If you’re blind, you might as well throw yourself under a bus now

First the iPhone, then the Aurora Concept, and now the Motorola Sparrow has slapped me upside the head with how narrowly designers envision our future: apparently there are no blind folk.

The Sparrow is beautiful, and I agree that things we use in our lives should be as beautiful as possible. But, at what expense? No blind employees of a store using the Sparrow can be blind. The Apple-Smoothie interface principal seems to think of touch as only necessary to hold, behold a product.

Even sighted people need tactile clues. Notice your keyboard. It likely has bumps on two of the keys. My Natural keyboard has bumps on the “F” and “J” keys. Why? Did the manufacturing equipment just hiccup? Of course, not. They’re clues I subconsciously use to find the keys.

The Sparrow is just the most recent example of how vision-dependent tech the future is in designers minds. That’s not too surprising since traditionally design has involved vision. That’s too limited, too easy. We need to expand design to consider all the senses.

I’ve been somewhat unfair about the iPhone accessibility. Apple has considered the issue. Like the rest of us, though, Apple considers accessibility as something applied on top of the “real” product. Certainly how to provide the UI enhancements has to be considered in early planning, but it’s not an integral, important part of the design.

Why not? I mean. As long as we’re dreaming.

What would a system be like that could recognize speech…when it’s signed?


7 thoughts on “If you’re blind, you might as well throw yourself under a bus now

  1. Have you ever seen those pin templates, often used in machine shops, panel beaters etc ? Basically a set of pins that raise as you push it against a surface. Anyway, given LCDs are in effect switches, why not have a polymer that can be swtiched to be raised or rough. Perhaps even stimulated by light rather than current… as such it could be a brail stickon that could be applied to any device after market…. Wow…. where’s my patent lawyer when I need one… oh that’s right .. someone actually has to invent such a material first. Even if it wasn’t a thin polymer but rather a thinnish box that had sensors on one side and the brail output on the other.

    But what are the other options ? Smell is out. Tactile is at present only a possibility. Audio has great possiblities. Given a phone is really about audio, then screen readers and voice command would seem natural fits.

  2. Pingback: Apple’s giant font for email - @ Head

  3. Hey, Bill. I agree there’s a limit to what’s available today, but why are the designers’ dreams of the future _also_ limited to what’s available today? You’ve done more imaginative design work in one comment than I’ve seen in the Aurora Concept vids. All those feature interfaces that sci fi movies have envisioned and that are extant in existing interfaces. Give me a break. Excitement over a see-through iPhone? Um. Wow. Not.

  4. That my reply was more imaginative is purely because I’m brilliant and creative… oh and did I mention modest too ?
    Okay, truth is I have given it some thought. Years ago a training job I did involved me sitting and watching a paraplegic use a computer, providing advice as he went, and answering his questions. I’ll never forget how difficult the then simple UI’s were. Incredibly gutsy guy too…. and what immense determination !!
    Me, I’m amazed and daunted by what people can achieve like that. But despite all this, and despite my interest in trying to find solutions for visually impaired, I know I really don’t know. I kid myself I can understand slight visual impairment, and there’s probably enough geeks out there that can do that themselves by removing their glasses (my eyesight is good so I have to resort to looking at things when incredibly drunk ). But complete blindness is something really hard to fathom. We’re incredibly visual in nature: think fashion, beauty, big, no HUGE screen television, etc ,etc. When I try to think of concepts without vision I really struggle. It’s something I aspire to have better answers to, but today I feel I have almost none, and I’m willing to bet that’s how many developers feel today. So we need dialogue, education, or at least I do. I know what the problem is, but I am yet to understand it.

  5. All that takes time, patience, not to mention empathy and the ability to let go of what one thinks one knows. Funny. Here’s you and me advocating for a more empathetic approach to design. Ironic since “nice” isn’t a word that’s gonna be in either of our obituaries. *g*

  6. Nancy,

    I completely agree. I actually designed a smart voice system an eternity ago (I even foolishly thought it should have an apple logo on it).

    Its key feature – voice recognition that automatically sent out as text-based email. Other services are NOW doing this (TwitterFone for one, which works really well).

    I use MS Voice Command and it works fairly well too.

    It’s NOT impossible – and it would be nice if HW vendors started giving it some thought.

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