User Experience Magazine: Volume 9, Issue 2, 2010
Feature Articles: Usable Accessibility
Jane (not her real name) suffered a stroke two years ago that affected the language processing areas of her brain, leaving her with serious difficulty in speaking and reading. In a consultation session on assistive technology, Jane was thrilled to experience text to speech software that enabled her to read material on the Web with relative ease for the first time since her stroke.
Many users, like Jane, have cognitive, language, or learning impairments that create challenges in using computer applications. Awareness of the needs of these users, and of ways well-designed technology can support them, is growing rapidly. Increasingly, inclusive design efforts address these needs, along with those of other user groups. Usability professionals have a key role in these developments. Happily, knowledge and skills that usability professionals already use apply directly in this work. This article describes the design approaches and methods that are most important.
Key points for usability professionals are supporting text to speech tools like the one Jane used, by appropriate structuring of text; using clear and simple language; creating straightforward navigation and interaction; support tailoring of information presentation to meet the needs of different users; and limiting assumptions about users’ mental models.
Beyond these familiar points, usability professionals can also accelerate progress in inclusive design by including people with cognitive disabilities, and other disabilities, in focus groups and user test panels. Doing this will not only improve the particular designs to which these groups contribute, but it will also increase the awareness of these important users within our professional community.
Over the course of a four-year period (2005 through 2008), the author worked on a project centered on materials from and about Africa. Planned as an online digital library, the project dealt with scholars and technologists from many of the countries in Africa. People on the ground learned to digitize printed materials and botanical specimens, to create metadata, and to build appropriately secure sand-proof, water-proof or insect-proof scanning rooms. However, there were two overriding challenges, which continue to prevent the collection from being adequately useful to scholars in Africa: electrical power and Internet bandwidth.
From the beginning of my involvement with the project, there were expectations that "by next year" there would be another undersea cable, that the available bandwidth would be shared better with scholars and citizens, that the gap between the haves and have-nots would be smaller, and so on. But during my time on the project, it didn't happen. The most promising possibility was that cellular phones, which dominate on the continent, would be useful in terms of providing a work-around when online access was really critical.
By Caroline Jarrett, Janice (Ginny) Redish, Kathryn Summers & Kath Straub
Reading can become challenging for anyone. Things that make reading hard vary from person to person (cognitive impairment vs. stress or distraction) and from situation to situation (poor lighting vs. reading from a mobile phone.) There is a substantial literature that explores the causes and implications of various contexts where reading isn’t easy. The catch is that the literature tends to focus on a single cause and population or population.
In reality, UX practitioners regularly design for people in different groups, and often they want all of them to use the same interface. How can they optimize designs to support different groups with very different reading abilities and challenges?
The Design to Read project was created to encourage the exploration of design for challenged readers independent of the cause of reading difficulty. We look beyond the causes to identify similarities in patterns of behavior, response and performance across the causes and context. By focusing on similarities rather than differences, we derive design guidelines that apply across reader sub-populations and difficult reading environments.
This paper describes five guidelines that address common issues. Our guidelines help practitioners “design to read” by creating designs that make reading easier for everyone.
For a bibliography of sources cited in this article and more, see www.designtoread.com/Bibliography
With their emphasis on 3D graphics and complex interface controls, it would appear that gaming interfaces and virtual worlds have little to offer people with disabilities. On the contrary, multi-user virtual environments, such as Linden Lab's Second Life platform, serve as a form of augmented reality where users transcend physiological or cognitive challenges to great social and therapeutic benefit. A number of intriguing developments exist within the accessibility sector, and these use cases inform the design principles that make barrier-free access an important aspect of the interaction experience.
Examples include haptic input devices for the blind, virtual regions developed according to Universal Design principles, communities dedicated to people with cognitive disorders, the use of the avatar as counselor, and customizable personae that either transcend or represent a disabled person's self-identity. This article investigates research methods and case studies affiliated with virtual environments, exploring the ways inclusive design removes barriers to access for virtual world users with disabilities.
In 2002, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was passed as a response to some of the issues that arose during the 2000 United States Presidential Election. From HAVA, the United States Election Assistance Commission (EAC) was established. One of the goals of the HAVA was to expand access so that individuals with disabilities can vote privately and independently. Since then, there have been several attempts to make voting accessible but very little progress. For example, most polling places have an official to assist those with visual disabilities when writing in a candidate’s name. To our knowledge, there is no voting system today that allows blind voters to write-in a candidate’s name independently and privately.
An accessible proof-of-concept system, Prime III, incorporates a universal design, allowing those with disabilities, including visual and motor impairments, to vote and to write-in a candidate’s name privately and independently. Prime III uses a multimodal interface design to accommodate a greater number of people with disabilities. Voters can use touch or voice to cast their votes with Prime III.
With government standards and requirements for accessible software, worldwide, and increasing awareness, more companies are looking to ensure that their products can be used by people with disabilities. This presents challenges to usability testing professionals: just because an application is coded to meet accessibility standards doesn’t mean that it’s usable by users with disabilities.
Based on the author’s experience in “discount” testing web sites and applications, this article outlines ways to incorporate testing with people with disabilities into the usability testing you may already be doing. You may need to extend your user profiles for different disability categories; and you may need to modify your user tasks to take into account that assistive technology users often require more time to complete tasks, and will be subject to greater fatigue than users without disabilities.
The “hard part” is recruiting, which generally means establishing relationships with local organizations and agencies to identify participants. And, of course, your test facility must be accessible to people with disabilities.
The benefits can be large: changes based on testing to accommodate people with disabilities often benefit users without disabilities. Further, the changes can benefit people who are developing disabilities as they age.
By Jungmin Kang, Sunjae Lee, Inseong Lee, and Jinwoo Kim
Although social networks can improve the quality of life, seniors often decline to participate in these networks. A study from Korea reveals some of the challenges in creating online social networking services for seniors.
Research identified three patterns of online social networking activities:
- Activity in order to learn new information
- A lack of desire for new social network contacts due to involvement with other activities such as religious events and volunteer work
- Maintaining already existing networks to share knowledge and experience.
These patterns ultimately indicate that reducing loneliness improves the general quality of life.
However, seniors need online social networking services that meet their needs to interact with others with a similar outlook on life, and with similar interests.
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By Shawn Lawton Henry
The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) is a key resource for usable web accessibility. WAI’s accessibility standards are developed through the W3C process in cooperation with individuals and organizations around the world, with a goal of providing a set of standards that meets the needs of individuals, organizations, and governments internationally.
In addition to standards, WAI produces many documents that offer guidance on how to include accessibility in a good user-centered design process, including people with disabilities and their needs early in the process. Other work of WAI focuses on how building on the benefits of accessibility for other audiences, such as older adults, people on limited bandwidth and users of mobile devices.
By Kate Walser
Designers and developers often think of accessibility as a challenge to address. What if we have it backwards? Think of accessibility as the enabler for UX challenges and addressing accessibility objectives can help us tackle some difficult UX challenges. We’ll explore a list of guiding questions that can guide your future designs.
Thatcher, Jim. “What is Accessible Software?” Remarks at the National Conventions of the National Federation of the Blind and American Council of the Blind, July 1997.
By Karen Mardahl
This case study shows the development of the conference accessibility guide for the STC annual conferences. The guide grew from a niche product into a resource that evolved beyond its original format to benefit a much larger audience than expected. You’ll learn about the purpose and the content of the guide, the format of the deliverables, and the lessons learned from this project. Best of all, a template is now available so that you can create similar guides for conferences for your workplace or your clients.