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Universal Design and Innovation

Nivi Morales speaking at HydraHack in March, 2017
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About this talk

Universal design, accessibility, and why designing for a wider range of users actually drives innovation. We'll take a look at different products and brands, and see how they approach this topic.


Thank you for inviting me to speak. I work in Warwickshire County Council and today I want to talk about something that is a big passion of mine and I've had quite a bit of personal experience with this, which is universal design and innovation. So, I want a quick show of hands, anybody here practice any high-risk impact sports or cooking, climbing? Have you ever had an injury, broken limb, broken arm, anybody? No. Has anybody...does anybody here work remotely or has traveled? So, how does it feel to use your phone with one hand because you're carrying a suitcase? Or to work in a really cool coffee shop but the sun is right in your screen, like you can't read, yeah? So, from this front point of view everybody here, at one point, has been disabled. So temporary disability, it can be broken or injured limb, recovering from surgery. Is somebody on this? Being unable to operate a device because you can't use your hands or because you cannot see properly. It can be for different causes. Your ability to operate devices changes depending on your environment, your circumstances and changes in your health and well-being. And in the talk, that we saw earlier from Microsoft, we saw the example of a blind man, somebody using a cane. So, I have to sort of clarify here, I'm registered blind. But as about the majority of users with visual impairment, I've got what is called low vision. So, what it means is, I can't see very well out of the corner of my eye, and I can't see very well in dim light, and I also have difficulty with contrast. So, disability itself is a spectrum. Blindness is bad quality of vision but it can be from zero vision to some vision, just different quality. Wheelchair users might be able to walk but not for long distance, people might be able to use a keyboard but not for a long time, because they get tired or feel pain. So, this is where universal design comes in place. It is the design of products for as many users possible without the need of specialized design or adaptations. And when they design for that sort of wide range of users, a new world of innovation opens before our eyes. So, I want to share a little bit of sort of my own personal experience. I had this eye condition for the last sort of 14 years but it's only been in the last year and a half that I've had to start relying on magnification. So, for the last sort of like seven years I've been working in tech and even I, before starting to use assistive technology, thought, "Accessibility screen readers, I'm not going to need one of those in a while." But as I've made the transition, I've had sort of experiences where when devices and operating systems are designed with as many users in mind, this transition is better. So, it's might sound like I'm going to fail a particular type of product, but this is more from my personal experience of learning to use assistive technology and the difference for me that has made, using one type and the other. So, Apple devices are easy to learn, have got low impact on productivity, the user journey is not broken, so you can customize them without them becoming clunky. The adaptations are actually built within the device and the performance is not affected. So, I've got my phone set up to magnify but it doesn't come up all of the sudden when I'm texting. Before I started using assistive technology, I was a big Android advocate. "Ah, it's great." As soon as I started using magnification, I tend to text quite a bit, double tapping on an Android phone will quickly delete two characters but will also blow up your screen. Not very convenient when you're texting. I felt the adaptation is poorly built in. It requires external apps to compensate functionality, which also affects performance, so that the built-in screen reader that I was trying to test on the Android phone actually got stuck and froze my phone. In Apple, I can quickly set a shortcut which would enable me to invert colors, to have voice over, if I need it, and to magnify but it does not slow down my phone, it does not break my user experience. Again, Apple operating system, easy to use, low impact on productivity, low impact on content quality. So, if you're magnifying, you still get good quality of graphics, therefore the adaptations are built-in within the system. So, you can invert colors, you can magnify, you can get it to use voiceover without needing to purchase external, it's built-in and it does not affect performance. In Windows and this is... And sorry... I work within a corporate network that uses a particular version of Windows that does not have AI or all sort of the things that we were talking about earlier. So, Windows is not built to being adapted, so when you install magnification, speech software, screen readers, it slows down. Depending if you're using IE or Microsoft Word software, it works well, if you are not, the quality of the image will be affected. So, if you're magnifying, you'll get a poor result, if you're using Firefox or Chrome. And this isn't great if you're working with web or cloud based applications, such as Google Apps. And the performance and productivity is heavily affected, so you get a lot more application crashes when you're using AI in Windows. So, if you design for a wide range of users, regardless of their ability, you will gain and retain adoption of your service or app, because now I'm a super Apple advocate because I've had not very nice experiences with others. But the other reason that I'm speaking, I'm sharing this is because I hope people working within or with these apps are aware of the limitations and hopefully improve. One of the examples that I struggle most with is pinch zoom. Before the appearance of responsive design, you could pinch and zoom on a site, couldn't you? This is great. If you need magnification, you will have to make things bigger and if you are using magnification with a desktop computer, it's great because you can magnify and the site will automatically resize. But, if you're on your phone, responsive design does not work for somebody who's got low vision. It doesn't work for people over 40 either. Why? Because you might find that your arm starts getting shorter as you get sort of like... So, when you cater for people with low vision, you also cater for people over 40 that need reading glasses. So, as developers, probably we swear when browsers break our site but I love the feature in Opera, and Chrome, and Firefox that basically enables me to force pinch zoom on a site. And I was actually showing this feature to somebody who's just turned 40, who's fully sighted and she was like, "This is great." In Safari, now Safari has brought back pinch zoom, the transition is seamless, you don't have to go into any sort of specialized accessibility. You can use pinch zoom whether the site works with pinch zoom or not. But if you're using a site within Twitter, Twitter hasn't got that ability, so you're stuck. If you can't read an app and you're using the Twitter browser, you will have problems using it. But as we were hearing the talk about artificial intelligence earlier, universal design or designing for a variety of users actually drives innovation. Speech technology, it appear to help people like myself, people that can't see very well, that have mobility issues, [inaudible] dyslexia. Dragon is one of the sort of like mainstream ones, and Dragon drives Apple's Siri. There's also Google Talk. So, this type of technology allows us to use our devices without using our hands, which is very handy if you're driving or if you're in a situation where you need to make something urgent but you can't physically get hold of your phone. You might be cooking or you might be carrying a child. So, I'm going to close with seven principles of the universal design, which is...this is from The Centre for Excellence in Universal Design. So, equitable use, flexibility, simple and intuitive, perceptible information, so you communicate key messages regardless of the environment or conditions of the user, tolerance for error. So, if you make a mistake of double tapping the screen, as I was saying earlier, the screen on your phone is not going to magnify. It will allow for those errors to happen, low physical effort and it's got an appropriate site and space for approach, manipulation and use regardless of the users' body size, posture or mobility. And now I've got a bit of a long travel back, so I might not stick around for a lot longer but I'm @nivims on Twitter, so do sort of follow or throw in any questions, if you'd like to. Does any...sorry. Has anybody got any questions? Yeah? - [Man] The problems that you've had with Android, has that been across the board, or particular brands may be worse, or has it just been one particular model of phone? - I was using a Sony Xperia when I started and I found the font was pretty small, even when I made it larger. But then I switched to an LG, I think it was an LG SE, and I still sort of found the problems that I was having with magnification and it kind of starting itself on its own. It was happening with both Xperia and... - LG. - Yeah. What happens is, when you're going to magnify on the Apple phone, you double tap with two fingers but Android, when you double tap with one finger, that activates magnification. So, if it was something as simple as using a different gesture to start off magnification, that would fix it. - [Woman] Thank you very much. Thank you.