The Overlooked Consumers – 20% of the Australian Population with Disabilities and Older People
A Discussion Paper examining the Access, Challenges and Emerging Possibilities for Consumer Electronics and Home Appliances.
Tim Noonan Consulting Pty Ltd – Excellence in Accessibility and Usability
Surry Hills, NSW, Australia
COMMISSIONED BY AND FOR: Australian Human Rights Commission
Version 1.0, September 2007
About the Author
Introduction and Project Scope.
Examining the Problem..
Design Approaches and Considerations.
Standards and Guidelines.
Other Promising Products, Initiatives and Developments
Recommendations and Action Needed.
Appendix A: Blind Customers Take Action against the Cell Phone Industry
Appendix B: Email about Inaccessible Home Stereo EquipmentB
Appendix C: List of Cited Web Addresses
Many people have provided information and expertise to ensure this report is current and comprehensive.
Thanks to Chris Law, Daryle Gardiner-Bonneau, Ash Donaldson, David Hobbs, Lloyd Walker, Jane Bringolf, Luisa Ferronato, Margaret Brown, Tony Starkey, Greg Killeen, James Tobias, Jane Berliss-Vincent, James Mueller, Judith Dixon, Jason White, Robert Pedlow, Amanda Tink and Vivien Palcic.
Thanks also to members of the BCA Computer Users Group of Victoria, staff at the Trace Center, WGBH Media Access Group, 7RPH, Royal Society for the Blind (SA) and NovitaTech (the technology division of Novita Children’s Services Inc.)
Tim Noonan is the principal of Tim Noonan Consulting Pty Ltd. Tim has been working as an accessibility expert and a human factors usability designer for two decades. Tim has particular specializations in best practice accessibility of electronic banking services, and designing intuitive and efficient voice-output user interfaces for telephony and computer applications. Tim also speaks professionally on human-centred technology design and improving information access.
Every day, one in five Australians experiences difficulties or frustrations in performing everyday tasks with everyday things, such as consumer electronics and appliances. As technology develops, an increasing proportion of products are inaccessible to people with a range of different disabilities. These one-in-five Australians are what the author terms the ‘overlooked consumers’.
Since 1992 guidelines have been available explaining the issues and approaches needed to make consumer electronics accessible to people with disabilities, but 15 years on, the state of play has almost stood still, and in many cases has further deteriorated.
In that time we have seen accessible ATMs, the ability for people who are blind to cast a secret and independent ballot, access to the internet and computers, and in many cases, access to the advances in mobile phone devices. But when it comes to washing clothes, cooking, changing the channel on a VCR, adjusting the temperature of house heating or cooling, setting the alarm on a clock radio or reheating a meal, access and options have regressed profoundly for people who are blind and people with dexterity issues, and indeed a wide range of people with diverse disabilities, permanent or temporary.
The paper explains the vast access problems encountered by people with disabilities and older people in accessing consumer electronics and home appliances. It discusses some strategies and design approaches which can be adopted to improve the situation. It then collates and summarises work being done, including initiatives, research projects, guidelines and standards, and concludes with recommendations to the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission aimed at improving the situation in Australia.
At the most fundamental level, in line with Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs, the core of independence is being able to care for one’s self and for one’s family, ensuring safety and security, and being able to be self-sufficient in basic tasks. In contrast, technology regularly enables people with disabilities and older people to perform all manner of professional and academic tasks independently, allowing for gainful employment, undertaking a course of study, keeping in touch with friends via mobile phones, and generally being able to access computers and the internet. However, technology used in the home still falls very short of enabling increased independence for people with disabilities and older people.
Some everyday life examples from people with disabilities are provided, demonstrating the access challenges of blindness, dexterity and aging with consumer electronics and appliances, but It is not just about the accessibility needs of people with disabilities, it is about basic needs that all or nearly all of us will have at some time in life.
The scope of the project included home entertainment systems and their remotes; whitegoods and other appliances; home environment and control; portable devices; and personal care, health and fitness devices
It is well documented that designers are prone to design environments and devices best suited to their own situations, architecturally and technologically. Even in 2007, manufacturers, marketers and designers still create devices that are suited to their own cerebral capabilities, full vision, hearing and dexterity. It is quite amazing (and disappointing) that the younger designers of today persist in designing a world and things in it, which in many cases cannot be used by the generations that came before them. This is the heart of the problem. Too often, when designing products, attention is given to a narrow notion of who will use the products, with little thought given to the numerous groups of people which the product design will exclude.
In the simplest terms, a product is designed in the context of a likely user or group of users. If the designer’s idea of that user is limited, then the design will be accordingly limited and will deny access for those outside the narrow framing developed by the designer.
Poor existing designs are perpetuated in new designs, meaning the problem doesn’t get fixed.
Industry appears to lack awareness of the access needs that have high incidence in potential users of their products;
Designers are disproportionately concerned with visually aesthetic user interfaces in many products. This is an increasing problem for people who are blind or vision impaired, and for many people who have cognitive disabilities.
In many cases, manufacturers don’t know of, or believe that there are strategies and solutions for expanding the usability of their products. Even if they do, they put these problems aside or say they will look at them down the track. Sometimes the smallest change can make a difference. For example, simply by adding some basic tones to provide audible feedback on the operations of a device, can make it accessible to people who are blind or vision impaired.
Most people with disabilities probably are not aware that the kind of technology which enables computers and automated telephone information services to ‘talk’, can now be employed in consumer electronic devices, in a cost-effective manner. This lack of awareness may be one of the key reasons why people with disabilities have not been more vocal about their need to have more accessible options.
Part of the problem is limited collaboration between manufacturers, a highly competitive market and rapid technological development. As an example, most home electronics standards tend only to apply to protocols for device inter-connection, media formats and other non-user interface domains. Unlike technology developed for business, government and industry, there is no consolidated pressure for conformance, inter-connectivity or accessibility with regard to consumer electronics.
There is inconsistent awareness by industry of the need for accessible mainstream design, which will include people with disabilities and older people. This problem is also contributed to by the high profile dichotomy between ‘regular’ products designed for regular people and ‘special’ (assistive) products designed for specific groups of people with disabilities.
More progressive design approaches, such as User Centred Design, which are described in the paper, are a path towards the design of more inclusive products. However, this can only happen if people with diverse capabilities and limitations, are included in product and user research.
In order for real change to occur, the manufacturer needs to change its processes and its values, so that pressure to create products that are more accessible is top-down, and not just from a few interested employees.
The paper briefly discusses some classical and contemporary design methodologies, which either restrict or could have the potential to lead to the increase of accessibility and usability of mainstream products. It then explores some current design trends, in particular Universal Design, which have significant promise for the future.
Finally, the paper reports on guidelines, standards work, research projects, online resources and some products that are more accessible, before closing with 15 recommendations, which are summarized on the next page.
