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Presentation Presented!

October 15th, 2014 by Steve | Comment on Presentation Presented! | Filed in Accessibility Thoughts, art of web accessibility update

As I’ve been mentioning, I got the opportunity to give a presentation on accessibility at work. I think it went well. I’m going to tweak it a bit to make it more generic and less specific to the company, and then I’ll share it.

The common themes:
1) Accessibility is a cornerstone of User Experience — while the focus is on people with disabilities, accessibility really is about opening pathways for every user.
2) There are far more disabilities to be mindful of than just, say, blindness (which many people only think of when they think of accessibility). There are disabilities related to vision, hearing, motor skills, cognitive capabilities.
3) And what about environmental limitations? Some people use technologies in poor lighting or too much lighting. Some have numerous, disparate displays screaming for their attention.
4) Do you really know your users, or do you paint them with a spread brush and make sweeping generalizations about how able-bodied they “have to be” to do certain jobs? Maybe you do have a type of user who does in fact have to be devoid of certain disabilities to do a job that involves your product. But be very careful making assumptions!

It was a fun little presentation to put together, and I’m optimistic it’s opening doors for me in raising awareness of accessibility. Stay tuned and I’ll share more.

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More about Accessibility and Personas

September 24th, 2014 by Steve | Comment on More about Accessibility and Personas | Filed in Accessibility Thoughts

Last year, I posted Personas in Accessibility, sharing some thoughts (as well as posing questions) about how personas should be used in the context of accessibility.

I’ve been giving this topic some more thought lately.

There are different schools of thought in User Experience about the merits and methods of creating personas.

There is definite value in representing users in such a way. The point is to keep your users in focus for UX people, developers, business decision-makers, and everyone else involved in the creation of products. Personas are a nice way to sum up key points and distinctions in a realistic, empathetic way.

Some personas are a fairly involved set of documents, covering every conceivable user and going into a lot of detail. Specifics include educational background, interests, concerns, typical workday, buying habits, ethnicity, etcetera.

Alternative formats roll up users into a minimal set of archetypes, and limit themselves to high-level summaries – just enough information to get the points and distinctions across.

I’ve worked with both kinds, and lately find myself more on the side of the latter. The main thing is to show distinction in types of users. The more of a novel you write (which pretty much goes for any UX artifact), the more likely people won’t bother reading them.

In the presentation I’m working on right now, I think I’ve found a nice way to incorporate accessibility concerns with personas/archetypes.

I’m anticipating that a sizable percentage of my audience think of their products’ users as just one type of person. That person, out of necessity, simply cannot have certain disabilities because they have to be able to do certain physical activities.

In our research, we’ve learned that there isn’t the one type of user — there are several, and they come from different walks of life, age brackets, etcetera. Not all of them have jobs that require physical labor. Many of them are desk-bound, in roles that certainly can be done with a wide range of disabilities.

I plan to first give an overview of the different kinds of disabilities. After that, I’ll list out a smattering of user types for our products. I’ll then go through them and highlight some disabilities that could be in play.

For example, the person who goes around turning wrenches and performing repairs on stuff probably can’t have motor disabilities or be blind. But an executive who runs reports and wants to stay abreast of how much money his organization is making (or losing) could be wheelchair-bound, blind, deaf…really just about any disability is possible.

We’ll see how the conversation goes!

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Another Presentation in the Works

August 27th, 2014 by Steve | Comment on Another Presentation in the Works | Filed in art of web accessibility update, Personal

I’m excited that I’ve been asked to do an accessibility presentation at work.

I’ve got about a month (less now!) to put together something. The good news is that I’ve got a pretty solid foundation in place. Now I just need to fill in details.

Since the audience probably isn’t overly familiar with web and application accessibility, other than high level “We need to be mindful of X, Y, Z for government compliance”, I think a great approach is to go over:

1) What is accessibility?
2) Why is important?
3) What disabilities affect people who use the web or applications (it’s not just blindness!)
4) What about, specifically, our users?

Stay tuned — some of the stuff will obviously be company-specific stuff I won’t share, but I’ll post the general stuff when it’s all done.

It’s exciting to me because it’s an opportunity for some general education, and to dispel some myths or assumptions along the way.

