About Telecoms Accessibility
The goal of accessibility is to ensure that telecommunications devices and services are available to and usable by the widest possible audience. This requires that the following six conditions are met:
- All users can get to installed devices without hindrance
- All users can reach and operate the controls, inputs and outputs
- All users can perceive and understand the operation of controls and inputs
- All users can perceive and understand the outputs from the device or service
- The user interface is consistent across functions, repeated visits and different installations
- For users who cannot use the device or service, an equivalent alternative service is available
To achieve this, the design must take into account the fact that the ability to see, hear, make inputs, read text or process information varies from user to user, across time and across situations of use.
Some users have restricted movement or control of their arms, hands and fingers. This might be due to a medical condition, injury or even old age. Many older people, for example, have reduced dexterity or even a slight hand tremor. Small controls or ones that are very close together may be too fiddly for them to operate without accidentally activating two at once or hitting the wrong one by mistake. Anything that requires using force, pulling, gripping or twisting may also be difficult.
Users who have a permanent or temporary condition which restricts their mobility may need to use a wheelchair, a motorised buggy or crutches to move around. If there are barriers in the way to the device, such as steps, posts or signage, it may be difficult or even impossible for them to get to it. These hindrances may also cause problems for people with restricted vision, particularly those who are totally blind.
Even if they can reach the device, users who operate it from a low position, such as a wheelchair, may then have difficulty reaching to put in cards or money, operate the controls or see the display. Users who are extremely short or extremely tall may have similar problems.
Users who are blind or partially sighted may have problems perceiving the various parts of the device. They may have difficulty seeing the controls and what they are for, the slots for inserting cards or money and visual displays showing prompts and information.
The key to serving these users' needs is to make sure visual prompts and information are clearly presented and to offer the same information in a format that can be perceived by a non-sighted person - tactile or audio. For example, Braille can be used on buttons and spoken instructions and outputs can be provided along with the visual display.
It is worth remembering that partially sighted also includes anyone who has temporarily lost or forgotten their glasses or anyone who is operating the device in an environment where there is either insufficient light or too much glare from the sun.
Users who are hard of hearing may have problems perceiving sounds such as ring tones. Even users with good hearing may be working in a noisy environment, such as an industrial plant. These users' needs can be met by simply ensuring that all audible information is supplemented by a visual form such as flashing lights.Users who are deaf can communicate by sign language and lip reading using videophones. However, if the bandwidth and display quality are not capable of providing smooth detailed motion, it may be difficult or impossible to understand what is being signed or spoken.
Cognitive and learning considerations
Some users may have difficulty dealing with letters, words and numbers, understanding concepts and instructions, or learning procedures. Often these users are in all other respects highly intelligent.This can be a particular problem if the user interface varies between different devices. Or if the contents of a menu-based service change from one visit to the next. People with cognitive or learning impairments often rely on carrying out simple procedures by rote, so consistency and predictability are very important for them. If they cannot rely on what they have previously learned from other devices, they find it far more difficult to use. If the ordering of options in a menu-based service is changed or if new options are inserted, it can disrupt the sequence they have learnt. The same is true for blind users, who can often carry out routine tasks perfectly well as long as the device remains the same.
The key is to maintain consistency. Consistency between devices and consistency of services over time. This will also be of tremendous benefit to the average user who, whilst not being permanently impaired, may well at times be tired, stressed or in a hurry, all of which affect cognition. In addition, there are many, particularly older, users who find technology intimidating, simply because they are not familiar with it.
Most people find written or spoken instructions difficult to follow if they use complex language or industry jargon. This includes the instructions on public telephones and the menu choices in Interactive Voice Response (IVR) services. People who do not speak English as their first language or who do not read or hear very well may find it particularly difficult.25% of the Irish population are "functionally illiterate", meaning that while they can read to some degree, they would have difficulty reading a newspaper, filling in a form or following the instructions on a medicine bottle. The trick is to keep it short and simple.
Other sources of information
COST 219bis An international initiative to promote access to telecommunications by disabled and elderly people.
Telecommunications accessibility guidelines from Tiresias An information resource intended for professionals in the field of visual disabilities, but with a much wider coverage in practice.