Innovation via user research with people with disabilities – Digital Accessibility Experts Podcast 9

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Welcome to podcast 9 of our Digital Accessibility Experts Podcast series.

This is our first podcast for a while, as we’ve been devoting our time to our massively popular Digital Accessibility Experts Live webinars since September 2020.

We’re glad to be back, and we’ve got something great for you this month – an interview between myself and two of my team, where we look at the digital innovation breakthroughs that can come from listening to the views of people with disabilities, and how you can use this to help product teams think differently.

We look at some great tips like:

  • Why accessible ATMs don’t work for all people with disables, but a cheap way of providing in-journey just might
  • Why people who have difficulty holding devices might be a key demographic for sales of smart glasses
  • How some of the greatest innovations of all time were initially made for people who were blind or deaf
  • How you can get these sorts of valuable insights into your product ideation process

We hope you enjoy listening to it as much as we enjoyed recording it! And if you’d prefer to read the podcast, rather than listen to it, read the transcript below.

 

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We’d love to know your thoughts on this podcast. Please share your comments below.

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Transcript of audio

[Jonathan Hassell]

This is the Digital Accessibility Experts Podcast from Hassell Inclusion, for people who want to mature in digital accessibility and inclusive design.

Hi. I’m Jonathan Hassell, your host.This is our first podcast for a while, as we’ve been devoting our time to our massively popular Digital Accessibility Experts Live webinars since September 2020. We aim for them to be the best way to spend 1 hour of your time each month learning about accessibility, and they’re attracting a strong following. You can join us by following the link on our Hassell Inclusion home page.

However, we don’t want to neglect this podcast, so we’ve got something great for you this month – an interview between myself and two of my team, where we look at the digital innovation breakthroughs that can come from listening to the views of people with disabilities, and how you can use this to help product teams think differently.

You’ll learn: why accessible ATMs don’t work for all people with disabilities, but a cheap way of providing in-journey entertainment via people’s own devices just might; why people who have difficulty holding devices might be a key demographic for sales of smart glasses; how some of the greatest innovations of all time were initially made for people who were blind or deaf; and how you can get these sorts of valuable insights into your product ideation process.

Hope you enjoy it!

The new international standard, ISO 30071 Part 1, expanded the idea of accessibility, from just web and mobile to other digital products. For example, kiosks, or ATMs – these sorts of things that at the moment are not accessible.

What we want to do in this session, with a couple of colleagues of mine, is to look at some of the possibilities that might open up.

I wanted to start off by just enabling people who are watching to understand a little bit about you. So, Toby, if you want to start with, like, why is accessibility important for you?

[Toby Mildon]

Accessibility is important for me, both for professional and personal reasons. From the personal standpoint, I’ve grown up with a rare neuromuscular disability, and accessibility is very important for me to access and interact with the world.

Professionally speaking, I’m a diversity and inclusion architect. I work with clients to really enable them to hardwire inclusivity into their business, culture and architecture. A large part of that is about accessibility, as well. I first got into accessibility, I suppose, in a professional sense at the BBC, when I was working in the accessibility team as part of the User Experience and Design service that we had.

[Jonathan]

Thanks, Toby. Yac, so why accessibility for you? Why is it so important?

[Yacoob Woozeer]

Going back, lots and lots of themes. I was in a very customer-focused role, seeing lots of members of the general public, and became aware that lots of people were struggling with things like filling in forms, accessing websites. Journeys weren’t joined up. There were always things that stopped people completing what they wanted to do.

So, I got more and more into the role of diversity and inclusion, helping people making those journeys more accessible, and it has just developed from there. I do all aspects now of things like onsite audits, obviously looking at WCAG standards, looking at joining-up journeys, mobile accessibility, and, as you’ve mentioned, more innovative things, like RFID, NFC things, and going into speech as well now.

[Jonathan]

That’s why I brought the two of you together, because I’ve had interesting, innovative conversations with both of you.

I’ve done loads of innovation in places where people have come to me with a challenge. When I left the BBC, the TechDis, who are the technology advisory service for colleges, they phoned me up and they said they had this competition that they were putting out there, could I help them judge it?

