I read quite a few books about designing for accessibility in the last few months. Most of them were about so called inclusive design, and most of them were focused on designing inclusively for the web. While I learned a lot, and while I thoroughly enjoyed all the books I read, there was one book that stood out: Design Meets Disability by Graham Pullin. It stood out because of its different approach to designing for accessibility.
One of my coaches at the Design Master course asked me what I mean when I use the term accessibility. I tried to explain what I mean by quoting a few sources that explain it quite clearly (I hope). But that post doesn’t necessarily explain why I chose accessibility as my subject. There are three reasons why I like accessible web design. It’s possible, it’s a friendly thing to do, and it’s not very hard.
One of my coaches at the Master Design course I’m following wondered what I mean when I say accessibility. I’ve heard the term so often that I forgot that the definition I use is not common at all. In this blog post I’ll try to explain what I mean by looking at a few definitions used by different organisations.
When it comes to making websites accessible, there’s a lack of awareness among the people who design and build websites. At least, that’s what I have to conclude after speaking to quite a few different specialists. I spoke to people who build websites, who design them, who lead teams, who use websites with a screenreader, who study to become a web designer, and I spoke with accessibility specialists in different fields. They all agree. There is a lack of awareness. People don’t know it is possible to create websites that work for everybody. And if they’ve heard of accessibility they think it’s hard to do.
I created an atlas of people who make things. This was an assignment for my masters study. Well, the assignment was to make an atlas. I chose to make one about makers. The idea was that if I understand how and why people make things, that I better understand how to talk to them. What tone of voice I need to use when I want to educate them. To be honest, this atlas didn’t really teach me about tone of voice, so in that way I failed. It did turn out to be a wonderful little website though.
I finally visited London. I have been to many cities around London — Brighton, Birmingham, Cambridge, Oxford — but this was the first time I actually visited the city itself. We went there on a semi-organised trip with my fellow students (and teachers) from the Master Design course in Rotterdam. The idea was that you should organise your own schedule and, if possible, invite others to join the activities you organised. I visited three different agencies in three completely different offices. One owned a complete building overlooking the Thames. Another had a few rooms in an enormous palace. The first office we visited reminded us of an apartment in Amsterdam. Not too big, not very small, with 50 people working in it.
Today we did an exercise with so called conversation pieces. Together with my fellow student Barend Onneweer we did an assignment about valuing valued objects. And this assignment was in itself a conversation piece created by Irma Földényi. Again, it was much fun to do, very insightful, and I need to learn how to use this for my own research.
I visited this wonderful workshop in which Andrea Stultiens told us about a project she’s been working on. In this project she asked artists in Uganda to make their own representation of this photo. This resulted in some incredible works of art. Some of those works were easy to misplace with our western background — for instance, I saw influences of Picasso, where there really were none — and others were a bit harder to understand without context. But luckily for us we had Andrea who gave us this context.
There are things we need to use. We really have to. Things like tax return forms which are mandatory. Or things like webshops. Not mandatory, but often necessary. I wouldn’t know where to buy Sugru if I couldn’t order it online, for instance. For more and more things we depend on the web. Good usability and accessibility is important, especially in these cases. But this is not always the case. In this document I’m trying to figure out the different aspects of why people need to use things. It has a similar structure as the one I wrote about why people want to create stuff, which is from a maker’s perspective. Here I’ll look at things from a user’s view.
Sometimes very simple design decisions have unforeseen complex consequences. For instance, it could make sense to design an on/of switch, in order to toggle certain settings on a website. Designing such a control visually can be done within a minute.
If I want to improve the awareness of accessibility and inclusive design, I think one of the things I need to do is trying to get an understanding of the different reasons why different designers want to make things. Why did they choose a creative job, instead of whatever else there is. Why did they decide to design stuff for others, and not, for instance, decide to become an artist?
Today I created conversation pieces that emulate a disability. At first I tried to manipulate my Mac: every few seconds the tracking speed was toggled between super fast and super slow. And the scroll direction toggled between natural and old fashioned. The people who tried to control my Mac didn’t feel disabled though. They simply thought my Mac was broken.