Accessible places with Google Maps

Google Maps has two new features to help us find our way and what we are looking for. Live View uses the camera in your phone to give street view directions, and the “Accessible Places” feature marks entrances with wheelchair access.

Accessible Places feature

Google Maps has expanded its “Accessible Places” feature that shows when a place is wheelchair accessible and/or stair-free. It will be interesting to see if this will encourage more places to make their businesses accessible. As we know, when it’s good for a wheelchair, it’s good for prams, bikes and trolleys.

The feature was originally launched in 2020, but it was limited to just Australia, Japan, the U.K., and the U.S. Now, the feature is available worldwide on Android and iOS.

Google Maps pin icon against a background of different coloured dots.

To use this feature, turn on the “Accessible Places” setting in the Google Maps app. You will see a wheelchair icon on the business profile if it has a wheelchair accessible entrance. You will see the same icon with a strikethrough if the location is not accessible. The feature can also check to see if the location offers accessible parking, facilities, and seating.

Steepness of slopes doesn’t appear to be covered, and Google doesn’t say if their access maps are accessible.

It’s up to business owners to update their business profile to reflect whether their business is accessible. It’s unlikely Google will check whether this is true, but user feedback should keep businesses on their toes.

Live View feature

When walking around in new surroundings, Live View helps you keep your bearings. Using the phone camera, the flat map view is transformed into the street view with arrows so you know which way to head. A great plus for tourists and visitors.

When walking around in new surroundings, Live View helps you keep your bearings. Using the phone camera, the flat map view is transformed into the street view with arrows so you know which way to head. A great plus for tourists and visitors.

With Live View, users can walk the streets using the camera on their phone and get directions on the screen. The updated version has more information such as cafes, ATMs and transit stations.

A Gif of Live View in action showing a street view on Google Maps.

Different app developers have tried their hand at creating access maps, but Google brings many features together on the one screen. However, access for wheelchair users does not guarantee access for everyone, and it doesn’t cover all disabilities. It also doesn’t say how welcome people with disability will feel. Nevertheless, it is a good start and Google will continue to improve. The next thing is finding places where you can hear each other talk.

Universal design and perfection

A universal design approach to a project often means doing the best you can with the knowledge, skills and resources to hand. Each time you have a design project, make it more accessible and inclusive than the last. Universal design is not about perfection, or perfection for absolutely everyone. It is an ongoing iterative process.

A drawing of a man with curly black hair with his head in his hands in front of a laptop. He looks unhappy. Universal design and perfection.

The notion of perfection reinforces the perspective that accessibility is hard.

A blog post from CanAxess discusses the issue of perfection in digital and web design. Using the example of two people, a celebrity chef, and a special forces soldier, the article discusses “the perfection millstone around the neck”.

If digital designers have a mindset of expecting absolute perfection they will reinforce the idea that accessibility is hard. For example, headings might be incorrectly rendered on a page. For designers this is unforgivable and a “slight on those users who need that support the most”. The risk is that designers will give up and stop trying to improve digital accessibility. And then there is the anxiety, procrastination and fear of falling short.

Having high standards is a good thing, but it needs to be balanced otherwise it makes it hard to get started on a project. So, at these times, “good enough is good enough”. The advice from the blog post is to do better than yesterday and do it well.

The CanAxess website has other resources of interest:

Make video accessible

Make forms accessible

How to make chatbots accessible

Google spells out accessible, inclusive, usable

A woman stands on a stage with a woman sitting behind her. She is making a presentation to an audience. Google spells out accessible, inclusive and usable.It would be good if all designers took their lead from the likes of Apple and Google: inclusion, accessibility and usability are about the design process. Apart from clearly explaining how these terms are linked and can be used together, Google spells out accessible, inclusive and usable in a half hour video 

Infographic showing three groups of disability: permanent, temporary and situational. From Microsoft.
Microsoft infographic: Permanent, temporary, situational disability

The video also has some tips and tools for designers and shows how three different users have the same need: a man with a mobility disability (permanent), a boy with a broken arm (temporary) and a woman with an armful of shopping (situational). Microsoft designed an infographic to illustrate the point. 

Individual situations might be different but they all have the same need for accessibility. And people have the same goals they want to achieve regardless of their situation.