There were a couple of things. One of them was about gesture recognition and about how gesture recognition might potentially be helpful for people who use gestures, either as in a language – sign language or something like that – or maybe for controlling devices

I took one look at this thing and went, “I don’t want to judge that. I want to win it,” (Laughter) because I’d done some bonkers stuff at the BBC because we had the challenge of how do you get games, to help kids learn, accessible for everybody?

Not only did they give me the hardest challenge I think I’ve ever had, but they gave me quite a lot of money to back it up. They said, “If you need to go off and do completely breakthrough things, go for it.” So, I gathered around me people like yourselves, who were able to take hard challenges like that and go, “Yes, we could just use a bit of that, and a bit of this and a bit of that.”

We came up with the first use of signing avatars for kids’ literature in the world. We got Benjamin Zephaniah to do his entire load of poetry for a year, just for blind kids in literacy, all based on Braille and everything, as well. We did a load of really, really good stuff.

We’ve done innovation with some of our bigger clients where the innovation is, maybe, not quite so totally bonkers, but it’s looking at things like what is the future of retail? What’s the future of banking? What’s the future of these?

Our way of thinking about things was to say, “You need to find some people who think that there’s a problem with the current thing.” Actually, most people that I know who have a disability or who work in the accessibility space are full of, like, “That bit doesn’t work and that bit doesn’t work.” So, you then start looking at those challenges, and great things happen.

Toby, I want to come to you because we started doing some of this, actually, in this very building a few months ago, after a team meeting, over a pint afterwards. I thought there were some really cool things we could do with mobile phones, to be able to make accessible things that aren’t currently accessible, like ATMs.

You didn’t look at me like I was mad. You did what everybody I like working with did, which was you raised me a level.

Just so that people can get where you’re coming from in terms of how tech works for you, can you just take us through how you use technology to be so effective in your work and your personal life?

[Toby]

Yes. I’ve adapted technology to fit around me and suit me and the tasks that I need to compete. That could be a lot of what I do is on my iPhone because it’s touchscreen. The screen is small enough that I can reach it, because my arms and hands don’t move very much, through to speech-to-text software on my laptop so that I can create documents and things like that, through to technology within my home. So, using the Amazon Alexa, for example, so that I can control the thermostat or that I can call my carers at night should I need, when I need their help.

I’ve developed technology to support the things that I need to do. And the use of apps on my phone really helps me interact with the physical world. An example would be I use ‘thetrainline.com’ app to buy train tickets because it’s easier for me to buy tickets on the phone to be able to show the person on the train my ticket, rather than actually have to physically handle a little bit of paper. Mobile is my first choice of technology, partly because of the screen size. It’s really important that any apps or systems that we use really do think about really good app development and actually that the app is not just some sort of secondary thought, that they’ve really put some thought into creating a really good-quality app to use.

[Jonathan]

Those are technologies that really work for you in just your daily life. We talked about ATMs. You want to just tell me about how you feel about ATMs?

[Toby]

They’re hopeless. (Laughter) I can’t use ATMs independently. I can’t reach the ATM. I can’t push the buttons. Even if I could push the buttons, I would have to stretch even further to get the cash, so ATMs are such a bad technology for me that just the only way for me to be able to use an ATM is to have my carer do it for me.

[Jonathan]

Banks have got awards for making accessible ATMs, so did that help?

[Toby]

No, because even the accessible ATMs, for me, being in a wheelchair, which are lowered down ATMs, are still not accessible to me.

[Jonathan]

That’s because of what?

[Toby]

Partly because I can’t lift my hands or arms anyway, but even with a low ATM you have to stretch into the ATM to reach the cash, so there, yes, I still can’t use it.

[Jonathan]

That’s in the new standard. In the past, we thought about what happens on the device. the only thing that really mattered was the software on it. It didn’t matter where this device was. For you, You can’t reach it. They can do whatever they like on that device. It’s still not going to work, yes?

[Toby]

Yes, that’s right.

