What Happens When User Experience Leaves Out All Users?

Chicago Disability Accessibility & Inclusive Design Meetup LogoBefore I went to Accessibility Camp Chicago Saturday, I had no idea that the two letters “UX” is tech shorthand for “user experiences.” Accessibility camp taught me a lot. Most importantly, I now know that there’s an acronym for user experiences that are not user-friendly for all users. That word is SUX.

SUX stands for “some user experience” as in user experiences that are designed for the majority of users but don’t bother ensuring they’re usable and accessible for all.

The term was coined by Billy Gregory, a presenter I heard at camp Saturday. He’s the Director of Training at an accessibility consultancy firm called the Paciello Group, and during his presentation he wondered out loud about how it is that so many designers and developers who talk about design and usability shy away from accessibility. “If your whole job is to design a user experience, why wouldn’t you want that first word ‘users’ to be more? Why wouldn’t you want more people to be able to use the stuff you worked so hard to design?”

He told us that the SUX idea came to him a couple years ago. “So many designs are so, so close to being fully accessible,” he lamented. “But then they stop just short of being usable by everyone, including people with disabilities.” Gregory called the “just short” phenomena some user experience. “So many more user groups could use the technology if developers just spent maybe another 10 minutes, or another hour, just planning it a little bit better.” Once Gregory realized that his term “some user experiences” could shorten to SUX, he went, where else? To Twitter!

His tweet, “When UX doesn’t consider ALL users, shouldn’t it be known as “SOME User Experience” or… SUX? #a11y.” When the tweet went viral, Gregory got to work gathering examples to share on Twitter. “I must have struck a nerve with a lot of developers,” he said. “They got behind it.”

And you know, I’ve been noticing the word “accessible” coming up more often in conversations about web sites and apps lately, too. Others I talked to at Accessibility Camp Chicago said they’ve been hearing more and more people mentioning accessibility when it comes to web design. “It’s not a dirty word any more,” one said to me.

I’m not exactly sure why that is. Maybe their legal staff is telling them to. Maybe they think it’s the right thing to do. Or maybe, just maybe, they understand that bringing more users to their sites – and keeping them there – is good for business.

“It’s not just people with disabilities,” Gregory pointed out in his talk. “I see my parents, as older users, needing more help surfing the web now.” His parents don’t really understand what it his their son does for a living, he told us, using a story about taking his parents out for dinner as an example. “When the menus came and it was time to order, my mom pulled out a magnifying glass and my dad pulled out a flashlight. These are two people that have no idea what accessibility is, but they’re both using forms of assistive technology,” Gregory said.

When he specifically mentioned his father’s frustration dealing with carousels on web sites, a collective groan came from the crowd. We felt his pain. Carousels. Ugh. “He uses an iPad now, his reaction time is slower than it used to be, and it’s tough for him when he sees something, goes to click and it changes. He ends up on a page that he doesn’t wanna be on. Then he’s gotta go back, and he doesn’t get it.”

Gregory urges developers to consider the aging population along with users who have disabilities when designing new sites. “Every person fortunate enough to live a long life will experience one change or another, and those kind of changes will leave them needing some sort of assistive technology,” he said. “That’s a lot of potential users out there.”

As my Seeing Eye dog Whitney guided me outside after Billy Gregory’s talk, I felt hopeful — and happy. “They understand us, Whitney!” I told her, giving her a scratch on the ears. “We’re not alone. Those people are with us.”

 

Accessibility Camp Chicago: What I’m Looking Forward To

Chicago Disability Accessibility & Inclusive Design Meetup LogoEver been to an Accessibility Camp? Me, neither. I’d never even heard of such a thing until I got an invite to attend Accessibility Camp Chicago this Saturday. One look at (okay, with the help of my speech synthesizer, one listen to) the descriptions of the presentations – everything from “The Dyslexic Code” to #SUX: Some User Experience to Straws and Straw Men (about the costly argument against accessibility — I was hooked.