Undertake Dialogue with Industry
Identify Australian Chapters of Manufacturing Associations
Explore what legislation/regulation could be used in concert with the DDA to improve the availability of inclusive design of consumer electronics and home appliances
Product Development Grants and Tax Breaks to encourage accessible design
Broaden discussions with Standards Australia to include access for Consumer Electronics and Appliances
Closer strategic collaboration of People With Disabilities and Older People
Australian Equivalent of the UK eInclusion Charter
Expand Australian Design Awards
Contact ABC New Inventor’s Program
Increase access considerations as part of Product Reviews from Choice Magazine
Lectures, Training and Exposure for Design Students
Secondary School Accessible Design Presentations
Give presentations to, and forge alliances with Open Source organizations in Australia
Educate Industry in tangible ways
Website aimed at manufacturers - Opportunities in Universal Design
Guidelines have been available since 1992 explaining the approaches needed to make consumer electronics accessible to people with disabilities. Now, 15 years on, the situation has hardly changed, and in many cases has worsened.
During that time we have seen ATMs become accessible; people who are blind are able to cast a secret and independent ballot, and gain access to the internet and computers, as well as access to many advances in mobile phone devices. But when it comes to washing machines, cooking appliances, changing the channel on a VCR, adjusting the temperature of house heating or cooling, setting the alarm on a clock radio or reheating a meal, access and options have profoundly regressed for people who are blind, and people with dexterity issues. People with diverse disabilities, either permanent or temporary, are also being disadvantaged.
This report examines the current situation regarding the level of accessibility of consumer electronics and appliances for everyone, as well as for people with disabilities and for older people. It is not just about the accessibility needs of people with disabilities; it is about basic needs that all or nearly all of us will have at some time in life.
This paper explains and articulates the vast access problems daily encountered by countless people with disabilities and older people and discusses some strategies and design approaches which can be adopted to improve the accessibility of consumer electronics and home appliances. It then collates and summarises work being done in this important area including initiatives, research projects, guidelines and standards, and concludes with recommendations to HREOC aimed at improving the situation in Australia, and considers ways the DDA can be harnessed to further the accessibility of consumer electronics and home appliances.
For this document, consumer electronics and home appliances are defined as “appliances and other electronic and mechanical devices available to the mass market for use in the home, school, office, or for use by the general public in the community.” We have adopted this definition, which was used for consumer products in the comprehensive Trace Center’s ‘Accessible Design of Consumer Products’ document.
In this discussion paper, we examine the access issues for a wide range of consumer electronics and home appliances. It is important to be mindful that the paper isn’t so much concerned with which products are, or are not included, but rather, what the principles are which currently restrict access, and what the options are to increase access to products and devices.
The project was commissioned because it was perceived that there was a gap in the areas of accessibility focus falling outside high profile areas such as telecommunications, PCs, computer operating systems and the World Wide Web, or any areas pertaining to public procurement. It can be argued that considerable progress has occurred with the built environment and public spaces, telecommunications and technology for business, and those products that tie in with public procurement policies. Clearly, this is not the case for the area of consumer electronics and home appliances, even though there are one or two exceptions.
One factor is that the legislative framework is less targeted in this domain, or at least has not been exercised. Several people the author consulted reflected that if the DDA had definitive penalties, as does the workplace safety legislation, that we would likely live in a much more accessible country.
Similarly, education and awareness to industry regarding consumer electronics access is not nearly as prominent as efforts are in other technological domains. Perhaps this is because it isn’t perceived as exciting, but also because employment and the right to an education are arguably more valued social endeavours than are the activities of domestic living. Everyday activities may seem mundane, however for people with disabilities they can create stress, or even crises, due to the plethora of products designed without their needs in mind.
What are the factors that have lead to accessible voting, banking, finance and telecommunications, but which fall short of addressing or even putting into the spotlight the most basic and fundamental tasks of daily living? The answer in part would seem to be how much, or indeed how little “noise” is being made by people with disabilities on these issues. Online, one frequently sees petitions to organizations like Google and Yahoo! about inaccessible online registration processes (CAPTCHAs) yet we don’t see petitions demanding the right to have access to microwaves, exercise equipment, or home entertainment systems. Though not explicitly in scope for this paper, Appendix A discusses a group legal action to US phone suppliers regarding their poor record with accessibility.
At the most fundamental level, in line with Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs, the core of independence is being able to care for one’s self and for one’s family, and then ensure safety and security, so being able to be self-sufficient in basic tasks such as food preparation, cleaning and clothes washing, and the ability to control one’s in-home environment, such as controlling heating and cooling, are core needs/tasks. But in contrast, technology regularly enables people with disabilities and older people to perform all manner of professional and academic tasks independently. These include allowing for gainful employment, undertaking a course of study, keeping in touch with friends via mobile phones, and generally being able to access computers and the internet. However, technology still falls very short of enabling increased independence in the home.
The following scenarios capture some of the problems daily encountered by various people with disabilities, in relation to consumer electronics and home appliances. The scenarios primarily focus on blindness and dexterity, but similar examples abound for other disability groups and other situations, such as having a broken arm, an eye infection, children screaming in the background, and so on.
Finally, John is getting married. He is blind and Dianne his wife-to-be, has restricted dexterity due to quadriplegia.
They are discussing the dilemma of wedding presents – they don’t want people wasting money on gifts that they will be unable to use, but they also feel uncomfortable requesting cash. Family members are already asking how they can find appliances, etc. that will be usable by the couple.
Dianne has memories of the MP3 player she got for Christmas, which she can’t use because the buttons are too tiny and are either too hard to press or are too sensitive. She could have given it to John, but he couldn’t use it either, because he would have to be able to look at the screen.
They heard horror stories of friends who went house-hunting, only to find that they would need to re-equip the major kitchen appliances - oven, stove and dishwasher in the new house, because all the appliances when pre-installed were not accessible by people with either limited vision or limited dexterity. Modern ceramic cooktops make it very difficult for blind people to centre the pan over the heat source; ovens with strong door springs and hinges are difficult to open for people with limited strength, and range hoods which had control switches hidden inside a small concealed cavity, are impossible to operate for people with dexterity or fine motor limitations.
Jane has finished studying, has a new job and has decided to move out and live ‘independently’. Jane is nearly totally blind and plans to live on her own.
She enlists a couple of friends to go shopping with her to buy appliances, and all that’s required to set up house. They walk into a department store and ask the staff person to show them washing machines and clothes dryers that can be used by someone without sight. The staff members stare vacantly at the shoppers, as if to say ‘what on earth are you talking about’. Jane asks if they could plug in one of the clothes dryers to try and work out if it might be usable, and is told ‘sorry, that is against store policy’.
Eventually they locate a store specializing in whitegoods and find a staff person who understands the problems (kind of), who explains that she only has one older washing machine model, which still has rotary dials and switches, but has a poorer energy rating. Jane, somewhat disappointed, decides to buy this washer, but wishes she had the choice to buy a more modern model.
Jane was very lucky to have mentioned her frustrations to a friend who then told her that he had purchased a Fisher and Paykel clothes dryer, which had quite good tactile symbols, and made different tones for different settings. With some braille labelling, it was reasonably easy to use, but one still had to remember the sequence of the different settings.
The Fridge and Freezer were easier for Jane to choose. Finally, Jane could choose the product based on features and how it felt and looked, rather than being restricted by too many access considerations. She particularly liked the feature that beeped annoyingly if the door was not properly closed. The freezer she selected had several drawers, which she realized would help her logically categorize frozen food (a great help when one can’t read the packaging).
Jane also decides to get a sound system and DVD player, only to find that it is almost impossible to know in advance whether or not she will be able to use the equipment without help from friends or neighbours when she gets it home. She looks at three or four systems, but the staff can only tell her how many ‘watts’ each item is boasting, or how many radio presets it has. They have absolutely no idea if she would be able to use it or not. “Can’t you ask your family to help you”, was the recurring theme of their service.
