19 May was Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) this year and I was lucky enough to spend it at Atos at their day event where we heard from a wide range of speakers on a broad range of subjects around not just creating accessible products but making our work environments and practices accessible too.
The day was incredibly inspiring and thought provoking for a subject I am already very interested in.
A running theme was the dislike of the words 'disabled' and 'accessibility' with discussion around what would be better terms. Diversity maybe?
No one who spoke felt disabled, just different and I think we all feel like that sometimes.
We started with Claire and Hugues from WorldLine talking about how they want to improve point of sale for visually impaired people. The main issues visually impaired people have with card readers when buying something are:
- Where to insert the card
- Or if contactless, where to tap
- Instructions are normally on a screen which they can not see, along with the price - how do they know it is even the correct price?
- And lastly the key pad
By using audio through a customers smart phone they have come up with a system which can talk a customer through the payment, and as it uses inaudible sound to talk to the phone it makes for a very simple transaction.
Next up were Leena and Sean from the BBC. They were talking about Neurodiversity and I think this was my favourite talk.
Neurodiversity is a term used to refer to people who have things like Aspergers, Autism and Dyslexia amongst others. Leena has Autism and explained that their slides would be very visual as she is a very visual person. (To be honest all slide decks would benefit from being more visual!)
Leena spoke about how a lack of awareness from Neurotypical people (that's the rest of us) creates problems for her. For instance the process of applying for jobs, while supposed to be inclusive, is too rigid and complicated for her to get through. And once she is there a large open plan office is the worst environment for her.
At the BBC they have created videos to send people to show what the different environments round the building are like to give people warning.
And they understand the issue is wider than just the individual. They need to be encouraged and mentored with a good support network created round them.
But most important is the need to change perceptions. They are not disabled, they just think differently from the rest of us and this can be really good for business.
Next up was Kiran Shah who spoke to us about being a stunt man and actor. He has worked on some huge moves, for instance Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings, although you probably would not recognise him if you met him, as he tends to play ewoks or do stunts for children.
He said that gradually more disabled actors are coming to our screens rather than being played by able bodied actors and believes this can only be a good thing.
Kevin Carey from RNIB then spoke about transforming Braille from an expensive, hard to learn tool, to something more inclusive. His team have worked hard to create the Orbit Reader which can read Internet content and books and output it as refreshable Braille. This is at a fraction of the price of the equipment most people have access to at the moment.
They are now working on creating learning programmes.
With a combination of a cheap price and the ability to self teach Braille they are opening it up to people round the world. So while saving Braille from being made extinct by other technologies, they are helping people to learn STEM subjects and spelling because reading is still the best way to do this.
Next we had Sean Smith from HMRC. Although he agreed that it was very important that the HMRC website was accessible, and that there were ways for people to contact them if they didn't want to use the web, the main focus for his talk was about accessibility internally.
They have several issues. Firstly that they buy most of their software in, but most of it is still quite immature and so has very poor accessibility.
And secondly people change jobs more often than they used to.
So he wants one set of requirements for software across government. This means the suppliers will know where they stand and understand exactly what is needed, but also give government power to push back.
He also wants to share best practice between departments, something I believe they have just started doing.
After a slightly earlier lunch due to technical issues Paul Bepey gave a short talk about process at the BBC and the sort of apps which help him most being fully blind.
Then Neil Milliken, the main force behind today's event, spoke about his journey with dyslexia. He started by reminding us that most people aquire their disability rather than being born with it.
He then spoke in detail about his dyslexia, and so while most people are aware that this means a difficulty reading, how many of us were aware that it might also mean short term memory and sequencing problems? He told us how he hates on line forms and how he often finds himself lost. But he also told us about his coping strategies, how we can help when designing our digital products and how this ability to think differently can add value to business.
As someone diagnosed as a child with mild dyslexia his talk was so familiar and yet several of the things he spoke of I had experienced but never associated with it, due to my school just focusing on my spelling and reading.
Jane Buggy SVP, Human Resources at Atos then gave a short talk about accessibility within Atos.
I was interested in the idea of an accessibility passport. In a company which is so big, over 10,000 employees, and with the opportunity to work on different projects in different teams, the passport would show all the things you need to be successful in your work, so you do not need to be assessed again at the beginning of each project.
It was great to hear how Atos celebrate differences.
WCAG is a web standard and more countries are now creating laws which state that standards like WCAG must be adhered to. Susanna is worried that this will mean that companies will ask "what do I have to do?" instead of "how can we make it better?".
Accessibility is after all only a small part of what goes into a digital product and WCAG and the new laws now give a way to tick the box and move on instead of continuing to improve.
Of the WCAG standard there are 5 things that worry her.
- The fall back seems to always be technical support when it is not always the best solution.
- It is very visual impairment focused, missing many other disabilities.
- It was created in 2008 and so says nothing about smart phones or touch screens
- And due to it being created in 2008 many interactions are different now or missing
- And lastly cognitive issues are missing completely
This is a massive subject and something she could have spoken on for much longer than her 20 minute slot.
David Caldwell from Barclays then spoke about the personas they had created to help them become the most accessible company in the FTSE 100. As he said accessibility is not just about screen readers and so their personas cover a wide range of issues that customers might have.
He then talked through the process they went through to create them - consultation, research, design, creation and publication.
And following several discussions with their legal team the personas are now available for anyone to use.
Next up was Gareth Ford-Williams also from the BBC. He feels that by using the word accessibility we forget that there are people at the end of it. He suggests 'everybody' would be a better word.
He spoke about how the BBC does not follow the equality act, or WCAG and they do not do accessibility sprints or audits.
But they do have their own guidelines and standards, which are used by many other companies.
The most important thing is to make sure accessibility happens at the beginning not the end, and to remember it can not be left to chance, it must be designed.
But the thing I found most interesting was that 1. you can get the BBC in space and 2. touch screens and mice do not work up there and yet BBC news is the one they use because it works with a keyboard.
Next we had Aaron Leventhal speaking to us from America about designing for low vision users. This is different from designing for blind users and is not as simple as just making everything bigger.
Some people do not even know they have low vision, for instance having blurry vision or being colour blind, (this affects 8% of the male population) or the options available to them.
He gave some suggestions of things to keep in mind which will help these users.
- Colour and contrast
- Thickness of line
- Separation of text
- Keeping your content simple
- And the tools you give people on your site to help.
And the best thing? By thinking about these things you end up helping all your users.
Joseph Lafauci also spoke to us from America. He talked to us about using screen readers and included an example for us to listen to. It was interesting to hear how it included code, something which must confuse anyone without a web background. So although a screen reader is a great bit of kit, there can be barriers.
He suggested the best way to really understand how a screen reader works is to install one on your device and see what it does. How else will you see if your site or app works?
Last up was Andrea Kennedy speaking about the business case for an accessible environment.
Her company teaches other companies how to look at their environments and improve them for their employees. This has great benefits for the business with more motivated staff and less sick days taken.
But she warns this can not be done without the full buy in from the Chief Executive of the company.
It was a great, if long day, I learnt a lot and definitely had my perceptions changed.
But that was not the end of my day as I then joined UXPA for their evening event on the same subject.