[guispeak] Fw: BlindNews: Paying attention to one group's disabilities enhancesusability for everyone else.

  • From: "beth" <fb-oe@xxxxxxx>
  • To: <guispeak@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 12 Jan 2005 09:37:26 -0500

----- Original Message -----
From: "Leon Gilbert" <BlindNews@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
To: "Blind News Mailing List" <BlindNews@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Sent: Wednesday, January 12, 2005 5:58 AM
Subject: BlindNews: Paying attention to one group's disabilities
enhancesusability for everyone else.

> The Feature (Wireless Internet Magazine)
> Wednesday, January 12, 2005
> Paying attention to one group's disabilities enhances usability for
everyone else.
> By Douglas Rushkoff
> "It's wonderful! I can finally tell when my phone is about to die," Joanne
Becker exclaimed ecstatically as her cell dutifully -- and audibly --
announced its battery level, making her an instant convert to the Mobile
Speak accessibility program. Sure, as the software's product manager, Becker
might be biased. Then again, she is also completely blind, making it
difficult to contain her joy at finally being able to use features in her
cell phone that most of us take for granted, like seeing the signal level,
reading the caller ID, or scrolling through menus.
> Although we rarely stop to consider it, much of the information presented
on our mobile devices relies on a specific sense for correct interpretation.
Most modern handsets beep, blink or vibrate energetically to attract our
attention. But after that, it's every sense for himself. Most phone
interfaces are essentially unusable by those impaired in any way, and, as a
result, pretty difficult for the rest of us as well. By making these devices
more universally accessible, we might end up making them more usable, as
> Market forces and economics dictate that manufacturers place a higher
priority on features such as size, battery life and aesthetic appeal than on
less sexy concerns such as accessibility, simplicity and usability. Although
most companies pay lip service to usability, the race to offer
next-generation features such as cameras, MP3 players and PDA software has
focused many more man-hours on embedding components, redesigning circuit
boards and reinventing buttons than on developing experiences that emphasize
facility over novelty.
> Thanks to product life cycles that rival the mayfly's, manufacturers often
test in the wild, releasing clumsy interfaces upon hapless consumers, hoping
to address inevitable problems with software upgrade later on. The first
version of Nokia's Series 60 UI, for example, buried the popular clock
application deep within a submenu that required a considerable amount of
clicks, joystick twiddling and determination to unearth. Likewise,
Motorola's Timeport phones informed users they had missed a call, but
provided no clear method of finding out any additional information, like who
it was from.
> Although manufacturers have no choice but to tailor their phones to the
able-bodied, sighted, and hearing majority of their customers, the simple
exercise of thinking through some of the issues involved in developing
hardware and software for those with disabilities will reap rewards far
beyond a niche product line and some goodwill PR. It's an approach called
"universal accessibility," and it means prioritizing accessibility when
making design decisions. Every knob, feature, and function is developed from
the perspective of making it usable by the widest number of people. Making
doors six inches wider, for example, allows wheelchairs to pass through
them. Turns out, it also allows residents of wheelchair-accessible
apartments to purchase grand pianos.
> Of course, the speed with which the Internet was built made the value of
universal accessibility more apparent. As Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee so
eloquently put it, "The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by
everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect." This is no simple
task in an interactive medium. Accommodating one disability often
disqualifies another. But by the same token, sometimes developing a feature
for the disabled, such as optical character recognition or voice-synthesized
text, can turn into a great feature for everyone. Voice commands on cell
phones made phone books accessible not only to the blind, but to the
> Even more mundane assistive technologies, such allowing users to tab
through links as they browse Web sites and applications, has made the same
sites much more accessible to WAP and mobile phone users. By the same logic,
designing wireless interfaces with maximum usability for a maximum of users
will make them more broadly accessible down the road. How accessible? The
imagination is the only limit.
> We may be a few years short of realizing Ray Kurzweil's cybernetic vision
of "noninvasive nonbiological intelligent nanobots...extending our cognitive
capacity" and allowing our neurons to interact directly with our machines.
But companies such as Cyberkinetics and Neural Signals have had success
implanting electrodes directly into the brain, allowing people with serious
disabilities to exert control over the world using just their thoughts.
Researchers admit that this is rather invasive, and requires a lot of
training - so those with devastating disabilities are certainly more
motivated to do it. But it's also the first step in a universal brain
interface, accessible to us all.
> On a less invasive and potentially more immediate level, the BrainPort,
developed by Wicab, uses a strip of electrodes on the tip of the tongue to
deliver a full range of sensory data to the brain. Just as Braille
substitutes tactile dots for letters, the BrainPort substitutes one set of
cues for another, except it does so directly to the brain, allowing for the
translation of more abstract information.
> Wicab's promotional material reveals a lot about the way such technologies
tend to evolve: "Proven applications include normal balance control for
disabled vestibular patients, vision for the blind, and a whole new
dimension in video games." Tackling inner ear disease brings us a better
Super Mario.
> Moreover, while direct-to-brain interfaces have the potential to make
communications technologies more accessible to people with a broad range of
disabilities, they only reinforce the need for us to incorporate universal
accessibility strategies sooner than later. After all, you wouldn't want to
tab mentally through 20 menus while holding down Menu-Left Arrow just to
check your SMS messages while you're seeing with your tongue.
> http://www.thefeature.com/article?articleid=101317
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