Getting the best out of digital: moving towards a future for all


Written by Mike Taylor (Senior Accessibility Analyst) DAC


Our lives revolve around a numerous amount of technology, we are more connected and mobile than ever before; and it’s set to continue with wearable technology such as the various watches which are now available on various platforms. Certain movies which once contained touch-screen technology now give way to smart phones, tablets, house-hold appliances and more. This we already know, but what is not so obvious is how such devices can be used by persons who have a disability?

I write this as a totally blind person who is very technology focused, and use my iPhone for many things including making a simple phone call, and having used a touch-screen phone for 3 years I can honestly write that I wouldn’t go back to my nice tactile phone with an alpha-numeric keyboard, having been exposed to a world of possibilities that I could only have previously dreamed of. What is it that makes such devices so popular though, and what can be done to make things even better; and more usable and accessible in the future?

Many computers and mobile devices now have built-in software and settings, which can enable users who have a disability use and customise their device out-of-the-box. When I upgraded my iPhone a month before writing this article, the only help I needed was to insert the sim in to my new device, and once I am confident enough to do it myself next time (if sim cards are indeed still in use) I won’t need any support at all. Chances are that the very device you are accessing this article from will have a set of software packages installed to help not just blind users, but persons with limited mobility, users who are deaf, or users who have a learning disability for example access their device. I only ask 2 things after you have viewed this article, if you have never done so before, take a look at the accessibility settings for your device and I will give information on how to do this at the end. The second is if you do try any of the accessibility features listed and need some help, feel free to get in touch with our team and we are more than happy to advise.

Your digital life on tap

Many accessibility functions can be performed by using different commands or (touch gestures) to interact with a device. A blind person navigates an android and iPhone by using various touch commands, one involving placing a finger on the screen and flicking left or right to hear the next or previous item, and performing a single finger double-tap to activate it (rather than just tapping the icon like a sighted person would. The same idea by employing short cut key commands has been used on keyboard-oriented machines for many years now, so the concept to a degree was adapted for touch screen access. The result of this meaning that I and many colleagues, friends and relatives can independently use a touch-screen device. This need not only be attached to Android and iPhone though, as the world of possibilities now mean that if the same concept is taken to other devices, the increase of digital inclusion will be a sure thing.

Many buildings and homes in the future will have wifi connected technology other than the computer, tablet, TV and phone. Smart metres are already in use which at the time of writing are not accessible or usable to users who have limited or no vision. If more homes are to be suitable for our connected society, it’s my personal opinion that a similar approach (if touch screen is used) be adopted to that of iOS or android. Touch screen does not work for all though, and a keyboard alternative or maybe a mix of both could be made possible to include users who cannot; or prefer not to use a touch screen device.

Designing for usability and accessibility

Making devices which are suitable for all user groups is one thing, designing accessible user interfaces are another. A user interface which is purely graphical will not be accessible for users of some assistive technology such as screen readers. Ensuring that all controls respond to voice, switch access, keyboard only and touch commands also mean that as many users as possible can access whatever is displayed. Making sure that a sufficient colour contrast is used, and allowing for user customisation will give more options to end-users. A lot of work, will it pay off, and is it necessary? Absolutely. Why? End users will be fully independent and able to take advantage of such technology, and have a greater involvement and get as good an experience as possible. If the technology is accessible and usable, the take-up will quickly increase and through word-of-mouth and other means such as social media and forums, more users will adopt and become part of what is now known as the internet of things. It’s necessary as many people are still left with technology developing at a high speed, and who are left behind due to inaccessible content. The only true way to open up the technology to as many users as possible is to adopt an approach which actively includes functionality for users of assistive technology. We can identify already it’s benefits on laptops, desktops, mobile and tablet devices, it isn’t about re-inventing the wheel as much as adding additional features.

How to view and search for accessibility features

On iOS go to: Settings>General>Accessibility.

Android: Settings>Accessibility.

Windows phone 8: Settings>Ease of access.

Blackbery 10: Settings>Accessibility.

Windows desktop/laptop: Short cut command windows+U

Mac: Short cut command Function (FN key) +Option+Command+F5