And how could I say no? After all, professionals who understand all facets of the digital space will be there Saturday, including:

  • Web and Mobile Developers
  • Visual and Interaction Designers
  • User Experience Designers
  • Researchers
  • Quality Assurance Testers
  • Content Producers
  • Project Managers
  • Product Owners

Best of all, presenters are coming in from all over North America, and many of them have disabilities and use accessible technology in their daily lives, just like I do. If you’re interested in joining my Seeing Eye dog and me at camp this Saturday, September 8, 2018, there’s still time to register online. Look for me there — I’ll be the one with the headphones on frantically typing notes into my talking laptop computer or using dictation software with my iPhone to link to accessible web sites and tweet to others there about the benefits of accessibility!

 

Why Teaching Handwriting In Schools Is So Valuable

Two pens laid over a lined notebookWhen I lost my sight in the 1980s, authorities set me up at a residential facility to learn how to use a white cane, read Braille, that sort of thing. All the students there were adults, and all of us had lost our sight fairly recently.

Well, almost all of us. Two of the students there were 18-year-olds who had been blind their entire lives. They already knew Braille, they had some experience with computers and assistive technology, and they were well trained in orientation and mobility. One thing they’d never learned in school? How to write with a pen. These two young women wanted to go to college, and in order to live independently, sign their names and dates on forms, write out rent checks and so on, they needed to learn penmanship.

But now, some 30 years later, the value of handwriting has diminished. In most of America, Common Core State Standards for public schools don’t even mention handwriting anymore. Most of us swipe or type on a keyboard rather than write.

A story in the New York Times reports psychologists and neuroscientists who are suggesting the links between handwriting and broader educational development should not be ignored, and that, “Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information.” From the article:

“Two psychologists, Pam A. Mueller of Princeton and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles, have reported that in both laboratory settings and real-world classrooms, students learn better when they take notes by hand than when they type on a keyboard. Contrary to earlier studies attributing the difference to the distracting effects of computers, the new research suggests that writing by hand allows the student to process a lecture’s contents and reframe it — a process of reflection and manipulation that can lead to better understanding and memory encoding.”

The article refers to studies that show how cursive writing can train self-control ability in a way that other modes of writing do not, which may help children diagnosed with ADHD or autism. Some researchers quoted in the article say that learning to write print helps students understand the reversal and inversion of letters (the difference between lower case “b” and Lower case “d,” for example) and may be a path to treating dyslexia. Learning cursive may be particularly effective for individuals with developmental dysgraphia (motor-control difficulties in forming letters) as well.

It all makes me wonder. School is back in session now. Are any kids taught to write by hand anymore? Does it matter? Those 18-year-olds I met at the facility for the blind decades ago struggled so much to learn handwriting — today, they are likely using their talking computers or SmartPhones to pay their bills online!

 

Employment Opportunities for Young Adults With Autism

Have Dreams - Helping autistic voices emerge since 1996Just got word from a program called Have Dreams that I thought you Easterseals blog readers might want to know about. Have Dreams Academy is part of Project SEARCH Collaborates for Autism at Northwestern University. It’s a one-year business-based program for high school students in their last year of transition services. The goal of the program? Competitive employment.

The message I received said Spring/Summer graduates are currently pursuing competitive employment with support from Have Dreams. Graduates from previous years are employed at a successful Chicago retail store called The Spice House, at Amazon, and at Walgreen’s. The program credits its success to its emphasis on:

  • using an autism-specific curriculum
  • participation in three ten-week internship rotations on Northwestern University’s campus
  • job development
  • job placement
  • follow-on services

The 2018-19 Have Dreams Academy begins on August 23, 2018. Space is still available, and they’ll continue accepting applications and conducting intakes through October 2018 or until the program is full. For more information on applying, contact Christine McQuinn at cmcquinn@havedreams.org. For general information about the Have Dreams Academy employment training program, contact Andrea Franckowiak at ajohnsen@havedreams.org or call 847.905.0702.

