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.

 

Older people and web facts

Infographic showing the proportion of people using various aspects of the internet. It’s often assumed older people are unable to cope with technology and the world wide web. This stereotype is incorrect. Keep in mind that people who pioneered computers and the internet are in their sixties. So the generation that started it all is actually quite active.

Perhaps if everyone over 60 were not collectively termed “the elderly” we might start to see stereotyping improve. Nevertheless, Axesslab’s blog page, Real Facts about the Elderly and the World Wide Web puts things in perspective, at least in the United States. Here are some key points: 

    • People in the baby boomer generation spend around 27 hours weekly online.
    • Of the group aged over 65, seven out of ten go online daily.
    • 82% of those in both groups run searches online related to what they’re interested in.
    • Two-thirds of seniors use the web to access weather and the news
    • 57% shop online.
    • 44% want information about food and cooking.
    • 43% use it to play games.
    • Almost half go online to check for coupons, daily deals, and discounts.

There’s a handy infographic with statistics on the Medalerthelp webpage, but watch out for the pop up ad in the body of the text. It shows the results from a comprehensive survey in lots of detail. The picture above is just one section of the infographic.

Editor’s note: Regardless of the people who do use the Internet, those who don’t are seriously disadvantaged as more businesses and government services move to digital mode. 

Designing technology for neurodiverse users

a drawing of matchstick figures in all different colours standing in a line.Neurodiverse people already know they need to be involved the design of emerging technologies from the very beginning and throughout the process. But this isn’t always recognised by designers. A new paper supports their claims and concludes that neurodiverse users should be engaged as active participants “front and center in the research and design process”. The ten researchers involved in the project say that Human Centred Design works better than the principles of user centered design. You will need institutional access for a free read from SpringerLink. However, it is also available on ResearchGate.

The title of the paper is, Designing Technologies for Neurodiverse Users: Considerations from Research Practice

Abstract: This paper presents and discusses the perspectives of ten investigators experienced with design of technologies for and with neurodiverse users. Although the advances on emerging technologies improved their potential to assist users with neurodiverse needs, existing methods for participatory design, usability tests and evaluation have been created for, and validated with, able-bodied users. User-centered design methods are not always well-suited to meet the unique needs of neurodiverse individuals. Therefore, to involve neurodiverse users iteratively in the design process, investigators need to adapt traditional methods from HCI to successfully conduct user studies. Through an online questionnaire, we identified the experimental designs commonly adopted and the major problems investigators face during recruitment, data collection, analysis and design. Based on the analysis of the investigators’ experiences, we provide nine recommendations to conduct studies with neurodiverse users, aiming at engaging them as active participants front and center in the research and design process.

 

Web designers are diverse too

Part of a computer screen showing code.The diversity of users is often discussed in relation to universal design and accessibility. But what about the diversity of designers and their preferences? A research team in Norway checked this out with software designers and found there are “significant differences in team members’ preferences, particularly for those with different roles”. So, software teams should not choose a single method for all team members when it comes to creating accessible web designs. 

The research report covers an evaluation of methods preferred by developers and those testing for different impairments. Developers preferred more technical methods and personas. Testers who use the WCAG* walk-through regularly did not rate this method highly, perhaps because they find it tiresome. This indicates a need for a different method to be developed.

The title of the paper is What Methods Software Teams Prefer When Testing Web Accessibility, by Bai, Stray & Mork.

*WCAG is the World Content Accessibility Guidelines which are international standards published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

Editor’s Note: It is likely that this line of questioning applies to other design fields too.

 

Choosing colours for websites

Colour diagram showing the three different types of colour vision deficiencyColour vision deficiency or colour blindness affects around 10 per cent of the population. But each person varies in what colours they can see, which is why it is not “colour blindness”.  So what colours are best if you want all readers to enjoy colours on your website? Colour choice is not just a matter of making it look good – it can affect the readability of text and graphics as well.

A small qualitative study looked at two websites to assess their readability and usability by people who have colour vision deficiency. The researcher analysed body text, background and links and found they had an affect on the usability of the websites. The research included designing two websites and then testing them with survey participants. The results should be read in conjunction with the methodology otherwise it won’t make sense. The conclusion section does not provide the specific outcomes.

The title of the article is, The effects of color choice in web design on the usability for individuals with color-blindness.  This is a Masters theses.

 

Plug and Pray? AI and Emerging Tech

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 to users. As we improve built environment accessibility, it is important we don’t fall into the same design traps with digital designs. Plug and Pray? A disability perspective on artificial intelligence, automated decision-making and emerging technologies is the title of a report by the European Disability Forum. There are two versions of this report: the standard full text and an Easy Read version. The Easy Read version is great for non tech people. It is a great way to get your head around the many issues that need consideration without wading through lots of words.

Getting subtitling right

A brightly coloured film strip with the word Video on it.The European Union funded a project to find out more about subtitling and how best to do it for immersive media. Media accessibility usually focuses on users with disability, but this group chose not to go that route. Instead they took a broader section of participants. One of their conclusions fits with other findings on universal design – make it part of the design from the beginning. The findings from this research have recommendations that are good for everyone. One key point is that creation and production processes should have testing that includes users with diverse capabilities. The title of the article is From disabilities to capabilities: testing subtitles in immersive environments with end users“.  With more content being delivered online and the rise of virtual reality and other types of media, this is an important contribution to understanding how best to present current media, as well as media that will be developed in the future. 

From the Abstract:  To illustrate this point and propose a new approach to user testing in Media Accessibility in which we would move from a disability to a capability model. Testing only with people with disability brings poorer results than testing with a broader range of people. This is because subtitles (closed captions) are not just for people are deaf or hard of hearing, but for everyone. This means they should be considered a mainstream feature of video and film production, not an add on feature. The study addresses issues with vision, colour, and being able to navigate digital services to find and use the subtitles. 

Inclusive designing includes technology

A young woman sits at a desk with her laptop open. She has her face covered by her hands and is indicating distressDesigners rarely design to exclude, but sometimes it just happens. Creating digital materials that are usable and accessible means many more people have access. Here is a book chapter that introduces readers to the ways people with disability use technology. It includes specific steps you can take and highlights the benefits of accessible design. Testing by people with disability is informative and should be included in the design process. As always, planning for accessibility from the start is always more cost-effective than fixing problems later. The title of the chapter is, “Designing for Inclusion: Ensuring Accessibility for People with Disabilities”.  You will need institutional access to SpringerLink for a free read. Otherwise there is a payment option. The book is titled, “Consumer Informatics and Digital Health”