She has gone away and done some ‘Googling’ for reviews, but none mention access issues. She has noted two sound systems she would be interested in, based on reviews of audio quality. However, when she goes to a store to look at the two recommended models, she is disappointed to find they appear to be among the least accessible because of complex menus that wrap; a remote control incorporating a touch screen, and a continuous volume control knob which gives no tactile indication about what level the volume is set to.
Having concluded her shopping, Jane has finally started to memorise the series of steps required to adjust her sound system to play CDs, and to turn on her set top box to get TV channels. All is fine, until she pushes the wrong button and everything goes silent. If only she could read the displays, or if she could read the manuals (which are only available in print, and are full of icons and pictures) she might get some clues as to trouble-shooting. Now Jane will have to ask her brother to visit (again), to help her get things running. But he is busy with his new baby and long work hours, and won’t be available for at least a week. “One day” she mutters “all my appliances will talk to me and guide me through the steps of their operation … one day”.
Appendix B contains email to the author that further expands on access challenges with Hi-Fi equipment.
Just as Jane starts to feel on top of some of her access challenges with the appliances in her apartment, she is asked to work interstate, and is being put up in a company-owned apartment in Melbourne. The problem is that the dishwasher, microwave, cooktop and washing machine are all unusable by a person without sight. Being out of her environment, Jane doesn’t have friends she can call on for help.
Solution - Home deliveries and laundry services.
Chris has recently retired from work because of health issues - increasing arthritis and a tremor in his hands. He is starting to notice more and more that activities are harder, or no longer possible, but he doesn’t want his children to know he is struggling.
Every week it seems more difficult to start the lawn-mower; he will have to shop and see if there is one that is key-operated, which doesn’t require strength to pull a cord. Commonplace tasks like replacing the bag from his vacuum cleaner are getting difficult and painful, requiring twisting and pulling, which further inflames his arthritis.
His daughter bought him a new Panasonic telephone two Christmas’s ago, but he just doesn’t have the strength or the fine motor control to push the miniature rubber buttons reliably.
At the end of the day he decides to sit down and watch the news and a movie, but his grandchildren visited on the weekend, and changed settings and modes, and now he can’t switch his television to the channel he wants, because the technology is too complex and involved.
Below are some examples of things considered in scope, and therefore the focus of this document:
- CD players and Sound systems
- Video, DVD and hard disk Recorders
- Kettles & Coffee Makers
- Washing machines and Clothes dryers
- Vacuum Cleaners
- Heaters and Air conditioners
- Security intercoms
- Domestic security alarms
- Smoke Alarms
- Digital recorders and voice recorders
- Clocks, watches and timers
- Calculators and scales
- Portable music players
- Clock radios
- Exercise equipment
- Electric shaver
- Electric toothbrush
This report makes occasional reference to other classes of devices (mobile phones) or non-electronic items (kitchen utensils), because research in such areas shed some light on the forces at play in manufacture, design and marketing of consumer electronics, or positive success stories which may be transferable to this area.
Every day, one in five Australians experiences difficulties or frustrations in performing everyday tasks with everyday things, such as consumer electronics and appliances. As technology marches forward, an increasing proportion of products are unusable by people with a range of different disabilities - the ‘overlooked consumers’.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports people with disabilities make up 19% of the Australian population. These figures are largely based on self-reporting. Interestingly, estimates of people with some kind of hearing impairment are nearly one in five, and the same again for Australians with some level of arthritis. This suggests that the official figure could well be understating the size of the population with some kind of disability. But, in fact, the situation is worse than that. For all of us, whether we consider ourselves disabled or not, we will, at some time in our life – whether through age, illness or accidents, have a short or longer-term disability.
It is well documented that designers are prone to design environments and devices best suited to their own capabilities, architecturally and technologically. Even in 2007, manufacturers, marketers and designers still create devices which are suited to their own cerebral capabilities; full vision, hearing and dexterity. It is quite amazing and disappointing that the younger designers of today persist in designing a world and things in it, which in many cases cannot be used by the generations that came before them. This is the heart of the problem. Too often, when designing products, attention is given to a narrow notion of who will use the products, with little thought given to the numerous groups of people which the product design will exclude.
More progressive design approaches, such as User Centred Design, which are described later in this paper, are a path towards the design of more inclusive products. However, this can only happen if people with diverse capabilities and limitations, are included in product and user research. For example, even with modern market research, the people who are selected usually represent people who have no disabilities. Market Research participants firstly need to get to an external location, then they need to be able to read information, complete survey forms, respond to visual mock-ups of products and services etc. If a blind person asks for assistance in reading and completing the participation form, members of staff often say they are unable to assist as it may influence the participant’s responses.
At times, some organizations have been in contact with manufacturers to explain the needs, eg. of blind people’s use of whitegoods, and there has been some interest. The author was told about such contact with Electrolux by the Royal Society for the Blind in Adelaide. Although both interest and understanding were initially shown, eventually off-shore manufacture and changes in the manufacturing organization meant that results never came to fruition.
As discussed below, some change in corporate culture appears to be underway in the US with WhirlPool, although to date this is only reflected in a few products. For several years now, Fisher and Paykel have been developing clothes dryers and some other whitegoods which lean towards more accessible use by people who are blind, with raised arrows on their touch-pad controls, use of tone confirmation of button-presses, and (in some models) menus which don’t wrap, i.e. when you move to the first or the last menu choice, the pointer doesn’t automatically wrap back to the beginning.
Research at WhirlPool found that adding tone feedback to the controls on washers and dryers was also helpful to, and appreciated by customers with full vision, as it gave extra confirmation of their instruction. LG is also known for its use of audible tones, to provide information about washing machine settings and modes.
In order for real change to occur, the manufacturer needs to change its processes and its values, so that pressure to create products that are more accessible is top-down, and not just from a few interested employees.
Different people are negatively impacted in different ways by the inaccessible design of consumer electronics and home appliances. This discussion paper gives particular attention to dexterity and vision issues, however the problem is even more widespread and impacts on a huge number of potential customers and consumers of products.
Some of the reasons for inaccessible design include:
- Poor designs are perpetuated in new designs, so the problem doesn’t get better – ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ – but ironically we don’t realize and we don’t question that it might be broken, and often it is.
- Industry appears to have low awareness of the access needs that have high incidence in potential users of their products.
- As computing power has increased and miniaturized, visually aesthetic user interfaces are the key design element in many products (this is an increasing concern for people who are blind or vision impaired, and for many people with cognitive disabilities).
- In many cases, manufacturers don’t seem to know or believe that there are strategies and solutions for expanding the usability and reach of their products, or if they do, they put these problems in the ‘too hard basket’ or say they will look at them down the track. Sometimes the smallest efforts can have a positive impact on the situation. For example, simply by adding some basic tones to provide audible feedback on operations of a device, can make the difference between people who are blind having access or being excluded from using the device.
- Most people with disabilities probably don’t realize that the kind of technology that enables computers and automated telephone information services to ‘talk’, can now be employed in consumer electronics devices, in a cost-effective manner. This lack of awareness may be one of the key reasons why people with disabilities have not been more vocal about their need to have more accessible options.