[Jonathan]

So, there’s a challenge. Let’s just put one in, another one in there as well, a related one…

[Toby]

I like watching films on planes, but again the problem with the inbuilt screens is reachability. They’re built in the headrest of the seat in front of me and I can’t reach it. Perhaps in some of the aeroplanes, the way of controlling that screen is like a remote control in the armrest. Again, it’s physical buttons that I can’t push, and they’re on, like, a really annoying bungee cord type thing that is quite difficult to get out. So, they’re not particularly accessible, either.

[Jonathan]

But you still watch films on planes?

[Toby]

I just take my iPad with me and I just don’t bother with the screen on the plane. I just download the films onto my iPad and just watch it on my iPad.

[Jonathan]

… Because your iPad is wherever you want your iPad to be, because it’s your iPad.

[Toby]

Plus, it has got the accessibility features that I want turned on, so it’s ready for me to watch the film.

[Jonathan]

This is one of the things that got me thinking. Making those ATMs accessible for those banks required brand-new ATMs. These things are not cheap. I think we’re talking about tens of thousands of pounds for every single one of those ATMs that they put in, and they didn’t solve the issue.

On easyJet they have not very much money at all. It’s a budget airline, so they’re not going to go, “Oh, yes, okay, so the solution to Toby’s problem is we’re just going to do some great thing on the chair where you can like pull the screen down and so it will be with you.” That would be incredibly expensive, if it was even possible.

easyJet have a problem that half of their planes already don’t have the screens there. So, you can get all of the stuff that you would normally get on the screen, on your iPad, via Wi-Fi on easyJet.

I think it’s on my train, as well. Every time I log into the Wi-Fi, it says, ‘Are you sure you want to work and you don’t want to watch all of these things from this streaming service?’

[Toby]

Same as Virgin Trains.

[Jonathan]

Virgin Trains as well. Have you used it on the Virgin Trains?

[Toby]

Yes, I’ve used the Virgin Trains app.

[Jonathan]

Yes, so the Virgin Trains app – the in-train entertainment on Virgin – is accessible to you because it comes to your device?

[Toby]

Yes.

[Jonathan]

You don’t have to go to their device, because it doesn’t exist on the train in the first place, so a cheaper solution that was not created with accessibility in mind solved a problem for you.

[Toby]

Yes, it did.

[Jonathan]

And an expensive solution that was created with accessibility in mind didn’t help you one little bit.

[Toby]

No, not at all.

[Jonathan]

I want to invent a time machine so I can go back in time and be in those ATM meetings and go, “I know how this ends, and it doesn’t end well. You’re going to waste huge amounts of money.”

Various things pain me in the accessibility world, but one of the big ones is when people have exactly the right motives, and they still come up with having spent loads of time and effort on something and they have been misguided.

Here’s why, you see, I wanted to get us together.

So, Yac, can you talk about some of the stuff you’ve done with kiosks and things?

[Yac]

Yes. It’s a really good point that you’ve both made on kiosks and why things have gone wrong. My experience with kiosks is there isn’t enough user research done, and you aren’t including the right demographics in your research. I don’t know what happened with these accessible ATMs, but, from what you’ve described, they didn’t include people like Toby, didn’t include people with visual impairments, hearing impairments.

If we take a supermarket near to me, they’ve currently got these scanning things where you can scan items by flashing a barcode, put it in a bag and pay for it at the end. But no-one has considered that actually someone might not be able to hold this device, or they might not be able to see a barcode, or they can’t press the trigger.

What a lot of organisations are doing – rightly or wrongly, depending on how you want to look at it – (Laughter) is their reasonable adjustment is there is a member of staff available who can help that person.

So, for an ATM, you could go into the bank. On an airline, you could ask someone to do it. But, from a lot of friends and family who have disabilities that I know, or impairments, people want to do things independently, like Toby described. You’ve got to link these user journeys together.

A quick example is I can buy tickets for the cinema very accessibly on lots of film websites, but when I go to the cinema I then have to use an ATM to print that ticket.

