Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Accessibility and Me–A True Story

Some of you may know that I’m currently working on some accessibility workshops and that this is a new area to me. I’ve always been a bastion of common sense, but accessibility, for whatever reason, this hasn’t really been of any major (or minor) concern. I’d always thought it was about disability and I’m not disabled. Most people aren’t disabled so not something for me to worry about. Or so I thought.

I consider myself pretty normal. I’m of average height, average build and weight, average fitness level and so on. I do need glasses though. Not that much. Only if I’m really tired, if I’ve been working at my computer too long, if the print is really really small or if I’m in low light (restaurant menus in Italic script in low ‘romantic’ light are my nemesis these days). It’s an age thing. As you get older, your eyesight deteriorates little by little and for me, that process has just begun. And it isn’t going to get any better I don’t suppose. But I’m not used to wearing my glasses as I don’t need them all the time so I forget to carry them with me a lot of the time.

It’s not that big a deal, right? I can still do everything I used to be able to do. I only need glasses for a smidgeon of my time. And it can’t be that big a deal when we’re talking technology? Or so you’d think. My experience with mobile devices and my not-quite-as-good-as-it-used-to-be eyesight is pretty appalling:

  • Going to a website on my phone and being forced to view the mobile version where the font is fixed and is too small (only by 1 or 2pts) to read without my glasses. Why can’t I zoom in or increase the font size?
  • Going to a mobile site where having squinted at the article I’m reading, only to find that I can adjust the font size right at the bottom. That should be at the top, no? There’s little point in struggling to read the page only to find at the bottom, I could have made it a whole lot easier for myself.
  • But neither of those are as bad as the app situation. Oh my word. That is simply horrid and a frustration. And I’m speaking having used apps regularly on Android, Windows Phone 7, Nokia N95 and N8, Android and Palm Pre II. Why can’t I increase a font size in an app? Why does the font have to be so small in the first place?

It really is ridiculous. I shouldn’t have to put my glasses on to read my phone. Are you telling me that in this day and age, that this can’t be sorted by a bit of up front thinking about design, usability and accessibility? Isn’t technology supposed to make life easier? Isn’t mobile technology about the convenience of it all. It sure ain’t convenient for me to have to dig around for my glasses just so that I can read your dumb app or game. And I can’t imagine what it’s like for people with a more serious impairment or disability.

So, app developers, accessibility isn’t just about the disabled minority. It’s about the able-majority. Your day to day customers. If you’re taking the business of apps seriously, then it’s about time you took your customers seriously too and took some simple steps to address this. Maybe the first step is to read up on this over at the Vodafone Foundation Smart Accessibility Awards website and maybe attend one of the upcoming workshops in Edinburgh, Belfast or one of the other cities we’re visiting.

And if you’re in the fortunate position of already having done something fantastic in this area, don’t forget to enter the awards. Let’s hear it for the good stuff out there.