Low Vision and Technology Presentation by Tom Stewart ToThe International Symposium on LowVision Rehabilitation and Visual Ability Rome 15th - 17th December 2010www.system-concepts.com firstname.lastname@example.org
People with low vision have traditionally had difficulties in a society which isincreasingly geared towards visual expression. Signposting, advertising andentertainment often rely on visual impact and although people with low visionusually have some useful vision, they may miss out on what is going on aroundthem.Slide 1 Modern life is full of visual images eg Times SquareNonetheless, many people with low vision perform well in the workplace andassistive technology can help dramatically. In System Concepts, we regularlytest websites for accessibility and are often amazed at how effectively peopleusing screen readers can perform most tasks. But sometimes web designersforget about these users and put critical information in images, which are notread properly by the screen reader.
Slides 2a and 2b – Amazon - prices only appears in an image.
In the past, assistive technology has tended to be expensive, highly specialisedand adapted to specific individuals. Recent developments in technology meanthat computer technology is now much more personal, with many peopleowning laptops, smart phones and tablets (and some people having all three).Slides 3a, 3b and 3c – Laptops, smart phones and tabletsPersonal portable technology not only allows individuals to carry their owncustomised devices with them but many of these new developmentsincorporate accessibility features as standard. Smart phones now include suchfeatures as screen readers and magnifiers, voice recognition and keyboards,which can be adapted to suit the users.
In the UK, the RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind) has a usefulwebsite with information about phone and computer accessibility features.Slide 4 –RNIB technology help websitehttp://www.rnib.org.uk/livingwithsightloss/computersphones/Pages/computers_mobile_phones.aspx
Tablets, which have been around for some time, received a major boost whenApple introduced the iPad. Millions of these have now been sold and manymanufacturers are producing their own versions.Slide 5 – Accessibility options on iPadAlthough these devices too have powerful accessibility features built-inincluding voice over, and white on black screens, one of the „killer features‟ isthe multi-touch screen, which allows users to magnify and shrink images with asimple „pinch‟ gesture. For many people with low vision, this is all they need tomake the interface more accessible and it comes as standard – it is not anaddition for low vision users.
There are many myths about accessible technology (http://bit.ly/eY1Xhj ) and aparticularly common one is that “accessibility stops you using images on thewebsite”. It certainly does not. As I mentioned earlier, if you put criticalcontent as images, without appropriate text descriptions, then visually impairedusers will miss it. But we find that many people with low vision find thatimages help them navigate around pages even if they cannot see fine detail.Even users with no vision can find that images on the page help them form amental picture of the layout of the page. The most important point - as mycolleague Mickela Perera eloquently pointed out in our World Usability Daypodcast on communications - is for designers to check that the website stillworks with images turned off.Slide 6 Screen shot of Mickela‟s podcasthttp://www.system-concepts.com/articles/usability-articles/2010/accessibility-tips.html
One of the biggest myths is that “disabled users are only a small minority” sowhy bother? It is true that registered disabled users are a minority. Butaccording to a recent report in the Guardian newspaper, 36% of the 9 milliondisabled people in the UK are regularly online – a minority, but a sizeable one.However there is a much larger number of users who are not classified asdisabled, but who would benefit from accessibility features, including being ableto increase font size, adjust image contrast or use text to speech in noisyenvironments. We were once asked by a car insurance website manager whyhe needed to bother with visually impaired users as they would not be drivinganyway! Apart from his legal obligations, we pointed out that some users withvisual impairments can still drive, and anyway, they may well wish to buyinsurance for others.Researching employment opportunities for this talk, I came across theEuropean Blind Union website which showed the kind of jobs which aresuitable for people with low vision.Slides 7 European Blind Union jobshttp://www.euroblind.org/jobwebsite/jobcategory.htm
And just in case you think there are only a few limited opportunities undereach heading, these lead on to further detail including many jobs suitable forpeople, who are completely blind:Slide 8 Administration jobs http://www.euroblind.org/jobwebsite/admin.htm
Regarding accessibility as an option for a minority is a big mistake. In mostcountries there are laws to protect the interests of people with low vision andother disabled people. In the UK, the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 hasnow been replaced by the Equality Act 2010, and makes it a legal requirementfor service providers (including website providers) not to discriminate againstpeople with disabilities. So websites which offer special deals online mustensure that their websites are accessible to avoid breaking the law.World-wide, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons withDisabilities, which came into force in 2008, made accessible and assistiveInformation and Communication Technologies (ICTs) a legal right.Slide 9 UN convention websitehttp://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=26554&Cr=disab&Cr1
National bodies, standards makers and regulators are beginning to take action.This impact is only just „trickling down‟ to consumers but we believe that inthe future inaccessible technology won‟t just be unusable and annoying, it willbe breaching people‟s human rights. Yet, as we have indicated briefly above, itreally is not difficult to accommodate users with disabilities including low visionand there are really no excuses for ignoring this important section of thecommunity and workforce.Tom Stewart, December 2010www.system-concepts.com