Accidental Accessibility

I love the word “intuitive.” It needs little explanation. Things should just work – installing software, the directions for a Scandinavian chest of drawers, or cooking a crème brûlée as easy as they do on television.

You’ll also never get complaints about something, especially technology, being “too intuitive.”

A fair amount of my day is spent fighting with technology that others use easily. I suffer from Retinitis Pigmentosa, a condition that leads to blindness. Currently, I can only make out shapes and objects and need altered colors to see what’s on my screen.

With day-to-day activities, I often find myself “working around” menial tasks. For example, with email it is often hard to tell which of my messages include attachments. Or, when information on a website is not organized in the right order and flow especially when using a screen reader, or the “click here” button is in the wrong color. It’s frustrating and I’m not short of examples.

Compare that to experiencing technology that is intuitive. Even if something wasn’t created specifically to make things easier for a blind person, something that’s “intuitive” just does.Nutrition label for "Al Fresco Chicken Sausage Sun Dried Tomato and Basil." Includes picture of product packaging and then the key nutrition facts included on the back of the product, including calories, total fat, cholesterol, sodium and protein.

I enjoy healthy living and competing in triathlons. None of the “triathlon tech” that helps me do this was designed with me in mind, as a legally blind person.

The watch I wear to collect critical performance data during training and races doesn’t “speak” the information to me. It does, however, follow an easy, “natural flow.” It uses logical button-presses that make total sense. The screen can be navigated easily, with minimal mental strain, by users who might be otherwise physically taxed. This logical order also makes it easier to memorize a sequence of presses, getting the information I need from a device I can’t actually see.

For years, I’ve been trying to eat healthy and lose weight. I’ve wandered grocery store aisles, straining to focus on blurry shelves full of hundreds of products, worrying about knocking over the other shoppers. Not to mention the practical aspects of getting to and from the store, navigating through crowds and using that tiny debit-card keypad at checkout.

To minimize this, I recently started grocery shopping online. Although the website I use needs to be more accessible, it has brought me more power and choice. I can create lists of things I’ve bought, and save any products I’d like to purchase again.

The real game-changer is that every product I scroll brings up a clear, complete nutrition label. I can make independent, informed choices about what I’m eating, literally for the first time in my life! Again, not something that was developed with me in mind, but simply to improve everyone’s nutrition.

Clearly I am over-the-moon excited whenever something is made to be accessible, or a product comes along specifically to help the blind or visually-impaired. I’m also appreciative when anyone kindly offers to help me cross a street. But I love when technology gives me the tools to cross that street safely myself.

After all, accidents will happen, but accessibility should be purposeful. Designing and developing apps, solutions and services with accessibility built-in from the beginning ensures that organizations better connect with customers and create a better overall user experience for everyone.

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