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Accessibility in the hardware: Coke Freestyle

There are plenty of reasons to dislike Coca-Cola, including the recent kerfuffle about them funding research that shifts the blame for America’s obesity problem to lack of exercise rather than sugary drinks. That said, I’m a big fan of Coke Zero, and since AMC Theatres sent me a free drink coupon for my birthday, I went to fill up before a showing of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. yesterday. This is my lousy photo of the Coke Freestyle machine at the theatre:

coke machine

The main interface is a touch screen that is at chest level when I’m standing, but far above my head when I’m in my wheelchair (the drink pours out at eye level then). We noticed the little wheelchair button below the drink dispenser. Hmm. I pressed it and the buttons to the left lit up, giving me a control panel at a more appropriate height. My choice was still to reach up and smack the touch screen, but I was impressed enough to snap a photo for this blog.  It’s a small detail and maybe only used by a few people, but after two months of being in a wheelchair or hopping with a walker, I’m achingly aware of the many ways that people with mobility disabilities have to struggle or are simply shut out from activities most of us take for granted. This particular theatre — shout out to the AMC John R in Madison Heights, Michigan — hires disabled ticket takers, has nice big rows for wheelchairs and companions, and has a bathroom stall that I can pull my wheelchair into and turn around. We’ve been going there almost every week since my accident because their accommodations make it an easy and pleasant trip, and I’m so very grateful. It’s not the closest theatre to us, but we go there because it’s most comfortable.

[And hey, go see The Man from U.N.C.L.E. It’s stylish, fun, and quite amusing. Both Cavill and Hammer are deadpan, so the laughs come as delighting surprises rather than being telegraphed for miles. The costuming alone is worth a viewing — the villainess’s black and white palazzo jumpsuit is to die for. Director Guy Ritchie uses mosaic montages to condense sections that might otherwise be tedious, making them exciting and having fun with the screen dividing lines in the process.]

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Posted by on August 16, 2015 in Side Topics

 

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Considering policy issues around social media and accessibility

Model View Culture has a new article about three online dialogues organized by the National Council on Disability and the US Department of Labor’s Office on Disability Employment Policy. The three topics were:

  1. Advancing Accessibility and Inclusion in Social Media: The User Experience
  2. Advancing Accessibility and Inclusion in Social Media: The Tech Perspective
  3. Encouraging People with Disabilities to Pursue Careers in STEM

Frankly, the answers voted as best in each category are pretty simple things: a prompt to add descriptive alt text to social media images, an indication of whether closed captioning was generated (and likely of poor quality) or done with human oversight, and job shadowing/internship programs. It’s been a decade since I left my job at Gigantic Internet Corporation, but at the time, our projects all had accessibility and internationalization requirements. Now that so much content is produced by individuals or small companies, it seems those factors are often ignored, perhaps because of lack of knowledge as much as lack of empathy. I should know better myself, but I’m sloppy about the alt text on images I share.

The author makes this point:

Accessibility needs to be ‘baked in,’ integrated into every department of a social media company (e.g., software engineering, product management, communication and marketing, usability, user experience, interaction design) rather than ‘layered on,’ added as an afterthought or in the middle of a product’s development

Yes. That’s another reason why the company I talked about in this post made my hackles rise. In choosing to only provide voice chat and not text on a public social platform, they explained that other people could make text chat add-ons, or hey — soon 3D cameras will allow people to use sign language and be understood!  That response still makes me growl in anger. First of all, it’s not only profoundly deaf (and ASL fluent) people who prefer text chat. Others quickly jumped into the forum thread to talk about partial hearing loss, speech impediments, accents, easier intelligibility of a second language in text, and lack of private working spaces.

It saddens me that in 2015, people with disabilities are still fighting for access so many of us take for granted. Another article in the previous month’s Model View Culture, Taking the Social Model of Disability Online addresses that same issue.  It’s an informative piece about accessibility and UX for things like social media, apps, online stores, and games.

I also like an article that she links to: Reframing Accessibility for the Web. That essay begins:

We need to change the way we talk about accessibility. Most people are taught that “web accessibility means that people with disabilities can use the Web”—the official definition from the W3C. This is wrong. Web accessibility means that people can use the web.

Designing for accessibility can be a hard sell to small companies and tiny app studios. I’m thinking of a friend’s company, which has only a couple developers and produces a business service product. I’m sure that if I asked about the accessibility of his software, he’d snort in laughter. Taking the time to learn about, code, and test accessibility on the tiny chance that one of their clients might have an employee with those needs is difficult to justify. (In this particular case, the company has free human phone assistance for someone who couldn’t use the web-based system, though that wasn’t provided with accessibility in mind.)  But, it makes me think of when I needed  to use a cane and a helpful theater staff member directed me away from a short flight of stairs and to the elevator: down a long hallway, around some turns, through a storage area, another hundred yards or so, and there! An elevator. Workarounds are often time consuming and painful, but I suppose they’re better than nothing.

I’ll pay more attention to my alt text from now on.  It’s not much, but it’s easy to do and should be the default rather than the exception. Maybe a little bit of awareness can start to make a difference for others, too.

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2015 in Health - Mental & Physical

 

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