Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Accessibility doesn’t have to be boring

Back in 2011 when I was working on the Vodafone Foundation Smart Accessibility Awards, I didn’t have a clue about the world of accessible mobile applications. And I’m not sure that many other people had a clue either beyond a small group of enthusiasts. Much of the services I came across were ugly and institutionalised. The devices looked medical and screamed out ‘I’m disabled and helpless’. And I haven’t met anyone yet who wanted to be labelled in such a way. Not only that, but I discovered that some of our favourite household appliances, such as the cordless kettle, were first designed with disabled access in mind. That means that accessible design can appeal to and be useful to everyone.

I’m pleased to see that, a year or so on, things have improved somewhat from my first foray into the sector. Today, I stumbled across a couple of entries to this year’s Innovate UK’s digital inclusion contest and I really liked both of them so I’m sharing them with you.

First up is Novoda’s Tribble. It’s a prototype for a doorbell connected to your smartphone. Initially aimed at people with hearing impairments, but it’s clear from the concept that it’s useful for anyone and in other situations. Have a watch of the video (with subtitles).


Next up is Acuity Design’s concept for PaperRound. This is a news navigation system for those with visual impairments. Again, it’s a neat idea and one that isn’t restricted to those with visual impairments. Other people would find it useful too. The concept and design is explained in some detail in this blog post. If you’ve ever tried to use the internet the way a blind person has to, you’d find it pretty demoralising. PaperRound is one way to make the experience much more enjoyable.

Both these examples show that accessibility doesn’t have to be boring and it doesn’t have to scream out at you ‘I’m disabled and needy’. Best of luck to both companies in the contest. I’ll be keeping an eye out for other entries and to see who wins funding.