Accessibility and usability inspires innovation. Embracing and using standards and recommendations allows for more innovation. It’s time to quit thinking that embracing accessibility stifles growth or causes limitations.
Many years ago, I was inspired by accessibility and innovations. I began my work and advocacy of web standards and accessibility items well before they became a public focus. Many contemporaries and others tried to diminish the message and importance. My background is the arts and also a variety of sciences. Our first computer was the direct result of our daughter who has several challenges needing assistive technology for communication and learning. She can see and hear, but motor and some cognitive items prevented her from using a text only Web and standard ways to access a computer or information. Enter rich multimedia and assistive technologies. These items existed well before the popularity of web, and these items also drive innovation for emerging technologies. We had a specialized keyboard for the computer, the keyboard can be customized with theme overlays, images, and or keywords and universal icons instead of the standard keyboard of letters and characters (the touch board could be set up in standard ways also). We had a special 15 inch screen that could be placed over a monitor. The screen allowed the user to access links or interact with items via touch and worked with many websites or applications. And then there is word prediction and recognition in communication devices, as well as rich multimedia sound and animation which offered up audible content, examples, and clues for those that could not read. All because of innovation in technology. Several people may find or feel that rich media items are entertainment only, but rich media is very important to a wide variety of challenged users or learners.
I often felt that as emerging technologies expanded, so would a renewed look or enthusiasm for accessibility interest grow. Many items for accessibility work very well for new technology. Think about how great offering a link to skip large groups of links works for mobile or handheld devices that have limited screen display. Think about how voice browsing or listening might work well for hands-free interaction with web content (car computers, some automated phone systems, etc). Think about how touch screens work well with kiosks in stores (photo stations, pharmacy, gift, registry, and ordering kiosks, etc). Some of these kiosks also break language and cognitive barriers as well when sound, images, or animated examples are involved. Think about how great it is to be able to take a single source of content and be able to deliver or transform it in a variety of ways. Core standards, guidelines, recommendations and open technologies enable this, while also providing an avenue for innovation and more emerging technologies. So… While we awe and wow at new items or older items making a comeback for emergent technology, we also need to take a closer look at how these newer technologies reach users. We need to find and work with the limitations and help to provide alternatives or information where needed. We need to know that usability and accessibility are often the forerunners of innovation.
The Web provides unprecedented access to information for people with disabilities. People who are blind no longer wait for 25 pounds of braille to be printed and delivered or for a volunteer to read. People who have difficulty moving in physical space can easily attend classes. Those who find it hard to read the labels on products or have trouble getting oriented in grocery stores (whose layouts change frequently) can shop using Web sites with images and search features.
Wendy writes about the challenges and also rewards surrounding accessibility and innovation. She offers up a great table, Questions to inspire innovation which takes a look at limitations (vision, motor, hearing, cognitive), needs, and exercises or questions to help inspire innovation. These are some of items we need to look at when looking at popular and emerging technologies.
Another example of accessibility inspiring innovation is Pellegrino Turri who built the first typewriter to help a blind friend with the ability to write. There are more examples of Assistive Technology inspiring innovation at: A History of Technology Advances Inspired by Disability
While we (designers, programmers, developers, instructors, advocates, business owners, and corporations) broaden our awareness on accessibility and look at how it works in many ways for more and more users, challenged or not, we need to embrace, advocate, and use standards, guidelines, and recommendations to build a solid foundation for more innovation and for the future. It seems this might be the intelligent way to work. My own inspiration and work with web and digital technology is a direct result of accessibility and assistive technology.
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