So, Toby could use the website. Brilliant, but then for some reason they build this monstrosity of a kiosk that actually no-one can use, isn’t accessible at all. Then you have to print a ticket out to give it to someone on the door, to say, “I’ve got a ticket.” Why? Just have the device on your mobile

It’s this linking together of journeys… And it happens with kiosks, ATMs. It happens with websites. People don’t think about how people are doing a journey through their products. It’s just, “We will make these things in silos accessible.” But hang on a minute, Toby needs to get on the plane. He needs to watch a film. I need to print a ticket. You need to get your ticket for the cinema. If you’re not putting all that together and including the right people in your research, then, unfortunately, you’re doomed to failure. (Laughter)

[Toby]

What Yac is talking about, really, is doing proper user-centred design. What a lot of organisations do, when they’re creating new technologies and they come across a user with a disability or an impairment, is that they go, “This problem is too hard for us to solve, so the default position is that that particular user needs to go and get some human support elsewhere. So, we’re not going to solve the problem with our technology. We’re going to just redirect them to another person.”

[Jonathan]

For me, that’s crazy. The biggest innovations in history have come out of people engaging with people who have a problem with the way it currently works.

[Yac]

Yes.

[Jonathan]

Alexander Graham Bell was trying to help deaf people when he created the telephone. It’s, kind of, ironic because deaf people hate telephones, but that’s what he was trying to do. The first typewriter was created for a blind countess. Ray Kurzweil was trying to do really interesting stuff for people with disabilities when he created optical character recognition.

[Toby]

Can I give you an example that happened to me yesterday?

[Jonathan]

Yes.

[Toby]

Yesterday, I went to go and meet one of my clients and they’ve got this really nice, fancy office. To get into the office, you have to sign in using a touchpad, like an iPad-type device on their reception desk. First of all, I couldn’t reach the device, because it was on their reception desk and they’ve got a high-up desk.

In order for me to sign in, I had to get my carer to type in my name and the name of the person I was meeting, and then sign the nondisclosure agreement or the thing I had to sign.

[Yac]

People are saying, “We have self-service kiosks, so we don’t need as many staff to help.” In Toby’s case, you wouldn’t have been able to sign in if you hadn’t got your carer with you, because there wasn’t an alternative.

[Toby]

If there was a sign on the desk that said, ‘Go to this website on your mobile phone,’ you could check in on your mobile phone.

I was thinking, “That would help me,” but imagine you’ve got a long queue of people at the reception desk. Everybody could be signing in at the same time on their own devices. That would just shorten the amount of time it would take to check people into the building.

Businesses really need to be thinking about return on investment rather than how much it’s going to cost them.

[Jonathan]

Yes. I would look at the needs of anybody who does not like the status quo, so doesn’t like the current solution. I don’t have a problem with ATMs. They work for me. Therefore, as an innovator in ATMs, if I’m talking about my experience, I have nothing to say. I have no means of making a bank more money by getting return on investment for great innovation, because I have no perspective.

Listening to Toby, I think, is miles better than listening to me or listening to, probably, most of the people that they would talk to about, “How do we make the next generation of our products?”

[Yac]

Even the most forward-thinking organisations sometimes get stuck in a rut. Change is difficult. If you change things, sometimes they’re going to fail.

I like a little thing my daughter said to me recently: that FAIL is First Attempt In Learning. You try something. It’s not going to work, necessarily, but if you’ve built it as a prototype or an MVP, like minimum viable product, like in an agile way, if it doesn’t work, you can throw it away. Do the user research, iterate and develop things.

You need to look at people who think differently, people who challenge the status quo, like you’ve mentioned, who aren’t just going to go, “Yes, we’ve done that for 20 years. Let’s carry on.”

[Jonathan]

Trying something new… Teflon came out of NASA. Shaking people out of the normal way of doing things makes a lot of money when you get it right. That whole ‘Think different’ thing, that’s Steve Jobs.

[Toby]

I met a really innovative start-up. What they do is they take content from a website and they convert it into British Sign Language films as a translation.

They’re working with a big bank at the moment, and one of the things that they’ve said is that the bank has suddenly realised how inaccessible the language is on their website when they’re describing their mortgages. Because, for example, the bank talks about money laundering… but the conversion from money laundering into British Sign Language, somebody who’s deaf literally thinks it means putting your money into a washing machine.

