Accessibility thoughts, OpenSign, universal design & applied gerontology

I’ve had feedback that viewers may not understand our entry for the Jisc Accessible by Design challenge, if they don’t have a background in Web accessibility (or, words to that effect).

So, I thought I’d try to provide that introduction, and I’d relate it to where it all started for me (I think) – applied gerontology and universal design at the University of Birmingham, circa 1997.

Exhibit A is the aerosol can below – for Right Guard anti-perspirant. Nothing special? Well, if I turn it around, you may see an unusual, long aerosol “button”. This should make the can easier to use for those with arthritis and other mobility impairments.

Exhibit A – aerosol can, on Flickr

Exhibit B is below – large print books. Together with embossed braille books, Daisy e-books and other formats, this can form part of a universal design strategy to make books available to all.

Exhibit B – large print books, on Flickr

Exhibit C is Open Media Player. We’d like to add timed or synchronised transcripts. These would serve the needs of the hard of hearing, and any learners or others who wish to quickly search and review a long video or audio track. Synchronised transcripts would be another improvement on our journey towards universal design. We already strive for keyboard and screen reader accessibility, and other forms of accessible design. And, we seek to make an optimally accessible and usable online media player, that is open source.

Exhibit D is OpenSign. This is a proposal by three H810 postgrads to create e-learning resources to teach sign language (BSL and others). OpenSign is a pragmatic and powerful step to open up communication between those with and without hearing impairments, reducing isolation, and increasing opportunities for all! (A much-needed idea, but not strictly universal design.)

There are many other great ideas in the Jisc competition. Please take a look and help some of them get funding.

Vote in the Jisc accessible by design competition

To summarise, universal design is about not designing for the “current you” (in my case, white, male, young/middle-aged!) Instead think about how you can open up your products and services to as many people as possible. Useful steps: talk to “customers” from a wide range of demographics, and try a thought experiment – what might I need from everyday objects in 10, 20, 30 years time?

Exhibit B – reading an embossed braille book, on Flickr

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