deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
deborah ([personal profile] deborah) wrote2011-08-01 10:35 pm

Poetry by other means: "accessibility" is not just another boolean toggle

On Saturday, after two years without a cell phone, I bought an Android phone.

This afternoon I returned it.

I was excited enough by the phone's features that it overcame my deep aversion for being reachable (and my steadily growing distaste with El Google). It's not just the many features of the Android phones designed to lay claim to the geek's heart, of course, but also the voice control features, still inadequate but improving with every frequent iteration of the operating system. It's how hard Google pushes the Android accessibility API, although I admit I should have had the first inklings of worry when I read those pages months ago, and saw that Google fell into the trap of frequently equating "accessibility" with "no- or low-vision use".1

Before I'd had the phone 5 minutes, when I was still getting help getting the voice control correctly configured, I discovered I was going to have to take it back. Android's haptic feedback (a fancy name for "the phone vibrates a whole lot") cannot be entirely turned off, and renders it completely unusable by me. Yet that same haptic feedback is specifically designed as an accessibility feature for no- or low-vision use of the phones.

I don't want to read too much into what is fundamentally a bad user interface design on Google's part, here. Haptic feedback is a wonderful thing, but it should be able to be completely disabled based on user option. The fact that it can't be is clearly a UI mistake.

But there's something else underlying here, and it's the idea that accessibility is a set of features which can be added, wham bam, beneficial to all of those adorable folks who need it. As everyone who has spent enough time in the accessibility world understands, one person's accessibility need is another person's spoon-sucking roadblock. (Tactile paving, anyone?) For all I often rant about how easy it would just be to add basic accessibility do applications and websites, I admit in my more fair moments that accessibility beyond the basic is quite difficult, and this is exactly why. There's no big tent that can encompass all accessibility needs. Universal design is lovely and wonderful as a concept, but it's far from trivial: there's no one universal human to design for.

In the meantime, I guess I'll just continue to be unreachable. Which isn't so bad, after all.

ETA:

The Google form for reporting accessibility problems is a marvelous exemplar of my point. On the one hand, they have a dedicated form for reporting accessibility problems! On the other hand, they have this question and set of possible answers:

If you’re encountering a problem, we need to understand a bit more about the issue, so we can help. What screen reader or other assistive technology are you using, if any?
  • JAWS
  • Window-Eyes
  • System Access
  • NVDA
  • VoiceOver
  • Don't know
  • Other


GUYS. They don't even list any screen magnifiers in that list, let alone get wacky with it and list adaptive technologies which aren't for blind or low-vision use. Only slightly fewer of the respondents to be latest WebAIM screen reader survey listed Zoom Text than listed System Access, and that's despite the fact that users of Zoom Text might not have bothered to take the survey because they aren't using screen readers. It's like the people who created that form (and once again, thank you Google for creating that form) can't even imagine how to talk to people who have accessibility needs but don't use screen readers.


  1. To be fair, the Eyes-Free on Android project also continually falls into the trap of using the word "accessibility" when they mean "accessibility for blind and low-vision users". And also to be fair, I do realize that touchscreen devices are a hell of a lot more disenfranchising to blind and low-vision users than they are to many types of people with mobility impairments. I'm sorry. I'm trying to own my "not very disabled" privilege here, but it's hard, because I wanted that phone.[back]
jeshyr: Blessed are the broken. Harry Potter. (Default)

[personal profile] jeshyr 2011-08-06 04:13 am (UTC)(link)
Word. Word x 1,000,000.

Even Apple fall into the trap of 'accessibility' = 'accessibility for blind users' quite often and it drives me nutty!
etana: (Default)

[personal profile] etana 2011-08-15 02:23 am (UTC)(link)
The unfortunate thing is that even the eyes-free project (and Google a11y et al) fails tremendously in changing the UI completely for eyes-free use rather than just making the original UI accessible to low-vision/no-vision users. And magnification sucks. And there are really no good hands-free options. I just....they don't even get the near-sighted stuff rihght!