And so, the bank have had to go back and really think about how do they communicate what money laundering is. Because they’ve realised that actually the language isn’t as simple and as straightforward as they thought it was?

[Jonathan]

One of the things which makes this a really interesting case study, is that there are very, very few people who use British Sign Language. When I was last looking at it, the stats are around 50,000 people. So, from an ROI perspective, putting stuff into sign language is not good ROI at all.

But what you’re saying is the thought process that actually kicked off from that, has enabled them to not only get 50,000 people, potentially, who are more interested in banking with them, but actually all the people who probably don’t give two hoots about sign language, wouldn’t understand it at all, may, as a side effect, get a much better experience on the website because that impetus has kicked off a different way of thinking.

[Toby]

Yes, absolutely.

[Jonathan]

Yes. Okay, so open season… Any things that don’t quite work at the moment that we want to try and apply this to?

[Yac]

Asking people to print stuff from websites for any reason, to take it to pick up…

[Jonathan]

Yes. Who is that a problem for?

[Toby]

This has been an issue for me. In running my own business, I don’t have a printer. There have been a couple of occasions when I’ve been working with an organisation and they’ve asked me to print off. For example, they wanted my banking details and then they wanted me to sign the piece of paper. I was like, “Why can’t you just have a digital signature?” I can’t print the document, but what I can do is use the app, like DocuSign. And I can print, I can print it using my finger, or sign it using my finger, on the app.” They did accept that, but I think in that case it’s just a case of an organisation that hadn’t quite updated their process, but it did produce a bit of an obstacle for me.

I think in a lot of these cases it’s organisations that just are stuck in their ways, and they haven’t really thought about the need to update their processes and go paperless.

[Jonathan]

But would it be good for them to go paperless? If somebody with a disability actually went along and said, “Look, I’m going to challenge you under the Equality Act,” or whatever, “that I cannot use your products, your service, because of this,” that person might actually be doing them an incredible favour.

[Toby]

Yes.

[Yac]

We’ve an example of that. Toby and I worked with an organisation where we did what was called an ‘onsite review’. We went in, and part of their process for donating was a direct debit form that was a PDF that was totally inaccessible, that effectively you had to print, sign, fill in. It was like, “Can’t we do this electronically and have people send their bank details to you?”

That got rid of the paper thing. People had, kind of, been aware that maybe it was a problem, but it was this direct challenge that actually that is breaking your journey.

More importantly, you’re losing people who would want to give you donations. The minute I see something where it goes, ‘Fill it in and post it back,’ I just go, “No, thanks,” and go somewhere else. I’m not interested. I want to be able to do it online.

[Toby]

Whether you have a disability or impairment, or not, if printing off the direct debit form puts you off donating money, that’s not growth for them when they want to get more donations coming through the door.

[Jonathan]

Toby, you’re using smart speakers. I know what you currently do with your Amazon Echo. Is there anything else with that device that you think could help, would make life better, would solve a problem?

[Toby]

Within the home, I’ve currently got it connected up to Hive for the thermostat. I use it as an intercom to be able to call my carers at night. Things that I want to start adding to it is turning on and off lights, answering the front doorbell, opening the door if we can get some sort of mechanism on the front door. Turn the kettle on would be quite nice. All of those. What’s  really interesting is that this type of in-home assistive technology in order to do those things has been available in the past.

[Jonathan]

Yes, it’s not new, is it?

[Toby]

It’s not new, but a decade ago it was really expensive. You had to get some sort of disability grant to have it installed in your home. It was ugly and clunky. The likes of Google Home, and Amazon Alexa and such like, have actually just made it so much more mainstream, and cheaper, and affordable.

[Jonathan]

Yes. That project that I was talking about for TechDis at the start, that was only affordable because Microsoft had brought out the Kinect, so the games controller. We were doing gesture control for young people who use the Makaton sign language, using a games controller that was £150, which about two years previously would either have not existed or have been something like £10,000.

