Accessibility – added value for all

I adore technology – since I was a teenager I have been a massive fan of everything from computers to consoles, phones, gadgets and most recently fitness tracking devices. However being blind can sometimes make this passion difficult. But I do pride myself in taking technology and re imagining how it can be used.

Reimagining how RunKeeper could be used allowed me to learn to run solo. I take this approach to other pieces of technology in my life and believe I manage to use technology in ways it was never intended to be.

I am also a big fan of crowd funding. I have lost track of how many projects I have funded now but its been quite a few. I even took the risk of backing a project for a christmas present. With project creep all to common on crowd funding sites I am happy to say this project is running on time.

I often get to combine these two passions and fund many technology projects. Often to reimagine a use for them and make them an accessible piece of technology. The reason I backed the Pebble was to increase the accessibility of RunKeeper. For example when using VoiceOver it was a case of removing the phone from my pocket and 6 taps of the screen to pause or stop a workout. So the idea that this could be achieved by one press of the Pebble made it ever so appealing.

The great thing about crowd funding is also the opportunity to speak to the creators of a product. I managed to catch one product early enough in the development for them to change one feature that would make their product accessible. They were more than willing to do this as it opened up two markets for their product, sighted and non sighted people.

And that is where I feel the world of technology should be at. Making subtle changes in order to make their products accessible. Not an overhaul to make sure it can achieve a high level of accessibility and certainly not developing a product with the sole idea of being accessible. But with the thought at the beginning of the process on how could we make this accessible?

Tiny moves in the right direction can make a product accessible. I will use as an example the product that sparked this post: The Skulpt Aim. The aim is a device that is able to monitor your muscle quality and give accurate body fat percentage information. When I heard of this product I wanted to own it. I scoured their indiegogo page in order to glean if there were any features I could use to my advantage to make the product accessible. I couldn’t find any specifics so I decided to email them. The features I felt would make it accessible are as follows:

An audible beep when the scan is complete
The companion iOS app supporting VoiceOver

As you can see that list isn’t exhaustive and if anything it actually adds a feature for sighted people. If you are measuring your bicep for example it could beep when the scan is done. Removing the requirement to look at the screen. I am sure the product is pitched at its amazing visuals on screen but a beep would not distract from this. Accessibility features don’t need to be added with the sole purpose to aid the people who rely on them. They are a feature for the people who don’t rely on them.

Perhaps there is a belief that to make a product accessible is complex. It really isn’t. Its about thinking about who will use your product and not instantly dismissing the disabled.
The keen people may be thinking he hasn’t mentioned adding VoiceOver to the iOS app. Well that is just a case of making sure you label things correctly, not exactly adding a large development overhead.

Unfortunately the development of the Aim is too advanced in order to add an audible beep to the device. Now this alone would not stop me purchasing. If it worked with VoiceOver I would be willing to learn how to use the device, then take the data from the iOS app. However their email reply seems to suggest they are locked into their cycle and do not want to deviate even slightly. So I am unsure if VoiceOver support will be added to the iOS app. I cant risk backing to receive something I can’t use. I mean the Misfit Shine taught me that lesson!
The only reason I am using the Skulpt Aim in my example is down to how much I would of loved to use this product. The fact I cant use it now means I am excluded from the ability of being able to monitor my BF%. I am sure some people will say well couldn’t your wife help you, but that removes my independence. It also isn’t feasible to always ask someone for assistance when using a device.

One of my favourite products that was just released with great hope for accessibility is the Xbox One. The Xbox is incredibly interesting just for its voice controlled Kinect features. The ability to control the television and EPG through voice is a breakthrough. Being able to control the television is something I haven’t been able to do for a while. There are a few specialist products that exist to achieve this for the blind but I am not a fan of products specifically tailored for the blind.

I find they are often stripped back to a point I almost feel like I am paying an absurd amount of money for a lesser product. Quite often when a product is developed with the sole focus of accessibility the result is an incredibly limited and expensive piece of technology. This is because the developers just limited themselves to a very small market so in order to make their money back they vastly increase the price.A great example of this is the iOS app Fleksy. Fleksy is a typing application for the iPhone & Android which makes typing a breeze. When this app was initially released it was targeted at a typing solution for the blind and it was priced accordingly (very high!). I can remember when the app was first released and I even began to tweet about how expensive it was which quickly caught the eye of the developers. I pointed out my frustration at why applications developed solely for the disabled were so cost prohibitive.

Low and behold a few weeks later Fleksy re aligned the product. Now the application was subtly re marketed as an application that allowed you to type without looking at the screen. That subtle change of direction opened them up to a massive market and now they seem to be having tremendous success, with the app now being free. Incidentally it is one of my favorite apps and one I can not live without.

Fleksy brings me back to a point I made earlier. Accessible features add value to those that rely on them and those that don’t. Accessibility adds value to all customers.

If anyone is reading this and thinking about developing an application, product or anything and wants to know how to make it accessible please get in touch. A few simple tweaks can mean added value to all of your potential customers not just those that rely on accessibility.

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