In the following paragraphs we briefly explore different faculties and impairments and how design decisions in products will affect each of these groups.
Some of this content, in particular the examples of how everyone is at times affected by their environment, come from James Mueller’s excellent Universal Design webpage.
Everyone is unique in their abilities to see colours, judge distances, and see things up close and far away. These abilities can be affected by the demands of everyday tasks such as inserting a key into a door lock in the dark, reading a book under the glare of bright sun, or driving in heavy rain. Additionally some people have difficulty seeing due to disabilities like colour blindness, glaucoma and cataracts, through to total blindness.
In modern products, the use of touch screens and menus in place of mechanical interfaces can make them completely unusable by people without sufficient vision, whereas in the past, whilst it was helpful to have vision to use the product, the process could be learned or memorised. This is described in detail in a conference Article from the National Federation of the Blind.
Also Articles in the American Foundation for the Blind’s Access World Journal.
Modern designs frequently minimise colour contrast with silver buttons on silver backgrounds, etc. making it difficult for people with low vision to easily operate products.
Everyone is unique in their abilities to carry on a conversation, detect the direction a sound is coming from, and hear high- or low-pitched sounds. These abilities can be affected by the demands of everyday tasks like hearing normal sounds with a head cold, using a mobile phone on a noisy street corner, or operating noisy machinery. In addition, some people have difficulty hearing due to disabilities like tinnitus.
People with significant hearing loss, or who are Deaf, are mainly impacted by products which don’t provide visual alerts for alarms, etc. So smoke alarms, door bells, intercoms, which only produce audio, can be ineffective.
Reaching and Handling
Everyone is unique in their abilities to reach, lift, carry, and manipulate objects. These abilities can be affected by the demands of twisting a door knob with wet or oily hands, writing with your non-dominant hand or unlocking a door while carrying groceries. In addition, some people have difficulty using their arms and hands due to disabilities like arthritis, bursitis and tendonitis, or loss of one arm.
The trend towards miniaturisation for electronic products maybe cool, but can obviously make them very difficult to use for people with fine motor control problems, tremors, etc. “Many modern remote controls are very lightweight, narrow width and with the underside curved on the sides making it very difficult for somebody like myself who cannot physically hold the remote control in one hand and press the buttons with either the fingers on the same hand or with your fingers on the other hand. With the remote control lying on a flat surface, with the underside curved at the edges, pressing one of the buttons located on the left or right edges of the remote control makes the remote control tip. Also, like with mobile phones, the buttons are becoming smaller and placed close to each other.” … Greg.
Everyone is unique in their abilities to receive, understand, remember and act on information. These abilities can be affected by everyday tasks like driving safely while having a conversation, concentrating while under the influence of medication and trying to follow confusing road signs.
The trend towards ever-increasing lists of features, complex menu structures, buttons and settings on devices has challenged everyone, but particularly for people who have more difficulty comprehending, remembering or making decisions. For people with significant cognitive disabilities, adding one extra step in a process can be the difference between whether the device can be used by them or not. For example, when a television set only had a volume control, a channel selector nob and a control for vertical hold, almost anyone could work it. But with multi-media home entertainment systems, it is often the eight-year old who has the best understanding of the complex interactions between different components of the system.
One of the strategies that people who are blind adopt in order to use consumer electronics is to memorise the complex set of steps needed to perform a task. This is challenging because they are unable to see the feedback of their actions. This makes it particularly challenging for a person, who in addition to being vision impaired, has a memory or cognitive impairment.
Why are things this bad?
In the simplest terms, a product is designed in the context of a likely user or group of users. If the designer’s idea of that user is narrow, then the design will be accordingly narrow and will lock out access for those outside the narrow framing of the designer.
Part of the problem is due to lack of awareness by industry, limited consolidation and collaboration between manufacturers, a highly competitive market, and rapid rates of technological development.
Most home electronics standards tend only to apply to protocols for device inter-connection, media formats and other non-user interface domains, if indeed they conform to any industry standards at all. Unlike technology developed for business, government and industry, there is no consolidated pressure for conformance or interconnectivity, or accessibility with regard to consumer electronics.
There is currently little awareness by industry of the need for accessible design in mainstream products, and the problems that poor design creates for people with disabilities and for older people. The problem is also contributed to by the dichotomy between ‘regular’ products designed for regular people and ‘special’ products designed for specific groups of people with disabilities. This concept is discussed below in the section titled “The Disability Dichotomy”.
This section briefly discusses some classical and contemporary design methodologies that either restrict or could have the potential to lead to the increase of accessibility and usability of products. It then explores some current design trends that have some promise for the future.
Very occasionally, we see examples of incidental or accidental product designs which are well suited to some groups of people with disabilities. However, it doesn’t happen often enough. Incidental access tends to occur at later iterations in the product development life cycle. It tends to happen as a positive side-effect of product refinement where more emphasis is placed on simple and elegant designs which diminish complexity and omit unnecessary actions for the user.
An example is a pod-based coffee maker, which, as it happens, is very easy and reliable for use by people who are blind or who have low vision. This is because all the hot parts, steamer etc, are enclosed, because the coffee is pre-packaged in a ‘pod’ which can only be inserted one way into the machine, because it measures the amount of water being expressed into the cup, and because it automatically times the process. If you put it together the correct way, and place the cup in the correct position, you reliably get a hot cup of coffee.
Vision Australia was contacted by two manufacturers of such automatic coffee makers, who now offer free delivery for vision-impaired purchasers.
Another example is a digital radio scanner, which though definitely not a consumer product, has interesting accessibility features. It probably wasn’t specifically designed with accessibility in mind, but nevertheless the features provide greater access. Firstly, it has a speech synthesizer that will announce the current frequency during scanning operations, as well as when a button is pressed. Secondly, it has a serial communications port allowing the radio to be controlled and programmed from a computer. The computer control includes all of the configuration settings as well as frequency, mode etc., and programming of memory channels. These features are found in the Icom IC-R8500 communications receiver, aimed squarely at the government, commercial and radio enthusiast end of the market.
The increasingly popular Roomba robot Vacuum Cleaner available in the US, is another example where the innovative design of the product has benefits for people with disabilities. For blind people, it scours the house for dirt, you don’t need to see it; for people with physical disabilities, it moves itself, so you don’t need to sweep or push the unit, or carry the vacuum cleaner from room to room.
In 1992 the Trace Center published an extensive document examining consumer electronics accessibility. The following discussion and term “Accessible Design” is largely derived from that document.
"Accessible Design" is the term used for the process of extending mass market product design to include people who, because of personal characteristics or environmental conditions, find themselves on the low end of some dimension of performance (e.g., thinking, seeing, hearing, reaching, manipulating).”
Accessible Design does not need to be separate from standard mass market design, but all too often manufacturers and the general population think of the two as mutually exclusive.
Thus Accessible Design is a subset of what is termed Universal Design. Where Universal Design covers the design of products for all people and encompasses all design principles, Accessible Design focuses on principles that extend the standard design process to those people with some type of performance limitation. According to Trace, Accessible Design is a balancing act. To begin with, we must acknowledge that it is not possible to design everything so it can be used by everyone. There will always be someone with a combination of severe physical, sensory and cognitive impairments who will be unable to use it. Also, it is equally unreasonable to rely on the existence or development of special designs for each major product to accommodate each one of the vast variety of disabilities and combinations of disabilities.