 

Tips For Preparing Your Child To Ride the School Bus

I am pleased to have Dr. Judy Shanley here with a guest post today. Judy is the Assistant Vice President of Education & Youth Transition here at Easterseals.

by Dr. Judy Shanley

The top of a yellow school busTravel via school bus and school transportation involves much more than just being on the bus. It also involves getting to the bus, getting on the bus, getting off the bus and then getting from the bus to the school building. The National Association for Pupil Transportation provides supports regarding school bus safety. Each state has a chapter with its own unique activities, and you can learn about school bus resources in your state and community by contacting your state affiliate. In the meantime, here are some tips to help school bus riders wherever they live in the United States:

  • Contact your school district to see if they offer support programs where parents/children can come to the school to tour a bus before the service starts at the beginning of a school year.
  • Help your child understand and prepare for social situations on a school bus such as sitting next to classmates and responding to driver directions.
  • Encourage your child to travel with a bus buddy, such as a sibling or peer. Consider setting up chairs in the living room to mimic a school bus (have a bus driver, have children sitting in seats imitating behaviors that a child might see, and so on) so the child can learn how to react in these situations.
  • Encourage your child to contact you when they arrive safely at school, especially if you have concerns about their independent travel.
  • Learn whether your school’s pupil transportation service has a bus tracking service so you can monitor the status of your child’s school bus as it travels to and from the school building.

Parents who think their child might need accommodations or specialized supports for school transportation (funded under IDEA) will need to speak with special education professionals to determine whether it is appropriate to have a travel/mobility assessment.  When a range of transportation options are available, I recommend parents consider the option that enables students to travel with their peers (with and without disabilities) in the least restrictive mode. Some school districts even have public transportation service available. For some students, this is an appropriate option.

And guess what? Many parents are considering developing new ride-sharing programs to support travel to after-school and community activities — kind of like Uber for kids. Programs such as Zemcar in the Northeast and HopSkip/Drive in California are programs started by parents that provide an alternative to traditional pupil or public transportation services.

Some of you reading this blog post are starting to think about your child’s transition to post-high school settings. For others, this new school year may mark the first time your child is traveling independently. Take advantage of resources and supports that your school district and others provide and use this opportunity as a teaching moment — you’ll be setting the foundation for future independent travel. By starting your child on a path to independent travel now, they’ll end up in a place where mobility won’t impede their success in any setting.

 

Watch: This New Program Aims to Increase Disability Inclusion and Awareness In Schools

I am delighted to have Patty O’Machel back with us as a guest blogger. Patty is a writer, special needs advocate and mom. Her blog Parenting Outside The Lines collects and shares the stories of parents all over the world who are raising children with special needs, and her guest post today lets you in on another “Outside the Lines” project that launched earlier this month –just in time for the new school year!

by Patty O’Machel

Patty and her daughter outside on a sunny day

Patty (right) and her daughter (left)

Ability awareness is a passion project of mine. This is where my heart lies, as the mother of a little girl with cerebral palsy and as an advocate for change and acceptance. I want to share Ability Awareness programs in schools all over the country and help to change perceptions in kids of all ages.

And so, earlier this month, I launched a new business called Educating Outside the Lines. This project stems from my core belief that “kids with disabilities are just kids.” I want the world to see what I see. I want them to see ability.

The overall objective of bringing ability awareness programming into the school system is to break down the barriers between children with and without disabilities, and to help erase the fear of differences.

Every kid with a disability is someone’s child, someone’s classmate or someone’s friend, and today’s schools include children with all types of disabilities or challenges. Every child who has a classmate or friend who is physically or developmentally challenged learns a lesson in acceptance and understanding that they will take with them into adulthood.

Students in a gym testing out wheelchairs and tossing up a basketballSchools are instrumental in breaking down barriers, fears and misunderstanding about disabilities. By celebrating and enlightening kids, school becomes the change agent the world needs to include and accept children with disabilities in every aspect of life.

I have been able to develop my Educating Outside the Lines program into several areas of focus, from assembly speeches to grade-level specific programming. With the help of many partners in the disability world, my passion has come to fruition.

A Chicago-based firm called Small Forces creates short documentaries that highlight the work of grass roots organizations and people making their communities better. As part of a grant project, Small Forces worked with Educating Outside the Lines to produce a video that completely encapsulates the impact of the program. The video launched on The Mighty Parents Facebook page on Friday, August 3 and had been viewed over 18,400 times in its first five days online. The beauty of the short video is in the voices of children with disabilities speaking from their own perspective about what this kind of education means to them personally.

