Ensure that the remote control can be used without requiring sight


Many people use the most commonly used functions on a remote control without needing to look at the remote control on every use. Similarly, but to a more profound extent, people who are blind rely on touch or audible feedback to orient the remote control, locate the required button, press it and know that it has been pressed. After some learning, they can often use a familiar interface by touch alone once they have their fingers oriented around a known starting location and providing the individual controls are easy to discern and differentiate without sight. This is similar to the way touch typists can use a QWERTY keyboard without looking at it, once they are oriented on the ‘F’ and ‘J’ keys. An important consideration is that operating by touch usually requires buttons to be located by touch, before they are operated. This has implications for touch-sensitive interfaces.

Directions and techniques

Allow for easy orientation without requiring sight (high priority)

Make use of shape, texture or other tactile features that assist users in positioning the control the correct way round in the hand using touch.

Provide a way for users to quickly locate the required button without sight (high priority)

Buttons should be logically positioned and grouped according to their functions. The best results can be achieved by following these guidelines:

  • Group related buttons together (e.g. the volume up and down, the arrow keys for navigation)
  • Position buttons in a way that is consistent with functions, e.g., position the channel up button above the channel down button;
  • Make the spaces between groups of buttons that relate to the same function greater than the spaces within the groups;
  • Follow common industry standards (e.g. for the layout of the numeric keypad and the navigation/select cluster).

Buttons should have clearly defined edges that are distinguishable by touch. This can be achieved by adding a raised border or by making a small circular hollow in the middle of the button.

Tactile indicators should be used on some buttons. A raised dot or line on the number ‘5’ is very useful. It is now a common standard found on most keypads so users will expect it and know what it means without it having to be explained. This tactile indicator is of particular importance to blind users. This should not decrease the legibility of the visual markings, however. Tactile indications should follow international standards. An example is the European standard ES 201 384 Human Factors telecommunication keypads and keyboards tactile identifiers.

In addition to raised tactile indicators, different shapes, sizes or textures can also be used to differentiate key buttons or groups of buttons.

Provide a way for users to identify buttons without activating them (high priority)

The design of the remote control should allow users to locate buttons by feel without activating them, in order to avoid accidental operations. Touch-sensitive or light touch buttons may not allow this or may make it difficult and prone to error. However, it is possible to create a touchscreen interface that can be used without sight in which activating a button requires more than a single touch. An example can be found on the Apple mobile operating system, iOS used on the Apple iPhone, iPad and iPod touch range of products. When used in conjunction with the Apple speech output engine called VoiceOver, button labels are spoken on touch and activated by a double-touch.

Providing feedback in tactile and/or audible form on button presses can let the user know when a button has been pressed, either intentionally or unintentionally.

Ensure that users do not require sight to change the batteries

The battery compartment should be designed so that opening it and inserting or removing batteries can be done without vision. If the battery compartment lid comes off completely, it may be easily dropped, so a hinged design may be better. The replacement of the lid should slot in easily and should not require the user to visually line up parts that fit together.

How you could test for this

During development, run user tests of working prototypes with a range of users in different contexts of use as well as blind users.