This makes it necessary to look toward a combination of approaches for meeting the needs of people with disabilities, ranging from the incorporation of features into products that will make them directly usable ("from the box") by more people with disabilities to the inclusion of features that make them easier to modify for accessibility.
In the words of James Mueller of J. L. Mueller, Inc., “Universal Design means design for people of all ages and abilities, but not necessarily one design for everyone”. He goes on to say that Universal Design is a goal that can be approached creatively from many directions.
The designed world doesn't fit anyone perfectly all the time - not even the mythical person of "average" age and ability. At some time during our lives, we all have problems with the spaces where we live or work, or the products we use. Age, illness, or accidents can make these problems more difficult. Universal Design is the practice of considering these factors in designing as inclusively and equitably as possible - for people of any age or ability. "Design for all", "inclusive design", and "kyoyo-hin" are essentially identical concepts. Throughout our lives, we are different from each other in our ability to think, see, hear, reach and handle things, and move about”.
According to the Centre for Universal Design at NC State University, the seven stated principles underpinning Universal Design are:
- Equitable use: The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.
- Flexibility in use: The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
- Simple and Intuitive: Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills or current concentration level.
- Perceptible information: The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.
- Tolerance for error: The design minimises hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
- Low physical effort: The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.
- Size and space for approach and use: Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation and use regardless of user’s body size, posture, or mobility.
The concept of Universal Design (UD) is gaining significant coverage and application in different domains, particularly in the built environment. The “Designing for the 21st Century” conference held in 2003 had numerous papers about UD projects, but few, if any, relating directly to consumer electronics. The homepage and conference proceedings are available online.
A well documented application of UD principles is the story of the OXO Good Grips range, which was developed for people with arthritis or limited motor skills. This development turned OXO around from a failing company to one of the largest makers of kitchen utilities today:
Universal Design is a principle, but it still isn’t applied extensively in practice. Research by a range of universities is looking into ways of ensuring UD is applicable in business, and to translate its concepts into processes which can be implemented and measured.
One of these studies “UDiP: Universal Design in Practice” is a three year project being conducted by Georgia Tech. researching the practical use of UD print and web resources by stakeholders.
Chris Law, who has been working in the area of technology access for over a decade, is examining business decision-making in Universal Design, for his ongoing PhD project at RMIT University. His PhD is titled “Understanding business decision-making in the development of environments, standard products and services for use by people with disabilities”.
In broad terms, user-centred design (UCD) is a design philosophy and a process in which the needs, wants, and limitations of the end user of an interface or document are given extensive attention at each stage of the design process. User-centred design can be characterized as a multi-stage problem solving process that not only requires designers to analyse and foresee how users are likely to use an interface, but to test the validity of their assumptions with regards to user behaviour in real world tests with actual users. Such testing is necessary as it is often very difficult for the designers of an interface to understand intuitively what a first-time user of their design experiences, and what each user's learning curve may look like.
The chief difference from other interface design philosophies is that user-centred design tries to optimise the user interface around how people can, want, or need to work, rather than forcing the users to change how they work to accommodate the system or function.
An increasingly common design approach is to create several personas – different representative users who are likely to use the product. Usage scenarios are then created for those personas, to test the features and convenience of the product. In selecting the personas, if they don’t contain people with diverse capabilities and limitations, then the product will most likely not be that useable by people who aren’t included in the profile of the selected personas.
Cooperative design involves designers and users on an equal footing based on the Scandinavian tradition of design of IT artefacts since 1970. Participatory design (PD) is a North American term for the same concept inspired by Cooperative Design, focused on participation of users since 1990.
All these approaches follow the ISO standard Human-centred design processes for interactive systems (ISO 13407 Model, 1999).
A good starting point is to conceptually separate a device into -
- what the product does (or can do), its functions/features; from
- what the user needs to do with the product in order to get it to do its thing, its user interface.
Example 1: MP3 Player
Functions: plays music or recorded audio
UI: read screen, select tracks through touch or by pressing buttons,
Example 2: Dish Washer
Function: cleans cutlery, plates and pans;
UI: Open door, slide out racks, Place items in racks, add dishwashing product, set washing mode with buttons or touch pad, and look at lights or display to confirm settings, close door.
With the development of computers, the term user interface has become the common term for the approach that a user needs to adopt to interact with and control the computer. The term previously used for operation of physical devices such as cars and machines was “Man machine interface” or now “human machine interface”. However, now that computers are embedded in almost all devices and equipment, the term “user interface” can be used universally.
“The user interface is the aggregate of means by which people (the users) interact with a particular machine, device, computer program or other complex tool (the system). The user interface provides means of:
- Input, allowing the users to manipulate a system
- Output, allowing the system to produce the effects of the users' manipulation”.
Building on this principle of separating function and user interface is the URC project described in the section below.
Over the last 8 or so years, the term “Digital Divide” has often been discussed with respect to people with disabilities, as it is with those who are financially disadvantaged. Another divide which continues is what the author terms the Disability Dichotomy.
In simple terms the disability dichotomy is the distinction between designs for people (everyone who appears not to have disabilities) and designs specifically for people with disabilities. While on one hand we have Universal Design, on the other we have Assistive or Adaptive technologies and designs. These are products and software specifically developed for people with disabilities (niche markets for development, sale and use by people with disabilities).
The disability dichotomy is a mindset that holds that there are “people”, and those people use standard products - and there are “disabled people”, and those people need and should use special devices (assistive technology).
It is indeed true that there are occasions where special designs, assistive technologies and products have their place for people with disabilities to participate more fully in employment, study and the information society. At the same time, the presence of these special, and often very expensive solutions, sends out a confusing message to mainstream designers and manufacturers that there isn’t a great need for them to adopt more inclusive design approaches. So the challenge is to promote people with disabilities from being a special and different group, to being considered equal consumers in the general market place.
The author is not suggesting that there isn’t a place for such specially designed products and software, but it is disappointing that more mainstream products are not more access aware, and that they aren’t designed with a wider range of possible users in mind.
It is not appropriate, nor is it the case, that special whitegoods be developed for use by people with disabilities. Economies of scale, and the range of brands and features of such devices makes such an approach impractical and uneconomic, and such an approach would be of no help for people, when travelling or staying with friends.
For these types of products, there is a desperate need for designers to take into greater account the wide range of people, capabilities, limitations and situations in which whitegoods will be used. This would involve devising better and more flexible user interface designs and incorporating other ways of providing feedback to a wider range of users (such as audio or speech output), as well as ergonomic considerations, such as the amount of force (effort) required to physically use the products.
Accessible design, as described in the Trace Consumer Electronics guidelines, starts to tease out where generally good design might leave off, and where accessible design, and extensibility, can play a role.
This irony is discussed at length by Don Norman, a world leader in human factors and design.
This focus on complexity and impressive feature-sets has lead to more complex user interfaces, and an increasing reliance on being able to see visual displays and to confirm settings and options. But, ironically, once the consumer takes the product home, they invariably use a minor sub-set of all the features that the product boasts.
In contrast to the above perspective, John Maeda's from MIT has written a book called The Laws of Simplicity.
