Here are some main insights from a blogpost that Katrina, my Product Doctor colleague, wrote for Mobile Monday London, based on an event that they held in June.
Inclusive Design – The User IS You
Inclusive Design (ID) and Accessibility, and the design principles around these issues, are not confined to a ‘special group’ of people. The notion of good usability is essential to the design of successful mobile products – if not all products – not only for those with a particular capability loss, but for everyone.
The British Standards Institute (2005) defines ID as, ‘The design of mainstream products and/or services that are accessible to, and usable by, as many people as reasonably possible … without the need for special adaptation or specialised design.’ There are 62 million potentially disabled users in the UK – that this is actually the population of the UK, because whether you are permanently or temporarily disabled with a broken wrist, there is a high probability that eventually you will be affected by accessibility, so it is not just about your users, it is actually about all of us.
Worth reading Henny Swan’s blogpost for agnostic guidelines for developers which contains the presentation she gave. Following Henny’s presentation, we were treated to a dynamic and interactive discussion – just as we’ve come to expect from a MoMo event!
The panel, chaired by Robin Spinks of the RNIB (Principal Manager, Digital Accessibility), was joined by:
* Damon Rose (Ouch! Podcast producer & BBC News journalist)
* Suzette Keith (Usability and Accessibility Researcher & Visiting academic at Middlesex University). Suzette declared herself, firstly, as “…the representative old person…” at the event and although she didn’t have a smartphone “…I am not alone. I did some work with Hackney Silver Surfers…and out of 12 people one person had a Blackberry, she used it as a phone.”
* Samantha Fletcher (Trustee of the Dyslexia Association of Bromley, Bexley, Greenwich and Lewisham). Samantha also sits on the British Dyslexia Association’s new technology committee. She has quite severe dyslexia, mild dyspraxia and mild A.D.D.
* Former journalist Paul Carter (Co-Director of markthree media). Paul, who was born without arms and legs, joined the panel to talk around people with dexterity issues and mobility problems.
Which? Most helpful Apps
Asked which apps the panel members found most helpful, it was a clean sweep for apps that were considered most practical and took some of the stress out of everyday tasks:
* For Paul, the move towards contactless and mobile payments, and Hailo (black cab app) – he described as ‘life-changing’ for people with dexterity issues;
* Robin also likes Hailo and apps that are good for the visually impaired (VI): Ultra Magnifier, dictation apps, train times and the Next Bus app;
* Suzette – A standout app for older people is the Transport for London Journey Planner. This also helps reduce the cost of travel for those users not yet old enough to qualify for a free pass;
* Damon – “Blind people have the best technology!” – likes the light detector app on his iPhone;
* High praise from Samantha for trainline.com – ‘amazing’, the calendar app –‘brilliant for recording everything’. She thinks that, for Dyslexic users, Google beats a dictionary app as the latter requires correct spelling whereas “With Google you can put any rubbish in and somehow it always knows what you’re trying to say.” Google Maps are also a favourite, although, as Samantha pointed out “One of the downsides is if you want to turn the map so you’re looking at it as you’re standing, it will rotate with the phone.”
Yet, I’d suggest that this particular feature is annoying to a much wider populace (me for one) who isn’t particularly good (read: rubbish!) at navigating. Which is why, as Paul described, it makes sense to remember that “Anything that makes anyone’s life easier is going to make life even easier for someone like me.”
Essential Tips – 4 things to remember when developing Accessible apps
Then asked for advice for developers to help them create more Accessible apps, the panel offered some excellent tips:
1. User Testing – There is NO substitute
When it comes to making apps more Accessible, Damon Rose advised “Testing with real life users who have a range of impairments is really the biggest source of guidance.” On the issue of all-encompassing standards for developers to deliver Accessible applications, Suzette Keith said that given the rapid speed of development in the mobile space, it would take a while for Accessibility guidelines to catch up. So “In the meantime, doing your own user trials is going to be your best route for discovering what really needs to be done and tailoring to your particular application… The more that you talk to people and the more you get feedback from individual users and from other developers, you’ll actually begin to build up your knowledge and your confidence in terms of delivering some of this until such a point where you just deliver it without even thinking about it.”
Robin Spinks’ recommendation to developers is to seek out feedback from users. He urged them to “Encourage people to tell you about how Accessible is your app. There are lots of people out there who would love to do that and, quite frankly, buy your app if it’s easier to use.”
The case for user testing was also echoed by Henny Swan “There is no substitute for testing with users across the board but I think in mobile we are at the point where we really need to get it right now, otherwise we are going to be going back and correcting our mistakes in the next few years, just as we did on desktop and we don’t want to go down that route anymore.”
2. “Switch on the device Accessibility settings…”
It may sound obvious but “If you’re designing something and think, how is it going to work, you’ll get a sense quickly when you turn on the functionality as to whether or not it’s going to work. You can do it long before you come to user testing” (Robin Spinks).
3. Apply the K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple, stupid) philosophy
(i) Irritating features
Samantha pointed out that people with dyslexia and those with fine motor skills difficulties are not fans of lots of small buttons placed very close together. They are also put off by continuously having to set new passwords which demand to be cap sensitive, 8 letters long and incorporate a character “You think now I’ve gotta remember a new password! I can’t tell you how many apps I’ve binned… PayPal is fantastic because you can have a pin, a 4 digit number instead of a password.” For Paul “Not being able to tab between fields – incredibly irritating. And not being able to get the effing keyboard out of the way. It’s half the screen. Stop it!”
