Thinking about accessibility

This shouldn’t really be an isolated consideration in UX design. We are after all designing access to services for people with many different user stories dictated by their context, circumstance and ability. We might observe that a mobile device is a “disabled” user of the web in as much as it has its particularities.

For eleven years at the BBC it was impossible to ignore accessibility. New Media was a wonderful utopian view of everyone of all sorts working together. Colour blind managers and friends with CP or in wheelchairs. People missing limbs or simply hard of hearing. There, the thin veil of normality was held up to the light and the wide truth beyond was clear to see.

The BBC website had global templates styles that dealt with colour casting our pages… pages created to the chant of “Semantic HTML, Semantic HTML, Semantic HTML”. Even in our moments of distraction we instinctively understood that if a search engine could read the page; a screen reader could.

In 2001 BBC mobile went live. The templates were based on three phones and nuances in their coding and capabilities; A Nokia 7110, Ericsson r380 and a Siemens s45. I perceived these initial devices as limited users of the web, and deeply felt an empathy for their view of it. Silly, I know.

Time moved on and it all got better. The front-end became much smarter as browsers and back-ends started talking more. The interfaces became more app like and the demands of dynamic, self-generating layouts made it harder to sustain the purity of a semantic document, as stories turned into living conversations and “call-to-actions” became moving targets.

Motor-skills are on my mind right now. Remembering that not everyone can drag and drop or quickly scroll. Reach across a screen with a thumb and get to a sub-menu before a time-out.

I think of accessibility when I cross the street with my awesome legs. The way some crossing signals accelerate their beeping as the frail senior citizen rapidly runs out of the allocated time.

Is this what we’ve come to with all our technology? Machine learning cameras watching the roads for speeding plates rather than the people who need their attention.

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