Accessible interfaces

The Disability Rights Commission has published an inaccessible website demonstration, using a fictional CD shop as an example. Users are asked to carry out various tasks on the interface with various simulated impairments. Try using the simulation of a user who has difficulty controlling a mouse – you’ll get a pretty good idea of what it’s like attempting to use tiny-palette driven applications (such as Fireworks and Photoshop) while on a moving train (on Britain’s creaking rail infrastructure).

In a recent AlertBox, Jakob Nielsen makes some interesting observations in favour of separate interfaces for sighted on non-sighted users. A non-sighted user in this case is anyone accessing the Web without using a screen and pointing device – perhaps a blind person, someone accessing over the phone or maybe in a car. All these users would be using auditory methods to access the site.

Nielsen argues that auditory methods need a 1-D approach to accessibility, as opposed to the 2-D approach used in the visual Web where good designers will prioritize information by screen location and context.

To my mind, a 1-D approach could be like the hierarchical phone menus we encounter when phoning cinemas and cable companies. Only much less irritating. Perhaps voice commands to skip through unwanted options, go back up the hierarchy and so on; more along the line of vocal equivalents to keyboard shortcuts.

Nielsen also imagines a gestural interface; not totally original thought when you consider the Theremin, but potentially useful in the hypertext context where 3-D space is used to point and access specific sets of information such as search results, contact areas and help documents.