This instructional presentation is aimed at an audience interested in designing apps, particularly the second half of the video. However, the messages in the first half can be applied to other design disciplines. 

Website cookie banners: barriers to access?

Some people think that people who are blind can’t use websites or smartphones because they can’t see the screen. This is not true of course because they use screen reader software to read out the content of the webpage. However, even on reasonably accessible websites, cookie banners can prevent access to the very first page.

A black computer background with a red circle around the red words Access Denied! Cookie banners, barriers to access.

Many websites have accessible features, but they are not necessarily linked up. The popup cookie banner can prevent some users from accessing the website entirely.

Clive Loseby’s Tedx talk explains that despite legislation for online accessibility, very few websites meet basic access standards. You can check your easily by doing what people with low vision and people with screen readers do. They use the keyboard and not the mouse. Go to your home page and use the Tab key. Does it progress through the menu or navigation tabs?

It is a legal requirement in most countries to have accessible websites – the guidelines and standards have been around for more than 20 years. What is taking so long? Clive Loseby explains basics and how every organisation or business is missing out on customers.

Some websites use popup banners to advertise something and others use scrolling images as well. These have a similar effect to the cookie banners.

A reminder about attitude

Some of the responses to the talk in the comments section are not positive and in some cases almost abusive. While all YouTube videos get their share of negatives, it is still a reminder that ableism is alive and well.

Inclusive imagery and icons

We are seeing more people with disability in films, tv and stories. Both the presence of people with disability and images depicting disability are being integrated into computing. But are the processes for developing inclusive imagery also inclusive?

If the only images available to illustrate accessibility are pictures of wheelchair users, then it becomes difficult to get people to understand and acknowledge the huge range of unique user needs.

Circular graphic showing many different icons related to disability.

A short article by Emory James Edwards addresses some of the issues related to diversity and inclusion in computing. Designers regularly use personas to help them communicate with developers. They each know what the other is talking about. But these ‘design assets’ as they are called, have not included images of people with disability, non-western users, or older adults.

Although people with disability are getting more recognition, the images are still prone to stereotypes. With luck, as we see more images of people with disability we could see increased understanding of the need for accessible technology.

If people who are blind are only depicted as wearing sunglasses or using a guide dog, but never depicted as using a white cane or walking with a sighted guide, it makes invisible the variety of skills and preferences of people who are blind or have low vision

A blind man and his guide dog walk through a shopping mall. Inclusive imagery.

More images of disability is not enough – they could even reinforce stereotypes. It gives people the illusion of knowing what life is like with a disability.

Tips for inclusive image generation

Edwards explains six key points:

  1. Do not reinforce isolated, sad or pitiable stereotypes.
  2. Avoid being overly “sweet” or creating “inspiration porn”.
  3. Show the diversity of the the disability community. That includes gender and nationality.
  4. Consult with people with specific identities.
  5. Make a commitment to long-term engagement with people.
  6. Make inclusion the default position without resorting to tokenism.

The title of the article is, Putting the Disability in DEI Through Inclusive Imagery. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is about changing the paradigm in computing and other fields. Technology is an essential part of modern life. The reference list at the end is also useful.

A picture can paint the wrong words

For those who understand the issues with the picture shown, there is no need to explain. But there are others who see two good looking young people, one in a wheelchair being pushed by the other. They are wearing bright colours and looking happy as they make their way through an empty shopping mall. For the uninitiated there are three key issues with these companion pictures.

Shutterstock image of a young person being pushed in a hospital wheelchair. The occupant is obviously a model that doesn't look like they have a disability.
  • First, perpetuates the stereotype that wheelchair users must be helped by being pushed rather than mobilising independently. A person walking alongside would be better. 
  • Second, it is clear that both of them can walk as they change places with each other to be pushed in the chair.
  • Third, the type of wheelchair is usually found in a hospital setting. It is not one that a person would normally own let alone use it to go shopping. Wheelchair-user models would come with their own wheelchair.

Wheelchair users are not the only way to convey diversity or disability. The majority of disabilities are invisible, e.g. low vision, hearing loss, heart disease. So pictures of groups of people from all walks of life are much better. Too many of these pictures show a lone wheelchair user in places devoid of other humans. This is not real life.

Let’s make sure images convey the right messages.  