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July 16th, 2014 by Steve | Comment on Icons | Filed in Accessibility Thoughts

My wife shared with me an article about color blindness and video gaming (Red vs. Green: Gaming with Colour Blindness), and one of the things the author discusses is how some games like the Grand Theft Auto series avoid sole reliance on color on their maps by also using icons.

That got me thinking about the pros and cons of icons.

In the GTA example, it’s great having recognizable icons for things like food stops, stores, car repair businesses, etcetera.

On the other hand, a good rule to follow with iconography is “less is more”. You may be solving visual and cognitive obstacles by using symbols versus potentially vague or indistinguishable colors, but new problems can be introduced if you go nuts with them.
The face with an exclamation point quote bubble that informed Pre-OS X Macintosh users of an important decision or notification
Some things to be mindful of:

  • Generally speaking, a handful of icons might provide differentiate and quicker recognition of the information they support. A dozen icons? More? That might start watering down their impact. If you’re finding yourself using that many, it might be good to ask yourself if there’s an even better way to break down information.
  • Be mindful of your audience and realize that some icons might be universally understood in some cultures, but not in others.
  • Using images for icons might not be scalable — especially if they are initially small. Zooming will pixellate them and quickly render them hard to decipher.
  • On projects I’ve been involved with recently, Font Awesome has been used more and more. They have a wide range of icons, plus they scale very nicely. Just be sure to provide descriptive text (see: Making accessible icon buttons

    The smiling Macintosh icon that greeted Pre-OS X Mac users when they booted up their computer
    Like many things, icons can be an accessible plus, but only if used judiciously and appropriately!

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  • Flying Car 2014

    July 9th, 2014 by Steve | Comment on Flying Car 2014 | Filed in Innovation

    Flying Car 2014, on June 25-27
    I had the opportunity to attend Flying Car 2014, an event in Milwaukee focused on showcasing innovation and forward-thinking.

    I missed days one and three, when the legendary Steve Wozniak delivered the keynote, but I did get to see some great speakers on the day I did attend.

    Major League Baseball commissioner and former Milwaukee Brewers owner Bud Selig was the keynote. In part because I’m a big baseball fan, I enjoyed his recap of the innovative, often controversial decisions he’s made to improve and modernize the game.

    One of his messages — innovation can be unpopular, particularly in old, reluctant-to-change institutions like baseball, but that’s not reason to back down. I’d say that Selig’s efforts, from inter league play to expanded playoffs, have proven him right.

    There were a number of really good speakers after Selig. What really stood out for me was the lab session that I chose to attend in the afternoon.

    Damian Buchman is a man with an amazing story. At age 13, he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a very rare and very deadly bone cancer. Doctors told his mother to take him home and let him die, rather than face a grueling, painful, and nearly hopeless fate.

    Despite such a prognosis, Damian has beaten the “one-in-a-billion” odds, despite constant struggles including 20 knee surgeries and the realization that one day, he could lose his legs.

    The Ability Center

    Not taking for granted the miracle that he’s still alive and still able to walk, he’s currently on a mission to create a groundbreaking facility called The Ability Center.

    The Ability Center will be a place that emphasizes “universal design” for fitness and wellness. Existing gyms and fitness centers, to varying degrees, offer very limited options for people with disability (maybe one or two pieces of workout equipment, or the ability to play wheelchair basketball in a very tiny time window). The Ability Center will be fully accessible for those with special needs.

    More to the point, Damian emphasized that it’s a place where both the disabled and non-disabled can exercise, play sports, and hang out together. That particularly resonated with me given the message we’ve been saying from day one on this blog — that accessibility is about opening doors for everyone, not just the disabled. Just as superior web sites or applications meet the needs of everyone, The Ability Center isn’t limiting itself solely to people with disabilities.

    If someone with no disability at all still wants to experience wheelchair basketball, they can wholeheartedly do so. This sort of openness can only help raise people’s awareness about disabilities, not to mention dispel myths.

    Check out The Ability Center website and learn all about Damian’s undertaking. It could really be a game changer, and I’m pretty stoked about it being rooted right here out of Milwaukee.

    Stay tuned to their website (and mine) for updates!

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