Around 15 per cent of the world’s population, or estimated 1 billion people, live with disabilities. They are the world’s largest minority.
This figure is increasing through population growth, medical advances and the ageing process, says the World Health Organization. (WHO)
In countries with life expectancies over 70 years, individuals spend on average about 8 years, or 11.5 per cent of their life span, living with disabilities.
Thursday May 21 was Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2015.
Global Accessibility Awareness Day is a community-driven effort whose goal is to dedicate one day to raising the profile of and introducing the topic of digital (web, software, mobile app/device etc.) accessibility and people with different disabilities to the broadest audience possible.
Without giving away too many secrets about certain technology additions to Fiori planned for later this year…for Run Simple converts, UX designers, and Fiori practioners, this week seems an auspicious time to get people thinking about how the Fiori Design Principles support accessibility.
Why accessibility is important to UX design
It’s not just about empowering people with disabilities (although frankly should be reason enough for anyone connected to their own humanity).
UX design that strives to take both physical and cognitive disabilities into consideration provides a better UX for all.
The ability to zoom text for a screen magnifier tool used by partially sighted person, also helps the senior citizen whose eyesight is failing, and the young man who was at big celebration the night before.
The easy to follow navigation that helps a person with mild dementia, also helps the busy mother distracted by a couple of active toddlers, or the busy professional who still needs to complete a task while juggling calls from important clients.
Getting real with digital accessibility
Real digital accessibility is about creating a seriously good UX design.
A seriously good UX design for a very broad range of people who perform the same Role in different contexts. That is the UX design should be:
- Simple – clear, uncluttered, easy to follow
- Responsive – works with a range of devices and formats
- Coherent – consistent well-contrasted theming, consistent field/button placement, consistent easy-to-understand iconography
- Delightful – minimizes frustrations; and gives the user a sense of accomplishment and empowerment
Anything sound familiar in that list?
If you’ve never been directly involved in accessibility for digital software before, you might be forgiven for thinking it’s mostly about technology bits and pieces – high contrast themes (often black and white colour schemes), alternative text for images, options to turn off images, audio and video – and generally dumbing down the user interface to create a very basic experience.
Not so. Those elements are useful, but they are little more than accessibility tactics, and they are mostly aimed at only at physical disabilities, such as visual impairment. In the real world a basic experience isn’t any more delightful to a person with physical disabilities than to your average able-bodied person.
If you’ve gone a little deeper you may even have heard of the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) 2.0 and the accompanying quick reference guide which contains a wealth of such useful advice.
It all sounds very clear, if a little pedantic. But here’s the thing… I’m currently working with a Public Sector organisation who will not only provide services for people with disabilities, but will also employ on staff many people with similar disabilities, and this is the gist of what they say to us openly:
Even if you were to put every WCAG 2.0 provision into your solution all the way up to level aaa, that would still only meet the needs of roughly 60% of our staff, let alone our customers.
True accessibility is not primarily about the technology, it’s about the UX design
The real goal for digital accessibility is to create user experiences that are support the needs of both able and disabled persons. That support not just physical disabilities but also cognitive disabilities such as dementia, dyslexia, autism, Down Syndrome, and Attention Deficit Disorder.
The good news is that based on Cognitive Accessibility User Research done by the W3C, the Fiori Design Principles align very well with many of the recommended approaches identified so far.
On the technology front, consider that it may be better to include more multimedia in your design, not less.
…with the advent of the Web of Things, everyday physical objects are connected to the Internet and have Web interfaces. Being able to use these interfaces now is an essential component of allowing people to maintain their independence, stay in the work force for longer, and stay safe.
Cognitive Accessibility User Research W3C First Public Working Draft 15 January 2015
About 5 years ago now I had the privilege of watching a vision-impaired person use a screenreader on some interactive forms we had built. This gentlemen, let’s call him John, was severely blind himself, and was the most patient, forgiving and brave man I have ever met.
Just to participate in our testing, he had to leave his familiar, safe environment and travel alone into the centre of a crowded city, via one of its busiest train stations, surrounded by crowds of peak hour commuters.
Remember for a person with physical or cognitive difficulties, just getting to an office or outlet where someone can assist them in person can be traumatic. A digitally accessible user experience can save them stress and keep them safe from harm.
A profoundly deaf person may want to use a video link to use sign language to talk to a salesperson. A motor neuron disease survivor (like Stephen Hawking) might want to use voice translation and smart chat to communicate with a help desk. For someone like my mother, who has severe arthritis, just gripping a mouse to move it can be agony and walking for more than 100 metres is a struggle; providing a digital user experience with touchscreen capability can make all the difference to her sense of independence and help her stay in her home for longer.
What’s next in accessibility for Fiori
Spoilers! Stay tuned to the Fiori space … in addition to the current capabilities (and yes of course there is our high contrast black theme sap_hcb) behind the scenes there’s some very interesting initiatives happening and plans to make those public as soon as we can.
If you need information urgently or you are interested in finding out where we are up to… start at the official SAP accessibility page here:
One last thought… don’t forget that even with all technology capabilities you could wish for at your fingertips, it’s still comes to a well-communicated UX design. Because unless you set strong design guidelines and reinforce them with quality audits, it’s unfair and unrealistic to expect your average developer to have the insight and understanding needed to create well-designed meaningful texts and apply them consistently throughout the user experience.
If you’ve never been directly involved in accessibility for digital software before, this short video (link below) gives an enlightening introduction in a few short minutes.
Introducing Digital Accessibility: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Ik_LHmZx8Y
And may next year’s Global Accessibility Awareness Day see us all better informed, and building better, more accessible solutions.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net