Colour blindness not just genetic

Colour blindness is an eye condition that changes the way people see colours. It doesn’t seem like a big thing to people who have normal colour vision. But when it comes to reading things like maps, it matters a lot. Graphs, maps, diagrams and other graphic information types often rely on colour to differentiate between elements and features.

A pile of brightly coloured squares sit untidily on top of each other. The colours are very bright.

With genetic colour blindness, men are about 16 times more likely to be affected than women. Injury or disease can also affect the ability to see certain colours.

Apart from genetic reasons, some health conditions increase the risk of developing colour blindness later in life. Macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetes, dementia, and Parkinson’s disease can all affect colour vision. Because it happens later in life it often gets unnoticed and undiagnosed. Some medications might affect colour vision too. For more, see My Vision guides.

A middle aged white man wearing glasses

You are at greater risk of colour blindness if you are a white male and have family members with colour blindness.

Red-green colour vision deficiency occurs in 1 in 12 males with Northern European ancestry. For women it’s 1 in 200.

The Axess Lab website has some great tips for making graphics more inclusive. For example, putting text into pie charts, and labelling goods with colours not just showing them. Colour contrast matters too as you can see in the picture below.

Pie chart with different colours and their respective labels.
A pie chart with labels
A group of people standing holding a pink banner with the words You are Not Alone, but you can't see the word NOT because it is in pale red and blends into the background colour
A serious colour contrast fail in real life

Readability and colour choice

Colour choice is also a factor in readability. The video below shows how easily we can be deceived by our eyes. It shows how two different shades of grey are actually the same. That’s why you can’t rely on judging contrast by eye.

Which font to use? All of them?

Old wooden printer's typeface blocks in different colours and sizes.

New research from Adobe shows we have to re-think optimum fonts and typefaces.

First, font is not the same thing as typeface. What’s the difference? Typeface is a group of letters and numbers in the same design, such as Times New Roman. Font is a specific style of typeface, such as Italic or Bold, and in a particular size, for example, 10 or 16.

A woman is reading a book reader device similar to Kindle.

By simply changing the font readers can gain incredible reading speed. But there is no one-size-fits-all “best” font.

While reading speed is not something usually considered as a universal design concept, it is a related aspect. Ease of use and comfort for all is one of the tenets. And if you want to extend the attention span of readers then speed and comfort will help.

The study looked at a group of 352 participants aged 18-71 years. Forty-six percent were female, 22 percent bilingual and all self reporting they are comfortable reading English.

The study measured 16 common typefaces and their effects on reading speeds, preferences and comprehension scores. Similarly to an optometrists eye test they toggled letters to ask participants their preferred font.

a man is reading a tablet device.

Different readers read fastest in different fonts without losing comprehension. That means personalisation is the key.

On average an individual read 35 percent faster with their fastest font than with their slowest font. Comprehension was retained across all fonts. But no font was a clear winner for all participants. This means that devices will need to allow reader to personalise their font choices.

The other finding was that the fonts people say they prefer aren’t often the ones with which they read fastest. While there is no best font, there was some typefaces that worked best for older participants. This could be due to familiarity, or visual properties.

The title of the article is, The need to personalize fonts for each individual reader. It has some surprising results everyone should consider in their written and online communication. The title of the research paper is, Towards Individuated Reading Experiences: Different Fonts Increase Reading Speed for Different Individuals

Abstract

In our age of ubiquitous digital displays, adults often read in short, opportunistic interludes. In this context of Interlude Reading, we consider if manipulating font choice can improve adult readers’ reading outcomes.

Our studies normalize font size by human perception and use hundreds of crowdsourced participants to provide a foundation for understanding, which fonts people prefer and which fonts make them more effective readers.

Participants’ reading speeds (measured in words-per-minute (WPM)) increased by 35% when comparing fastest and slowest fonts without affecting reading comprehension. High WPM variability across fonts suggests that one font does not fit all. We provide font recommendations related to higher reading speed and discuss the need for individuation, allowing digital devices to match their readers’ needs in the moment.

We provide recommendations from one of the most significant online reading efforts to date. To complement this, we release our materials and tools with this article.

Plug and Pray?

Front cover of Plug and Pray report

People with disability are often early adopters of new tech, but these new ideas can also come with unintended barriers for users.