I am so proud of this video and of the voices of the kids. The show stopper is one of Easterseals own, Ahalya Lettenberger, who with her brother Charlie served as the Youth Ambassadors for the Easterseals DuPage and Fox Valley Gala in 2017. Ahalya is an amazing example of “abilities” in every aspect of her life. While her disability doesn’t allow her to walk independently for long distances, she is a 16-year-old girl on the move. She competes internationally in paratriathlons, she is an above average student in high school, and is on her schools’ swim team. In the video, Ahalya speaks of her experiences with peers not always understanding her disability, and she shares her message with school-aged kids about how to fight back when life gets hard, and to achieve and strive for your own personal goals. Her message is of strength, acceptance and ability.

Ahalya Lettenberger

Ahalya Lettenberger

The video also highlights a 16-year-old high school hockey player with dyslexia who speaks about his experience with a hidden disability, and his peers’ misunderstanding of what he really must conquer each day sitting next to them in class. My 13-year-old daughter uses a wheelchair to get around her junior high, and she’s in the video, too. She speaks about her overall feelings of invisibility with her peers, and about the misconceptions about the true accessibility of her school.

Prosthetic legs, wheelchairs, and hidden disabilities can often be scary to kids. Our Educating Outside the Lines program lets kids experience these things hands-on and serves to demystify the differences. It erases isolation. It combats bullying. It stifles the urge to stare and exclude. It bridges the gap between fear and understanding, and there is nothing more powerful than that to teach our children.

I am so excited to get my business launched, and praying that our web site and video get noticed by parents, teachers and administrators across the country to help them understand the importance of ability acceptance programs in schools. Please take a look at our new Educating Outside the Lines web site and by all means feel free to email me at pattyomachel[at]gmail.com for more information on ways to bring ability awareness programming to your schools.

 

Watch: Easterseals Staff and Clients Sing ‘This Is Me’ From The Greatest Showman

We’re so proud to announce that Easterseals New Hampshire placed first in a video contest hosted by the National Home & Community Based Service Conference. When asked to submit a video, the affiliate jumped at the chance! They went above and beyond to showcase the joy, pride, and talent in New Hampshire.

Check out their version of the song “This is Me” from The Greatest Showman, performed by Dave Jenne.

Jenne, a local singer and Community Based Services client at Easterseals New Hampshire, will travel to Baltimore at the end of August to sing the song in front of 1,500 conference attendees and accept the award.

 

Three Assistive Technology Podcasts To Listen To Today

by Wade Wingler

In 2011, Easterseals Crossroads in Indianapolis released the first episode of Assistive Technology Update, a weekly news program and podcast focused on assistive technology news and interviews.  Since that time, the affiliate has grown a small podcast network that includes three shows with a total of over 700 episodes and an international audience in over 160 countries.

Interviews and News

Assistive Technology Update logoEasterseals Crossroads’ flagship podcast, Assistive Technology Update, is a 30-minute news and interview program that features the latest developments in the assistive technology industry and interviews with researchers, developers, and other assistive technology thought leaders.  The program hosted by Wade Wingler, Vice President of Easterseals Crossroads, has been in continuous production since 2011 and has become a weekly mainstay of news and information for individuals with disabilities and assistive technology professionals/service providers. Assistive Technology Update is the #1 podcast in iTunes on the topic and was listed as the #1 podcast for people who are blind at About.com.  Recent interviews have focused on Microsoft’s Translator and Soundscape apps, physical therapy vs. occupational therapy in assistive technology (PT vs OT in AT), video gaming basics for people who are blind or visually impaired, and the Brain Injury Technology Education and Support (BITES) program sponsored by Comcast NBCUniversal.

Questions and Answers

ATFAQ logoAssistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions (ATFAQ) is a question and answer show hosted by Brian Norton, Director of Assistive Technology, and features a panel of assistive technology experts who respond to questions posed from listeners around the world.  Twice monthly, the show covers questions about which types of technology are appropriate, how to fix adaptive equipment, and basic through advanced features of assistive technology during this hour-long show.  Recent questions answered include the following:

  • How can I read my iPhone in braille?
  • What is the difference between Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Apple Home Pod from an accessibility perspective?
  • What are some good apps for elementary students with learning disabilities?

Quick and Easy

Accessibility Minute logoAccessibility Minute is a weekly show hosted by Laura Medcalf, blogger and social media content specialist, that offers a minute-long glimpse into the world of assistive technology and accessibility.  Whether it’s a new app, a new service, or Laura’s personal insight into the world of assistive technology, Accessibility Minute will address the topic.  Recent topics include:

  • Ring Doorbell
  • Adaptive toothbrushes
  • Adaptive clocks and sleep aids
  • Smart phone adaptations

You can find each of these shows in Itunes, Stitcher, and wherever you listen to podcasts as well as at  Eastersealstech.com/podcasts.

