Often, when working to promote accessibility of the digital environment, we look to the physical environment for comparisons and analogies. A PhD study at the School of Architecture here in Dundee has made me realise just how many parallels there are in the challenge of raising the profile of accessibility both amongst architects and amongst web and software developers.
HCI 2009, the 23rd annual British Computer Society conference on Human Computer Interaction, took place this week at Cambridge University’s Churchill College . It started and finished with two provocative and inspiring keynote talks, and in between were some interesting presentations and discussions. I was there to give a paper on the user research work we’ve been doing as part of the Usable Image project, but I was also wearing my accessibility hat, and while there wasn’t a huge amount of coverage of accessibility or inclusive design there were plenty of other presentations that were definitely of relevance.
One of the great things about my job as a researcher with a focus on accessibility and usability is that I can happily justify going all reflective on an everyday event, wondering why it happened, and what could be done to change it in the future – especially if it involves some user interface design quirk or flaw. Recounting this can provide valuable insight and encouragement to improving the quality of interface design – just Ask Tog!
Last week I gave a session to third year HCI students on the relationship between accessibility, usability and aesthetics. Part of this session was to explore how aesthetic appeal can override apparent usability limitations in influencing the success of a product or interface; and we also explored the extent to which accessibility and aesthetic appeal can co-exist.
One of the discussion topics was “do accessibility and usability advocates lead by example?” Do their web sites exist as inspiring examples of good design? We had a good laugh finding examples of where that answer was a resounding ‘no’ – although disability charity web sites are certainly improving in terms of design quality – and I pointed students to the fantastic Design Eye for a Usability Guy makeover of Jakob Nielsen’s Useit.com web site. The serious point was that if people wish to inspire designers to think about accessibility while maintaining creativity and design appeal, we need to show that it can be done. Not all accessibility advocates are talented designers (I wish I was), but we recognise the importance of getting the message over in an appealing way.