As we improve accessibility in the built environment, it is important to make sure we create and maintain accessible digital designs. A report from the EU, Plug and Pray? outlines the opportunities for emerging tech and people with disability. The report highlights the need to be inclusive and provides practical recommendations.

The title of the report is, Plug and Pray? A disability perspective on artificial intelligence, automated decision-making and emerging technologies.

New opportunities

New technologies are emerging every day and hold a promise of greater inclusion for people with disability. For example, devices and operating systems that automatically adjust to the behaviour needs of the user. This is most useful for people with sensory and cognitive conditions.

Many technologies are in early stage of development, so the promise of greater independence needs a note of caution. However, the speed of digitalisation and AI poses risks of creating barriers to use. Another issue is the potential for infringing human rights and widening the equality gap.

Some people have more than one functional disability. For example, speech recognition software not understanding commands by a person with Down syndrome. So design issues are multi-faceted.

Regulating AI

The European Disability Forum has a position paper on this topic. The Forum welcomes the EU’s proposal for regulating AI in the EU. Briefly, the important points to consider are:

  • Accessibility of AI-based technologies and practices;
  • Protect persons with disabilities from potential AI-induced harm;
  • Strong governance mechanisms, human rights impact assessment, and accessible feedback, complaints and redress mechanisms;
  • The same legal standards for European AI used outside of the EU;
  • Involvement of persons with disabilities and accessibility experts in the development of European and national AI policies, as well as promote their inclusion in AI  projects and technical development teams.

The European Disability Forum has several publications related to human rights and inclusion.

Accessible graphic design

The text box reads Graphic design can be described as the language of vision but is this exclusionary in nature?

Graphic design is an essential element of communication.

Pictures, photos, infographics, icons – they all convey messages. It is often said that images say more than words. A bar graph gives a visual representation of statistics making it easier to understand. A photo of a landscape in a tourist brochure piques interest in a place. Readily recognised icons send instant messages, such as this is a train station or this is a toilet.

The way text is presented also sends messages. For example, a tiny faint font sends the message to people with low vision that they are not included. A busy page with tightly compressed text is readable but uncomfortable.

Images and text are essential elements in visual communication. The importance of accessible and inclusive communication is the subject of a masters thesis from Canada. The title is, Equitable access to public information and the role of the graphic designer. The author is Christine Woolley.

The text reads, appropriate measures must be taken to ensure people with disabilities can access information on an equal basis with others.

When graphic designers consider accessibility and inclusivity in their work, the result is a better experience for all…

Woolley’s research explores how graphic designers learn about, interpret and implement accessibility standards into practice. She used participatory research methods, often referred to as co-design. The outcome is a framework and a set of recommendations for supporting the graphic design industry in Canada.

The thesis discusses many aspects of accessible and inclusive design, and it’s role in equitable access to public information. Woolley has three main pillars of discussion.

  • Understanding the importance of access – the moral angle
  • Understanding industry standards and guidelines – the responsibility angle
  • Understanding accessibility legislation – the legal angle
The text reads, inclusive design recognizes people as individuals who are not all the same and prioritizes the needs of individuals who are often not acknowledged in current systems.

The framework and recommendations were designed through a collaborative process with participants and represent a collective need for industry support.

Findings

The findings identify opportunities on how the design industry can be supported in their accessible design journey, and in building capacity and motivation to go beyond the minimum requirements, to think critically about accessible design and pursue opportunities for innovation.

Viewing products online with Coles

Front cover of Coles Online Product Image Guidelines showing a family at the beach having a barbeque. Anyone buying or selling online wants the best possible view of the product. Buyers want to see relevant size and shape and key information. Sellers want the maximum number of sales. Making visual information clear, and easy to read and understand is key. Coles supermarkets has devised an image guide for suppliers to make products more readily recognised. So viewing products online with Coles should get easier for everyone. eBay sellers should also note.

The Coles guide is based on work carried out some years ago by the Inclusion Design Group at Cambridge University. This work is updated as they continue their research. The Coles guide is easy to read and gives instructions about images that suppliers should send them. These instructions are good for anyone who has a product or merchandise to sell. 

The guide covers the use of 2D and 3D images, out of pack images and lifestyle images. The Coles website will feature a first image with the brand with the option for further images with a click. This gives the opportunity to see front, back, left and right side of the product.

A previous post, Smart Phones and Shopping explained some of the background and has a video explaining how it all works. 

 

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