Monday, September 26, 2016

Accessible story telling

Pictures and images are important. What we cannot imagine in our mind, we do not think is possible. When we see the upper body of a young guy on a picture, ball in his hand and in the movement of shooting the ball into the basket, we would never assume that he is sitting in a wheelchair. That is only one of many examples that Jo Spelbrink tells us about at the Accessibility Day in Vienna, Austria.

His second example: the old versus the new symbol for disability. The old symbol showed a person sitting passively in a wheelchair, waiting to be pushed by somebody. The new symbol shows a person leaning forward, pushing the wheels themselves and heading off dynamically to wherever they want to go. The two pictures convey very different conceptions of disability, but if we see them every day they influence how we ourselves see and interpret disability.

As Jo continues on with examples of where we are missing accessible story telling, he comes to speak of marketing and that consumers with disabilities are often lacking information. Our first assumption was that they are lacking information on the accessibility features of products and services - of course, that is what projects like the GARI database are trying to remedy. But actually no, that is not what Jo meant. His point was that the marketing itself was not accessible and that a deaf consumer like himself cannot know what commercials on TV are about if there are only plenty of nice pictures but no text. Consumers with disabilities do not only have to know about the accessibility features of products - they need to know about all the basic features and functions and properties as well just as any other consumer. Many of today’s brands and companies have not yet realised this need and potential.

Companies would also benefit from rethinking their definition of target groups. Jo is deaf himself, but he has many hearing friends and business partners. In situations where he communicates with hearing people, he needs solutions that work for both deaf and hearing users. The target group for a product or service in this case is a group of mixed deaf and hearing people, not just a group of deaf persons and a group of hearing persons.

A refreshing talk in Austrian Sign Language that made us aware of some of our own unconscious biases.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Accessibility of white and brown goods at the IFA 2016

The IFA taking place every year in Berlin is one of the biggest consumer electronics fairs. Hall after hall, manufacturers present the latest solutions for smart homes, smart household electronics, smart washing machines, smart TVs…. everything smart. While “smart” is supposed to make things easier for the consumer, it might inadvertently make devices inaccessible - especially for blind and low-vision users. For this reason, the German blind association DBSV organised a side-event dedicated to “Usability and accessibility of household and consumer electronics”, which was well attended with almost 100 participants.

The heads of design and accessibility at white goods manufacturers Miele and BSH explained how these big companies are tackling accessibility, how it is integrated in the design process, how they get feedback from the disability community and what is expected from the user to make it work. An important aspect for intuitive design to have the opportunity to work, is that consumers need to be willing to experience and test new approaches. If they insist on having what they know and always had, new and better features have a hard time getting implemented. Both companies agree on two points: cross disciplinary solutions are key to achieving human centred solutions, and “adding on” accessibility at the end is always the least ideal solution.

To complete the picture, Oliver Nadig from the German blind association DBSV, and Dr. Heidrun Mollekopf from the umbrella organisations of German senior citizen associations, talked about experience and requirements from the perspective of users with disabilities or senior users. Mr. Nadig gave through some concrete examples of how touchscreen interfaces and smart devices can make the use of these devices difficult, even impossible for persons with disabilities. Be it that the menus have no clear starting point and ending point and run through in a circle, giving blind users no indication where in the menu they are. Be it that there is no indication of activated functions or having functions activated at the first touch, meaning a person exploring via touch inadvertently activates these functions right away. They emphasised that from their perspective, smart accessibility means that devices adapt to the individual needs of users and remembers the necessary settings.

The panel discussion concluding the event, came to three practical conclusions: 1) we need sensibilisation and awareness among policy makers and consumers - regulation is not forcibly the right solution, but can lead the way in the right direction; 2) we are lacking the necessary information about existing accessibility solutions - especially among consumers as well as among sales personal and carers; 3) we need norms and standards for accessibility to allow coherent implementation.

So while the awareness of accessibility - its importance and implementation - has not made its way on the general show floor of the IFA yet, the well attended side event clearly showed that the need is there, and that accessibility is gaining in traction.

Link to the event programme: