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: http://www.dbsv.org/index.php?id=1393