Chris Ashton

fortnight11y issue 59

This issue of fortnight11y is slightly delayed – work has been busy! This issue begins with my usual roundup of some recent/topical a11y articles, but finishes with a ‘hardware special’, covering some interesting developments in the world of physical technology.

This will also be my only newsletter in June. This week, I’m getting married, and then off to Scandinavia for a couple of weeks! See you again in July 👋

Designing for Web Accessibility in 60 Seconds

UX Designer David Kennedy writes a short article with some useful quick wins for accessibility, focussed around asking questions.

  • Is the content specific enough in important areas?
    • People skim when they read. Make sure your link text describes the content of the target link, and use concise headings to form the outline of the page.
  • Where does the visual hierarchy put pressure on font sizes and colours?
    • Avoid small font sizes, low colour contrast, relying on colour alone to communicate state.
    • Also avoid confusing alignment, and excessive motion.
  • What components are doing too much?
    • Consider avoiding autocomplete and tooltip components, in favour of simpler ones.
  • Are all states communicated in an accessible way?
    • Pay careful attention to designs for your error states, disabled states, focus states, etc.

Accessibility: The Biggest Scam in UX

Dot Tomczak draws us in with a clickbaity headline, and rants about designers that claim their work is accessible without being able to back it up.

Dot says that following a WCAG checklist isn’t enough – how many designers have actually included at least one person with a disability in their initial user research?

A nice looking, minimalist, high-contrast design isn’t necessarily an accessible one. As Dot points out, there is such a thing as too much contrast. Designs may break horribly when zoomed in, or may make no sense with assistive technologies. Fonts may be at least 16 pixels in size (good) but the font itself may not be very readable (bad).

Dot implores designers to start including people with impairments, in their user testing. To start using your favourite apps and websites with accessibility settings turned on, to get a feel of how things should work. To test their products with accessibility tools. And above all, to “stop bullshitting that you mastered it – no one did”.

The comments on the article are largely in full support and agreement – including a number of famous faces from the world of accessibility (whose own articles I’ve covered in previous issues of frequent11y!).

Default focus outlines: Don’t remove them!

So many good tips in this article – though don’t be fooled by the title. This isn’t about the native browser focus styles; the participants in this podcast do advocate that it’s fine to provide your own custom focus styles. This is about removing any focus styles whatsoever, and why that’s a bad thing.

Many of us have come across this before: a designer insisting we remove the outline provided by browsers, but not providing their own focus style to replace it with. The analogies in this article are great:

  • Focus styles are like streetlights. Even if you think they’re ugly – they’re extremely useful.
  • Want to remove focus styles? How about removing all handles from your doors and windows, to avoid breaking the smooth flow of the design.

And some tips:

  • Ask designers to try to navigate their own designs via keyboard only.
  • Ask what the alternative for the native focus state should be. If the answer is that there shouldn’t be a focus state at all, then this discussion isn’t about the outline.

The article contains a podcast recording and a transcript. Worth a read/listen.

Whisper’s hearing aids use AI to boost speech and reduce noise

Whisper is a startup that is developing hearing aids that self-tune over time, using AI. Traditional hearing aids require frequent adjustments, which can put people off wearing them. The CEO was inspired when his father asked to sit in a quiet corner of the café so that he could hear him properly, and he realised that he could make a difference in helping people connect better with their loved ones.

Two earpieces that take in and transmit sound are paired with a pocket-sized hub called Whisper Brain that wirelessly drives a sound separation engine. The engine’s algorithms, which were trained on a proprietary dataset, separate speech from noise in real time. Unlike traditional hearing aids, which amplify everything in a room, the engine hones in on particular sources

The system costs $139 per month at time of writing, which is less than the $179 originally quoted in the article (which was published in October 2020). Other companies are available – there are similar offerings from MicroTech, Widex and Starkey.

New sensor technology helps blind and visually impaired pedestrians avoid hazards

Intelligent Material Solutions, Inc. have patented an “intelligent material” of rare earth crystals embedded in paint or thermoplastics. The crystals can be grown to any shape or size and exhibit unique emission and absorption spectra and tuneable energy conversions.

Paired with sensors mounted or integrated with a cane, users can use a smart device to gather geolocation feedback and receive enhanced situational awareness that is far more accurate than existing technologies such as GPS.

The technology is in its early stages but could be used to guide users to public transportation, retail entrances, pavement exits and other locations.

This 3D printed controller allows you to game with one hand

This Facebook video (3 minutes) demonstrates an attachment for a standard PlayStation controller, allowing you to access all of the buttons on the device using just one hand.

The attachment was designed and 3D-printed by Akaki Kuumeri and is quite fascinating to see in action! Designs are free to download and print, but Akaki also offers fully printed and assembled versions in their Etsy store. Both left-handed and right-handed versions are available. Akaki also designs attachments for other consoles such as Xbox Series X.

Whilst it’s disappointing not to see officially supported adapters from the console manufacturers themselves, I’m pleased to see creative solutions being devised in the community.

Man Who Is Paralyzed Communicates By Imagining Handwriting

A man left quadriplegic after a freak accident has taken part in a study of a system called BrainGate2, developed at Stanford. The system relies on electrodes surgically implanted near the part of the brain that controls movement.

The man imagines writing individual characters by hand, and the computer learned to decode the distinct patterns with 95% accuracy. He can now type at a rate of 90 characters per minute.

I first covered this technology 2.5 years ago, in dai11y 25/11/2019. That system was developed at Chicago, and had a rate of around 66 characters per minute. So the technology is improving – which is fantastic. I just hope the surgically implanted hardware doesn’t go the way of the Second Sight implants and become unsupported.

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