A very informative interview with him, examining his views on simplicity and design can be downloaded from the Science Friday Podcast:
In a paper titled “The Computer Science of Everyday Things” Harold Thimbleby argues that in devices such as video recorders, access (for anyone) is so poor because manufacturers replace products with newer (featured) models, rather than attempting to fix or improve products that are already in the marketplace. He also suggests that programming of user interfaces is the lowest priority in consumer electronics product creation. For example in a mobile phone, the priority is that the phone’s radio transceiver works well, and the user interface (the menu system, etc.) is left to the less capable programmer resources in the company.
“Technology is fashionable, wonderful and getting better; Moore’s Law predicts substantial, sustained improvement. Yet the usability of ‘everyday things’ is low (video recorders being a notorious example). It seems to follow that improvements must be sought in areas outside technology, such as human factors. But a premise is wrong: in fact, the technology — the embedded computer science — is appalling!”
“Obsolescence, a symptom of Moore’s Law, hides flawed design: poor products are replaced rather than fixed. The poor quality of the computer science of everyday things is eclipsed by the hope for fixing today’s problems with tomorrow’s consumption.”
He and others note the trend towards very flashy user interfaces on computers (with numerous limitations in the functionality of software) contrasted with poor user interfaces, but stronger functionality in consumer electronic products.
The Apple iPhone is heralded by some as the most visually and physically aesthetic personal technology-based device ever to have been devised. The user interface and innovative touch-screen implementation (if you are visual and have good motor control) is the focus of the initial release of the product, rather than the usual focus of products with lots of features, that are hard to access and use. It is the same elegance and intuitiveness of a well crafted visual user interface and aesthetic design that Apple bring to their desktop computers, and to a lesser extent the iPod. Technology commentators have observed that it’s the design, more than any other factor, that distinguishes the iPhone from other devices. Because it’s a highly visual user interface, requiring close hand-eye coordination, it doesn’t rate high on accessibility, certainly not for people who are blind.
However, if companies like Apple were to begin investing the same level of attention to innovative audio user interface approaches, as they have with the graphical interface and the physical aesthetic of the iPhone, then this could lead to significant expansion of the customer-base and add to the uniqueness of the device.
As technology proliferates, hopefully it will be the more innovative designs that attract greater market share. If such innovations start to increase the range of people who can use a device, and make the device easily usable in a wider range of contexts, then we may finally start to see a shift towards more inclusive design. The challenge is finding ways to trigger this.
In an area as diverse as consumer electronics and appliances, it is difficult to capture details of every standard that might have some impact on accessibility and design. That said, there seem to be relatively few published standards indeed that actively give guidance to aid accessibility of consumer electronics, products or appliances. An increasing amount of work is occurring within ISO, as well as some major restructuring of early Standards and Committees. Some pointers to Standards that are available, or in development, are briefly listed below. Readers aware of other standards are requested to contact the author and the Human Rights Commission with details.
One of the most comprehensive documents examining ways of improving accessibility of consumer electronics was published by the Trace Centre in 1992, but is still very current in most areas. It contains detailed discussion on a wide range of disabilities and functional impairments, and how narrow design can create specific accessibility barriers for each group. It also contains detailed guidelines and recommendations as to how design can be extended to include different groups of users with different capabilities and limitations. The guideline headings are included below. While the document pre-dates several networking advancements, it still remains quite future-proofed.
1 - Output / displays
Maximize the number of people who can/will
- hear auditory output clearly enough.
- not miss important information if they can't hear.
- have line of sight to visual output and can reach printed output.
- see visual output clearly enough.
- not miss important information if they can't see.
- understand the output (visual, auditory, other).
- view the output display without triggering a seizure.
2 - Input / controls
Maximize the number of people who can
- reach the controls.
- find the individual controls/keys if they can't see them.
- read the labels on the controls/keys.
- determine the status/setting of the controls if they can't see them.
- physically operate controls and other input mechanisms.
- understand how to operate controls and other input mechanisms.
- connect special alternative input devices.
3 - Manipulations
Maximize the number of people who can
- physically insert and/or remove objects as required for operation.
- physically handle and/or open the product.
- remove, replace, or reposition often-used detachable parts.
- understand how to carry out the manipulations necessary.
4 - Documentation
Maximize the number of people who can
- access the documentation.
- understand the documentation.
5 - Safety
Maximize the number of people who can
- perceive hazard warnings.
- use the product without injury due to unperceived hazards.
With extensive accessibility involvement by the University of Wisconsin Trace Center, the Universal Remote Console Consortium works to promote and implement Universal Remote Console (URC) standards and support services, facilitating user interfaces that are simple and intuitive to use, including future interface technologies such as task-orientation and natural language interaction.
While accessibility isn’t always emphasized as the purpose of this standard, it would allow for individuals to use a range of remote control style devices to operate any products which comply with this standard.
The URC home page is at http://myurc.org/
This concept is not new, it is a formalization of the idea that one of the most robust paths to accessibility is to separate the user interface of the device from the device’s core functions. This means that the manufacturer of a device can place more focus on the job of the device, while at the same time allowing for a range of different controller products, such as mobile phones, or different implementations of universal remote control/consoles all could be used to operate the device.
This Universal Remote Console standard work is likely to become an international standard in 2007/2008.
A paper explaining the work and the extensive possibilities of this standard is online at: http://myurc.org/whitepaper.php
There is a new draft human factors standard on medical device user interface design, which contains chapters on both accessibility and home health care.
Daryle Gardner-Bonneau reports that a draft ISO Technical Report targeted to Standards Developers is being developed dealing with ergonomic requirements for older adults and people with disabilities, and is intended to cover the entire range of products, systems and services. It is expected to be available within the next 6-9 months.
Other ongoing work by ISO Committees TC59 dealing with home appliances and TC 159 SC5 on Ergonomics and Environmental issues include work items such as auditory signals for home appliances.
Work is also being done in ISO by Nigel Bevan - ISO 20282-2 (Usability of everyday products).
UK Inclusive Design Standard
Plans for development of a UK Inclusive Design standard are reported in a paper presented at the “Designing for the 21st Century” conference online at:
NCAM Home Media Center Project
NCAM's Home Media Center project will research speech navigation solutions for next generation home media centre platforms, which typically rely on complex on-screen menus not readily accessible to people who are blind or have low vision. Project activities will include:
- Creation of an accessible Linux-based home media centre as a development platform
- Evaluation of other home media centre devices, their accessibility needs and requirements
- Publication of source code and specifications for open source media centre speech interface solutions enabled via keyboard and remote control
- Demonstration model of end-user control and navigation via a small-footprint speech interface on a personal communication device
- Publication of end-user interface research
- Final report that details the impact of project solutions and publications.
The homepage for the project is at: http://ncam.wgbh.org/homemedia/NCAM/Home Media Center/
Results from the Home Media Centre are not yet available, however there is a report on the work that preceded this project, “A Developer's Guide to Creating Talking Menus for Set-top Boxes and DVDs”. http://ncam.wgbh.org/resources/talkingmenus/
The increasing use of open source platforms such as Linux to underpin media and other devices has significant potential for improving accessibility as compared to proprietary platforms. A commercial product range built on open source technology is also available from NEurose, although to the author’s knowledge, at this stage accessibility is not a design priority.
“The ability for a person with a disability to independently control appliances within the home environment (such as the TV, video, DVD player, stereo, etc) is not only satisfying, but also empowering. Simple pleasures such as channel hopping or changing CD’s on the stereo become an achievable task, and not something that a family member or carer has to be asked to do.”
