggestions on reducing barriers to learning on the CUDA website.

Inclusive online meetings: Preparation is key

two laptops are open on a desk and one has several faces of people who are online.There’s been a few articles about working remotely and participating in online meetings. But there are a few nuances, little things, that need attention so that meetings are inclusive. An article from the Commons Library says it is not about the technical details. Rather, it’s about the culture and processes particularly for mixed face to face and online participation.

The article covers:
– Meeting preparation
– Collaboration tools
– Meeting process
– After the meeting

Some of this is basic, but the transitions in and out of lockdowns means more hybrid meetings – some face to face and some online participants. This is not easy for participants. Internet dropouts and other tech problems such as poor sound add to the mix of issues. This is where the chair’s role is very important because body language and facial expression are all helpful in making sure everyone gets to contribute.

Hosting hybrid online meetings is also covered by Blueprints for Change.  It has some Tips and Tricks.

For hybrid meetings, everyone in the room should be on camera. This can mean a rearrangement of the room and careful placement of the camera. 

“In a hybrid meeting environment people who are on screen should be assigned a buddy who is in the physical room. Their buddy regularly checks in with them, talks to them on breaks, makes sure they can see and hear at all times. Buddies might even bring them to break/snack conversations so they don’t miss the in-room side conversations.”

 

Colours that are accessible

Colour diagram showing the three different types of colour vision deficiencyColour is an important part of designers’ creative work. When it comes to colour accessibility the creative path takes a few twists and turns. That’s because people who say they are ‘colour blind’ are not all the same. Most can see some colours, but not all of them. So how can designers choose colours that are accessible, especially in digital communications?

Adobe has a blog page that explains the importance of choosing colours. Four images show the three different versions of colour vision deficiency, which are:

    1. Protanopia: Referred to as “red weakness,” this variation of red/green color blindness results in individuals being unable to perceive red light.
    2. Deuteranopia: Also known as “green weakness,” this type of red/green color blindness renders people unable to perceive any green light.
    3. Tritanopia: People who suffer from blue/yellow color blindness have difficulty distinguishing between blue and yellow colors. This form of color blindness is far less common than its red and green counterparts.

Graphic designers will appreciate the colour wheels and ways to avoid a conflict of colours. Examples of good colour choices show that designs can still be attractive as well as functional.

Manisha Gupta says in her article Color choices that are accessible

“Color is a foundational element in any creative work. When I took the challenge to design the Color Accessibility feature for Adobe Color, it wasn’t a linear path. While I was conducting research and learning more about accessibility, I realized there was no single tool that holistically helps a designer make a choice of colors that are color-blind safe — a choice that impacts roughly 300 million people globally. This made the case for bringing accessibility into Adobe Color even more compelling, and it is one reason why Adobe wants accessibility to be part of every creative’s process right from the beginning of a project.”

You can try out the online Material Design accessible colour tool that provides information on colour contrasts for visual material. 

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.

Zoom communication and dementia guide

The Zoom logo in blue against a white background.Adjusting to online platforms for our work and social life during the pandemic was relatively easy for many. But for some, the situation isn’t so easy. This can be the case for people with dementia or those who get confused easily with anything tech. Zoom is relatively easy to use, but it is good to get some help. Dementia Australia has developed a useful guide and fact sheets that are useful for everyone.  

Using Zoom – Guidelines for meetings is a straightforward guide to getting started with a meeting on Zoom and joining a meeting. It includes meeting etiquette and using the Zoom toolbar functions.
Using Zoom – Participating in meetings is a comprehensive guide to the whole process of meeting from getting started to when things go wrong.
Zoom tips – How to join a meeting is a step by sept guide with pictures of screenshots.
Zoom tips – How to get the best out of the experience has several dot points that will help all participants in a meeting.
Zoom tips – On holding a dementia-friendly meeting has helpful dot points for running a meeting with people with dementia
Zoom tips – Tools and examples has examples from other help sheets with some good key points and how to use a phone to meet.

Let’s Talk brochure is a general guide for including people with dementia in conversation.

In a media release, Dementia Australia reminds us that there are an estimated 459,00 Australians living with dementia. Most live in the community and need to use technology to stay in touch with family and health care professionals. 

Editor’s note: For all professional meetings, remember that live captioning helps everyone get the message. It’s inclusive practice. The big advantage is the transcript that follows. It’s essential for webinars especially if they are made available after the event. It’s about being inclusive.

 

Screen readers and web content

A computer page showing JAWS for Windows screen reader home pageIf you haven’t seen it in action, screen reader technology is not what you might expect. Experienced users listen at a speed most of us couldn’t contemplate. But screen readers are only as good as what they are given to read – it is a machine after all. The way web content is written, described and placed makes a difference to the efficiency of the reading device and the user.

Axess Lab has a four minute video of a how a screen reader works.  If you haven’t seen this before it makes for fascinating viewing. In the video Marc Sutton explains some of the basics. The Axess Lab website also has advice for the more tech side of things as well for desktops and mobile readers.

Web designers might do all the right things in designing the site pages, but sometimes it is the document uploads where things fall apart for screen readers. For example, when you insert a table into a document, have you ever thought about how a screen reader might decipher this? Marc Sutton shows what happens and how to make it more accessible.

Vision Australia has a YouTube clip with a Jaws user explaining how it works for her. Nomesa blog site has additional information. 

Screen readers work with the computer’s operating system and common applications. It relays information either by speech or Braille. The majority of users control things with the keyboard, not the mouse.  If web pages are well structured, screen readers can interact easily. There are good reasons why websites should suit screen readers