(ii) Do not discriminate between users
As Suzette advocated “In designing the apps, we want to think about people who are in the population, [disabled users] are not a special group… they have particular diverse needs. But actually, you know… what’s clean and simple is always good… The best interfaces you all use are probably also the cleanest and the simplest interface.”
Honestly, does it come as any surprise that the pet peeves identified by the panelists are also issues experienced by many a smartphone user? Once again, this points heavily to the importance of user testing across the board: test products with the very young, the old, those with disabilities and – well, just about everyone else in between!
4. Make it meaningful
Who doesn’t want apps that helps enhance a person’s life? Suzette gave an eye-opening example of an 82-year-old lady who could not get her head around how to use a computer and couldn’t see the value of using one. However “When she was introduced to Skype on the iPad, it was a completely different story. It was immediately obvious it was about her being able to talk to her granddaughter in Australia and about her being able to use something that had very, very few controls and she knew she couldn’t break it. Giving people a simple route that’s meaningful and touches their lives is a really important thing to think about.”
Customisation + Customisation = Accessibilty²
Samantha and Robin agreed that customisable apps were both helpful in terms of improving accessibility and, aside from any disability or need, surely a desirable feature for any app. Damon suggested that giving users a choice over which accessibility features to enable would also go some way to managing how developers, in lieu of any all-encompassing standards, build in greater Accessibility to their products. Robin proposed that customisation may also answer the question of how developers build in something that works for as many people as possible but has minimal cost implications “A device that can have as many different options… For example, being able to connect to a Braille display, or a Bluetooth keyboard, or a switch… It’s about all of that functionality actually being included and… the care being taken in the design and development stage to make that happen.”
Accessible products Make Good Business Sense
1. Expand your market, expand your sales:
(i) Apple and Accessibility
It’s also worth remembering that the the disability market is a very big market. It’s likely, as Damon suggests, that the more Accessible a product, the more people will buy it. Look at Apple. “In terms of consumer electronics they are the company who are pushing that harder across their product range” (Damon Rose).
(ii) Accessible products are moving into the mainstream
Another reason for why large companies like Apple are looking to create more Accessible products is, according to Damon, due to the rise in visibility of people with disabilities “They’re buying things online… becoming more embraced by commerce. In the US, the big store, Best Buy, was holding Accessibility dates and giving the entire store out to promoting Accessibility within devices they have in the store… That’s bringing the market out. It’s making it more visible.”
Robin confirmed this growing trend, recounting how “Even just to go back two years ago; we were running events, showing people how to use an iPhone… Fast forward two years to 2012, Apple are now chasing us, looking for us to run things in their store. The stuff about it being a specialist environment, it’s really moving into the mainstream. App developers are ringing us up saying can you help us to test apps, can you put us in touch with people with disabilities and other organisations that can test the apps to make them really, really easy to use.”
2. The Business Case for Inclusive Design and putting the user first.
Again, look at Apple “…who build in broader functionality and accessibility features at the design stage… There are others, for example, Panasonic have released their entire 2012 range of televisions which actually talk. It’s not an added feature; it’s something that’s been built into the specification” (Damon Rose). The excellent Inclusive Design Toolkit2 nicely talks through the commercial benefits of listening to users early on in the design process:
Every decision made during the design cycle can affect design inclusion and user satisfaction. Failure to correctly understand the users can result in products that exclude people unnecessarily and leave many more frustrated, leading to downstream problems, such as increased customer support requirements that can ultimately reduce commercial success. Conversely, successful implementation of inclusive design can result in a product that is functional, usable, desirable, and ultimately profitable.
3. Enable your staff to do their job
The reduction in disability benefits means we are more likely to see people with diverse capabilities and needs entering the workforce. It therefore makes sense for companies to ensure that their software, mobile apps and devices are Accessible.
In the UK, there is no specific legislation regarding Accessibility for mobile, whereas in the US, mobile handsets must, by law, be Accessible. Paul Carter added that as cost is a real obstacle, regulation is necessary to push further development in this area. He reminded us that: “…We suffered for many years in terms of physical access to buildings, being told it can’t happen because it’s too expensive. It was only when that came into legislation that that actually changed.”
Alongside legislation, Robin encouraged organisations that represent groups of disabled users to mobilise and build alliances with international communities that can put forward the case for Accessibility. “It also means when you come to try and talk to Google, actually they want to entertain you. They want to take on board your concerns.”
Discovering the best apps for Accessibility
While AppleVis came up as a key source for VI Apple users, the panelists agreed that the primary means of discovery is by word of mouth. Paul explained that “There’s lots of communities in the disability world. If something is recommended, then it takes off pretty quickly. Most people hear about it.”
Also useful to know, when it comes to marketing your app, Robin talked about harnessing the power of Twitter “One thing that’s happening a lot in the VI sector is if an app becomes Accessible, then actually word spreads extremely fast around Twitter… There’s also a podcast called Access Talk. Robin summed up the discussion by saying that “Share is the keyword in terms of knowledge and updates and experiences.”
On a side note, Damon mentioned that he wouldn’t have bought his light detector app if it had been offered in the RNIB store rather than through iTunes. Am not sure if this is just a question of branding but Damon’s comment could suggest that apps created for a specific capability loss should nevertheless be made available on all the regular distributional channels.
Samantha confirmed that a large number of people in the dyslexic community use iTunes “…and they got very annoyed when apps weren’t available in that and they had to buy them directly off a website. It was confusing.” The moral of the story? Check with your users! Ask them where they expect and prefer to find their apps made available. Again, this is good practice for all, whoever we’re designing for.