The School of Informatics and Engineering, Flinders University, Adelaide, SA, and NovitaTech, the technology division of Novita Children’s Services Inc., Adelaide, SA, jointly worked on the development and working model for a new ZigBee-based accessible wireless remote control that incorporates Universal Design principles. The remote control was based on a commercially available personal digital assistant (PDA), called a Pocket PC, and featured switch scanning, high contrast dynamic buttons, flexible software to alter scan rates and functionality, and featured audible output capability. The ZigBee remote control was developed in less than a year and was demonstrated to control a household TV and DVD player at a University Open Day.
Source: Bessell, T., Randell, M., Knowles, G. Hobbs, D. 2006 “Connecting People with the Environment – A New Accessible Wireless Remote Control”
Presented at the 2006 ARATA Conference in Fremantle.
Software is being developed to allow vision-impaired people to read information on the digital display screens of electronic household products and at supermarket checkouts, a Spanish company has announced.
The DISPLAYER will allow vision impaired users to read everyday information displays including dynamic displays, such as those on microwaves, digital clocks, boilers and those found at public transport stations and supermarket checkouts.
The device would ultimately take the form of software or an application that could be installed on a smartphone or personal digital assistant (PDA) with a built-in camera. To read something on a display, users would hold the mobile device near it, capture an image of it and the system would interpret and read the content aloud using speech output technology.
"To help them capture the image of the display," said Igone Idígoras Leibar, Principal Researcher at Robotiker-Tecnalia (http://www.robotiker.com/) , the Spanish company behind the technology. "It orientates the user with Speech output, for example, it would say 'on the image there is no display' or 'move the camera to the right so that the display appears,'" she told E-Access Bulletin. ONCE has undertaken to test and evaluate the final prototype, due to be ready in 2008. Source: ++E-ACCESS BULLETIN - ISSUE 86, FEBRUARY 2007. http://www.headstar.com/eab/issues/2007/feb2007.html
The National Federation of the Blind’s Consumer Appliance and Electronics Accessibility Initiative was established to identify consumer electronics that are usable by blind individuals and to raise awareness regarding accessibility issues relevant to common home appliances and electronic equipment.
Categories include home theatre systems, MP3 players, stoves, dishwashers, washing machines, dryers, and others.
The lack of accessible and usable features on household appliances grows more severe every day. An example of this is the disturbing increase in the number of dishwashers with flat, inaccessible controls. Until now, dishwashers were among the more accessible home appliances. These accessibility issues may prevent even the most motivated blind person from confidently purchasing and using household appliances. It is essential that blind people are able to continue to lead full, productive, and independent lives. For this reason, the Jernigan Institute has begun this Consumer Electronic Accessibility Initiative. The National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute launched the Consumer Electronics Accessibility Initiative with the Accessible Home Showcase at the 2005 NFB National Convention.
In May 2007 the American Foundation for the Blind published in its AccessWorld publication an article titled “Accessibility Wash: New, Usable Washers and Dryers Are Released”
This reported positively on additional work that WhirlPool had done to add increased audio feedback in the form of tones to assist people who are blind operate their washers and dryers.
How They Work - The Kenmore and Whirlpool controls allow you to identify options by listening. If, for example, five spin speeds are available on the Regular cycle, five different tones will be heard as you repeatedly press the Spin Speed button. The highest tone indicates the fastest speed, and the lowest tone represents the slowest speed. When you cycle among the speeds, it is a simple matter to learn how many are available.
“We put the WhirlPool and the Fisher and Paykel GL 15 washer and matching dryer, at the top of our list of Appliance Accessibility Top Choices for front-loading and top-loading washers and dryers, respectively.”
Olympus Digital Voice Recorders with Voice Guidance
In January 2007, Olympus released three new digital voice recorders incorporating in-built voice guidance. Menus can be navigated with full voice feedback and error messages, such as ‘memory full’ are spoken. This is an example of broadening the user base of the product to include people who are blind. As well, this provides additional confirmation and information to users of the product who can see, but who may not be looking at the recorder’s display screen. Press release at: http://www.olympuspresspass.com/press_pass_cut/opp_press_details.asp?pressNo=518
The i~design project seeks to provide tools to improve quality of life for the wider population. It focuses on enabling industry to design products that can be used effectively by the population as a whole, including those who are older or disabled.
The i~design project is motivated by demographic changes in the UK and world-wide, leading to a rapidly increasing number and proportion of older people. It follows on from the first i~design project (2000-2003) and builds on its results, investigating how to put inclusive design into practice in a commercial setting.
The Accessible Procurement Toolkit is a Web-based application that delivers accessibility requirements and standards to apply to a purchase of mainstream products and services. Applying these standards will ensure that products meet "Universal Design" principles and help the procuring organization meet its mandated obligation to purchase more accessible goods and services."
This Blog with the theme of “Hooking up a usable world, one mainstream product at a time” blogged by Jane Berliss-Vincent and Jim Tobias, reports on consumer electronics developments which either benefit people with disabilities or which could be re-applied to do so better.
As an example, they reported on a Personal Healthcare Device Working Group whose purpose is to encourage the development of all kinds of health monitoring devices with USB connectors so that information can be uploaded to PCs and cell phones. Ostensibly this exists to make communication with health care providers easier, but the standard could be very useful for people with visual or cognitive disabilities–or, essentially, anyone who prefers to access information in an electronic format.
Another post to the blog – “You can now program your home digital video recorder (DVR) via your cell phone. This latest remote wizardry is intended for highly mobile folks who want to control their home video settings from afar. But if your cell phone is the most accessible gadget you own, you can use this hook-up right in your living room, instead of an inaccessible DVR controller”.
A final example post – “A Japanese smoke detector can be set up to call a cell phone when activated. Could be great as a way of automatically summoning assistance for some seniors/people with disabilities who live alone and can’t afford monitoring services. Smoke detector calls you to remind you to take roast out of the oven”.
Dialogue needs to occur with the consumer electronics and home appliances industries in Australia to establish what can be done to improve the situation. For example, it needs to be clearly determined whether Australian divisions of overseas parent companies can have a positive influence on more inclusive design here in Australia.
Australian manufacturers should be contacted to determine what relevant associations and organizations exist to whom awareness-raising presentations could be delivered, and to whom this document could be circulated.
Explore what legislation and national and state regulations could be used in concert with the Disability Discrimination Act (1992) to improve the availability of inclusive design of consumer electronics and home appliances in Australia.
Although the DDA doesn’t appear to cover accessibility of goods for sale at all, it certainly does cover accessibility of general product information, and maybe covers information given on access features, and instructions on safe operation of products.
There are possibly ways that consumer protection legislation and ‘fitness for use’ legislation could assist.
Various grants and tax incentives already exist that are applicable to various Australian companies and organizations designing and manufacturing consumer electronics and appliances.
Relevant Government departments should be liaised with, to explore options for tightening the requirements for such industry benefits so that companies are actively encouraged to make their products more accessible to more people. This could also have positive implications for overseas export, particularly with the various Trade Agreements now in place with other countries, such as the US.
Recently Standards Australia held a workshop to look at ways to improve Australian involvement in ICT and web accessibility standards occurring in other countries and other local Standards Australia Committees. Since the scope of that work did not include consumer electronics, contact should be made with Standards Australia to look at a similar or parallel process involving this area.
