Chris Ashton

week11y issue 69

Your weekly frequent11y newsletter, brought to you by @ChrisBAshton:

iPhones can now tell blind users where and how far away people are

  • An article from October 2020, but it taught me something I didn’t know: iOS 14.2 allows you to detect whether there are people in view (using your camera), and how far away they are. iOS will say how far the person is away, in feet or metres. The user can set a tone corresponding to difference, i.e. if somebody gets too close the tone changes. For deafblind people, there is a haptic pulse option instead, which goes faster as people get closer.
  • It isn’t explicitly mentioned in the article, but this feature is aimed at allowing blind users to keep a safe distance from people during the coronavirus pandemic.

In Praise of the Unambiguous Click Menu

  • Mark Root-Wiley shares his thoughts on why hover-based menus should be a thing of the past. They violate Jakob’s Law of Usability: that users prefer your site to work the same way as all the other sites they already know. This is because there are several different hover menu behaviours in the wild, so it’s impossible to predict which one a site is using until you click around. For example, is the top menu item a link to its own page, or a ‘fake’ link (href="#")?
  • Hover menus are also difficult to use on touch screen devices, which have no concept of hover, and also require careful pointer precision; it’s easy to accidentally hide the submenu again by moving the cursor out of its range.
  • Mark suggests using click menus instead, following the guidance of the US Web Design System, Bootstrap and others.

Wearable tech helps this blind runner compete in ultramarathons

  • In 2017, Englishman Simon Wheatcroft was the first blind person to run the New York City Marathon solo, without being tethered to a sighted running guide. He managed this by wearing a “Wayband” on his wrist; the device has built-in GPS and vibrates to keep the wearer on a set path.
  • Simon collaborated with New York based startup WearWorks to develop a prototype of the band in 2016, and the product is set to launch officially this year.
  • It is hoped that the band will enable blind users to “travel independently and discreetly” without audio instructions, which could help them explore unfamiliar places by themselves.

3D-printed exoskeleton allows paralysed woman to “walk”

  • An blog post by accessibility consultant Nicolas Steenhout, which has resurfaced recently. It gives his opinion of a CNET article about a paralysed woman whose 3D-printed exoskeleton allows her to “walk”. As Nicolas points out, the $150k exoskeleton holds the woman up, and moves her in a way that looks like walking, but she isn’t actually “walking”.
  • The article is well worth a read, detailing some of the considerations the engineers at 3D Systems had to factor in, such as ensuring that hard parts of the exoskeleton don’t bump into parts of the body. (This wouldn’t be felt by the paralysed wearer, and would lead to bruising an abrasions that could become infected).
  • What I found most interesting was Nicolas’ suggestion that such developments could be considered ableist. He references a previous blog post where he debunked the idea that you need to “stand” to cook or socialise. Nicolas’ implication here is that the exoskeleton offers no benefits over a traditional electric wheelchair, other than conforming to societal norms.

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