We did quite a lot of work with Microsoft for a while. They were really intrigued with what we were doing with their tech.

Microsoft are now all over inclusive design, and they’ve always cared. I don’t think, back when we were doing it, they’d really thought, “The Xbox Kinect controller is like an accessibility play.”

These days, I think they would. They’d be way ahead because this is how they think about things. But I’ll give you another case in point, so smart glasses. Anyone remember, like, Google Glass?

[Toby]

Briefly.

[Jonathan]

They had a technology that was incredible, absolutely incredible. I mean really, really cool. I think I’ve still got me, with my Google Glass, on my Twitter feed, because I still think it’s cool.

It wasn’t perfect. It was certainly that “first try”. The problem that they had, and the reason why it has not been around for ages, was because no-one could think of a thing to do with it, originally. It was like, “Okay, I’ve got this thing. I know it’s cool, but I just don’t know what to do with it.”

They weren’t looking, until right at the end, at the people who actually might need it. Then the weird thing that happened was, once they actually took it off – it was never really on the market – but once they took it off from you could get it easily, people from mostly the academic community started to look at how that could help people who are blind, with wayfaring. If a blind person is wearing this thing, it knows where they are, basically, and it could be giving the instructions into their ear all of the time.

[Toby]

The Google glasses would be good for me because, if I’m trying to find my way around London, I can’t hold my phone using Google Maps with the navigation. But it would be really quite handy to just have a pair of glasses on me so that I could see directions, just simple arrows left and right, getting instructions through audio. That would be great for me.

[Jonathan]

So, actually having, if you like, the electronic world in your vision, without actually having to hold it.

[Toby]

Yes.

[Jonathan]

That’s a real win?

[Toby]

Yes, absolutely. Yes.

[Jonathan]

There you are. That’s loads more people who might want to buy your product

[Yac]

You’re talking about, in some cases, the Internet of Things. There’s lots and lots of evidence that if you link things up… I know someone who has got a pendant that, if they do fall, it automatically rings a number, but there’s no reason an Alexa speaker couldn’t say, “Hello. It appears you’ve fallen down. Are you okay?” By voice, you can just go, “Yes, I just dropped it, no emergency,” or, if it doesn’t get a response, it then does dial someone.

[Toby]

Is user-centred design an opportunity?

[Jonathan]

Yes. It takes time and effort to do user testing well. Especially when it’s user research rather than user testing. Because people, unfortunately, seem to feel like testing is a necessary thing and research is slightly less necessary. I almost tend to think it’s the other way around. But people are not doing this at the moment. If they started doing it, would it be good for them if they were companies?

[Toby]

Yes, because I believe that those organisations will be developing solutions that solve real-world people problems and it’s worth that investment.

If you do that, then you will develop solutions that address problems. Otherwise, I think companies will be building solutions that fix the wrong problems.

[Jonathan]

Yes, which is the expensive thing: “I’ve spent all of this money and I’ve got nothing.”

[Toby]

Yes.

[Jonathan]

I’m hoping that some of those products that the first time it happened didn’t work – the accessible ATM, Google Glass – with the right thinking, can go from tumbleweed to the O2. Because I’m guessing someone is making lots of money out of that building. And it probably wasn’t the people who did the original Millennium Dome. It was whoever had the vision to be able to look at that and say, “It didn’t work, but it could..”

[Yac]

Yes.

[Jonathan]

I think that’s what I want to encourage. I feel like some of those people are the people like us, who can actually look at the world and say, “Yes, there’s something here that can be better. Let’s do something.”

[Toby]

Absolutely, definitely.

[Jonathan]

Thank you so much, both of you.

[Toby]

It’s been great. Thanks

[Yac]

Thanks

[Jonathan]

Thanks for listening. I hope you’ve enjoyed this podcast.

If you do one thing after listening to this, I’d suggest talking with us about the Inclusive Innovation Workshops that we’re doing for increasing numbers of companies.

If you want a transcript of this podcast, find it on our website at hassellinclusion.com. You can get in touch with us there too, if you have any questions. And, if you liked the podcast, please rate it and share it with your friends.

See you next time.

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