Category Archives: Accessibility

Design from the Words Up

I’ve been thinking about accessibility a lot, lately. Historically, I’ve thought of it as very important but very uninteresting—a sort of “eat your vegetables” part of the job. It’s still not the most thrilling topic to me. Too much of it is highly technical, official documentation is a lesson in terrible, obfuscatory writing, and it relies too much on heuristics rather than user research for my taste. But I have become very concerned with it lately, and doing my best to bake accessibility into the design work I do.

The idea I’ve been playing with lately is designing from the words up. After ten years, I’ve become very accustomed to taking on a design problem by sketching out some boxes and lines on a piece of paper. That is, approaching design as a problem of arranging things in space. This unfortunately makes it easy to get a design where space is a central component of understanding the relationships between objects.

What if, instead, I started with designing an interface that could only be read, or heard? I’m challenging myself to start the design process with arranging words in sequence. Arranging them in space—adding a second dimension—comes later. Think of it as progressive enhancement, I suppose.

If nothing else, this approach may help me think about how I would explain interactive elements verbally before they get that spatial layer, instead of going through a fully baked design and figuring out how to make it more accessible.

All that said, the thing I’m most excited about doing is incorporating people with different disabilities into future usability testing.

Accessibility Summit 2015

I went to the Environments for Humans Accessibility Summit 2015 this week. For the sixth year in a row, the University of Michigan hosted a screening of this virtual conference, giving a bunch of people from the community the chance to see it for free.
The best part is the good company – it’s always good to reconnect with people!
Other than that, the first day was all right. Outside of the talk on integrating accessibility with agile, the talks weren’t squarely in my realm on interest. What really grabbed me about the agile talk was that ultimately, it’s all just people figuring out better processes. Which really is in keeping with the spirit of agile.
On the second day, the talks looked a lot more like they were to my tastes. Whitney Quesenbery started off the day with a talk on usability testing with people with disabilities. However, that was followed by another talk covering similar ground. And though I was looking forward to the talk on accessibility tools and unpacking WCAG, neither really got into the kind of material I wanted to hear about.
All in all, I’m kind of worried that what I need at this point is material that goes into more depth than you can really cover in an hour.
If I could offer one bit of constructive feedback, it would be to encourage speakers to practice more. Some of them were very disorganized, and when that’s combined with slides that aren’t well-organized either, and all that’s combined with being a virtual conference, it makes it really hard to follow a talk. That happened a few times.