Explore ways of forming stronger strategic alliances and synergies between people with disabilities and older people, to raise awareness of and develop solutions to the inaccessibility and poor usability of consumer electronics and home appliances which impact both groups.
The option of creating a charter loosely modelled on the UK eInclusion Charter, but with a broader coverage to include consumer electronics and home appliances, as well as ICT in Australia should be explored.
In the UK, Industry, Government and the Voluntary sector are encouraged to sign the eInclusion Charter which states:
"Disabled and older people should have the same rights to participate in the Information Society as other citizens. Information and communication technology (ICT) such as personal computers, mobile phones and interactive TV should be tools that help overcome barriers they face in education, the workplace and social life."
Categories such as Accessibility, Usability, Ergonomics, etc. should be a more prominent element of scoring in Design Awards. This would give more incentive to designers to implement such principles and make the public more aware of accessibility as part of good design.
The New Inventor’s program should be contacted to encourage them to continue and enhance coverage of not just products designed for people with disabilities, but comment on the usability and accessibility of all designs or inventions they review.
ACA’s Choice Magazine, with input from the Independent Living Centre, often comments about the accessibility of controls for appliances. However, the perspectives are mainly limited to physical access, and not non-visual access by people who are blind. With funding and encouragement, this coverage might be strengthened, perhaps in association with Vision Australia, or an accessibility specialist.
Develop an awareness-raising campaign for Universities, TAFEs and Colleges who teach design, to encourage them to look at more inclusive design paradigms.
Accessibility and usability experts should be invited to guest lecture to such colleges in the area of Accessible design.
In order to create a community, which is more mindful of Accessibility and better design, ‘Show and Tell’ presentations should be incorporated into the secondary curriculum so adults of the future will appreciate the benefit and importance of better design.
As has already been noted, open source technologies have considerable potential to improve accessibility of consumer electronics and other technologies. It is therefore beneficial to ensure that the open source community, open source developers and Standards groups are aware of the need of accessible design through presentations, etc.
Usability researchers argue that the best way to encourage manufacturers and designers to create more inclusive designs is to give them a tangible appreciation of what it is like to experience difficulties and frustration trying to use poorly designed devices.
According to Todd Wilkens, the two key elements leading to better User Centred Design are: Insight about how people might use things, and empathy with the user and empathy with their experiences/challenges with use of poorly designed products.
Accordingly, videos and exposure to real life people for whom current designs fall short, are better ways to do this than predominant reliance on text books and theory.
Identifying market opportunities for universal design may not be straightforward for people in industry. Many consumers wish to see universally designed products across the whole range, as described in this document. One possible way to help manufacturers find where the opportunities exist could be to create a website that listed available universally designed electronic consumer and office products. The website user would easily be able to tell which categories already have competitors' products available, and also tell which categories have gaps (i.e., where there are opportunities to bring new products to the market). Setting up such a website would require establishing widely accepted definitions and criteria for acceptance in the list, and rigorous and transparent testing procedures for determining eligibility for a product's inclusion on the list. While targeted at industry, such a website could also prove useful for consumers and policymakers. (This idea was proposed by Chris Law).
The following information is included as an Appendix, because, although mobile phones and telecommunications are largely out of scope for this project, the issues the press release highlights are very similar to those being explored in this discussion paper. Possibly this approach could serve as a model for people with disabilities to consider, in order to raise awareness of the access situation for consumer electronics and home appliances.
August 2, 2007
Washington, DC - Blind and visually impaired customers are taking legal action against the cell phone industry in an effort to improve cell phone accessibility. This week, 11 customers from across the country filed complaints with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which enforces Section 255, the law that requires phones to be designed to be accessible for people with disabilities. Complaints were filed against both the cell phone carriers and manufacturers.
"These complaints illustrate a market failure on the part of the cell phone industry to address accessibility," said Paul Schroeder, VP, Programs and Policy Group at the American Foundation for the Blind. "While some companies have taken steps, consumers with vision loss have few good options for accessibility, and almost no reliable information about accessibility."
There is a growing need for accessible phones given the increasing rates of vision loss. Experts predict that by 2030, rates of severe vision loss will double along with the country's aging population. For people with vision loss, finding a cell phone with a readable screen or with voice output of essential features like menus or text messages is almost impossible. Some companies, like AT&T, have taken the lead on providing accessible phones. But too often the handsets and services are not designed to be user-friendly for those who are blind or visually impaired. Earlier this month, AFB initiated a campaign called ‘255 Action’ to help people with vision loss understand access requirements, and if necessary, file complaints. As part of that campaign, AFB sent letters to leading cell phone service providers and manufacturers asking what they are doing to meet the needs of people with vision loss. Frequent complaints from blind and visually impaired cell phone customers include:
- cell phones do not provide for audio output of information displayed on the screen;
- the visual displays on most phones are hard to read;
- numeric and control keys are not easy to distinguish by touch; and
- product manuals or phone bills are not available in braille, large print, or other formats they can read.
The complaints filed with the FCC came from customers in Florida, Georgia, Colorado, California, and West Virginia.
Quotes from FCC Filings:
Problems Purchasing Equipment
"In November 2006, I asked for assistance in identifying and purchasing a new telephone. The agent was completely uninformed regarding available phones with built-in accessibility features for a Blind user. Indeed, the representative did not even understand what features a Blind user would need in purchasing a phone." Melissa Green, Greeley, CO.
Phone Features Are Inaccessible
"I cannot text message, surf the Internet, or use the phonebook. Additionally, the numbers displayed on the keypad are too small for me to read, thus I have to use the voice recognition feature to call contacts in my phonebook. This poses some limitations, because I can only program in ten names, yet I have many more contacts than this amount." Douglas Brooks, Winston, GA
"Even after setting my phone's level of brightness to the highest level, I still have to use a closed circuit television (CCTV) to read the text displayed. This magnification device is quite large, encompassing a television set with a similar sized stand. This defeats the "mobile" aspect of my phone, since I have to wait until I am at home to enter contacts in the phonebook, change settings, etc." Richard Rueda, Union City, CA.
Documentation Is Inaccessible
"Upon receiving my phone, I was given an inaccessible print manual explaining how to use the phone. However, because I am totally Blind, I cannot read the text on the instruction manual. My phone's instruction manual is in a PDF file, which I have difficulty accessing with my computer's screen reading software because graphical representations are used to instruct a person on how to use the phone." George Roberts, Orlando, FL
Phones With Access Software Cost More
"In order to access the features of the MotorolaQ, I had to make an additional out-of-pocket purchase of Mobile Speaks (a screen reader) to access the cell phone features. While this phone is more accessible than the Katana with my add-on software, it was quite expensive, and I would not have purchased it if my previous phone was accessible. Being blind forced me to stretch my budget to the limits in order to have access to my cell phone's features." Tony Claive, Winter Park, FL.
Customer Service Is Inadequate and Accessibility Features/Information are Unavailable
"I went to my local Sprint store, and explained that I was legally blind and looking for an accessible cell phone. The salesperson did let me know about getting my bill in large print format. Sprint's representatives were unable to provide me with a description of the accessibility and compatibility features of their phones." Dennis Wyant, Melbourne, FL
Press Release at http://www.afb.org/Section.asp?DocumentID=3596