 

The Plastic Straw Ban, Disability, and Accessibility

A straw in a plastic smoothie cupAn opinion piece about the banning of plastic straws in different businesses and municipalities published in the Washington Post earlier this month caught my attention. Written by disability advocate Karin Hitselberger, the piece was brilliant at describing what the word “access” means in a pretty short sentence: Access is about the quality of life, and being able to have the same experiences and opportunities as a nondisabled person, with some adaptations.”

Karin Hitselberger lost me, though, when she claimed the efforts of businesses and municipalities to help reduce ocean pollution by discouraging the use of plastic straws is an accessibility issue. “This isn’t about straws,” she wrote. “It’s about access”.

I’d say it’s about both.

You regular Easterseals blog readers know that I’m a huge fan of the word “reasonable” when it comes to reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities, but in my view, the “reasonable” part applies to both parties. How about we work together on this one so everybody wins? It doesn’t seem unreasonable to ask people who need plastic straws to bring their own. I have Type 1 diabetes and need insulin to be able to eat, and I bring it along when I eat at restaurants. I am blind and can’t tell if the packets at a coffeeshop are sugar or artificial sweetener. I suppose I could demand that packets be Braiilled for those of us who can’t see, but so few of us read Braille that this would seem an unreasonable request. So I just bring my own packets to make sure I’m getting what I need. People who need straws to eat and drink and bring their own along when they eat out will not only ensure they have what they need, but also know their efforts can help the environment by cutting down the number of people using straws when they don’t absolutely need to.

In her article, Karin Hitselberger points out how complicated life with a disability can be:

Living with a disability means having to worry about things on a daily basis that never cross other people’s minds. It means worrying about whether somebody will come to help you get out of bed in the morning. It means a morning commute completely derailed by an elevator outage. Living with a disability means only being able to travel to cities where accessible transportation is an option. Living with a disability takes a lot of planning and energy and learning how to exist in a world that is not made for you

I agree. Living with a disability takes a lot of planning and energy. Accessible transportation is a necessity. Accessible jobs, technology, education and civil rights are necessities. I also agree that learning how to live in a world that is not always made for people with disabilities can be a challenge. But asking us to bring an insulin pen or a packet of artificial sweetener or a straw along when heading out? That just doesn’t seem so challenging. To me, it doesn’t qualify as an unreasonable request.

What is your take on companies getting rid of plastic straws? Is it an issue of access? Let us know in the comments section.

 

We Need More Stories From Writers With Disabilities

Two open books in a libraryMy Seeing Eye dog and I are heading to California this afternoon — I was awarded a grant to attend the Mendocino Coast Writers’ Conference from August 2 to August 5, 2018.

I was flattered – and surprised – to receive the grant. Flattered, since it means I will be in the midst of so many talented writers there. Surprised, because the grant I received is a “Voices of Diversity” grant, and having a disability is not always regarded as “diverse.”

These days most people determine diversity by a person’s race, religion, gender and/or sexual orientation. But hey — shouldn’t disability be on that list? I think so.

A 2015 report from the U.S. Census Bureau revealed that roughly 13% of Americans have a disability. The 2015 Census Bureau’s American Community Survey defined disability status through a number of questions measuring serious difficulty with any of the following:

  • Hearing
  • Vision
  • Cognition
  • Walking or climbing stairs
  • Self-care
  • Independent living

People with disabilities are definitely in the minority. Being around people from different backgrounds exposes us all to new viewpoints and perspectives, and in the case of a conference for writers, being around people with different sorts of identities impacts how you see the world and what stories you are able to tell. It’s important for fiction writers, non-fiction writers, poets, playwrights and script writers to tell everyone’s story.

Disability needs to be a part of this larger fabric of stories, too. I commend the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference for including us in the discussion – their Voices of Diversity grant is awarded once a year to “writers from an underrepresented group on the basis of age, ethnicity, sexual identity, disability, social or cultural background.” Thank you for the honor, Mendocino Coast Writers’ Conference. And now…off to the airport!