The Fireside Chat is in Swiss German. English subtitles are available. You can also read the English transcript below.
Click “cc” to activate English subtitles.
Resources mentioned in the video
- René on Twitter
- Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
- The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
- “Access for all” foundation in Zurich
- “Sensability” in Bern
- Blind Power
- Der Schweizerische Blinden- und Sehbehindertenverband (SBV)
- Schweizerischer Blindenbund
- Schweizerische Bibliothek für Blinde, Seh- und Lesebehinderte (SBS)
So René, welcome to TestingTime. Maybe we can start with you. Who are you and what do you do? Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is René Jaun. I’m 38 and I live in Bern. I’m actually a student at the moment. I’m studying journalism at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences in Winterthur. But I’m here to talk to you guys today because I do a lot of contract work in the accessibility space. So I’m an accessibility consultant. You could also say I’m an accessibility evangelist.
Mhm, so you’re like an ambassador.
Yes, I used to work at a foundation. A foundation to promote accessible technologies. The short version is: “Access for all.” So that’s where I acquired my knowhow, at that foundation.
So what types of projects are you currently working on as an independent contractor? What are some interesting topics right now?
Well, I’m not doing that much accessibility-related stuff right now because my final exams are coming up. I’m working on my Bachelor thesis and studying for my exams. I also have to do an internship. I have been to a couple of awareness-raising events. For example, at a foundation in Basel. It was called “Impulses: a job market for everybody.” I did a demo there, showing them how the blind use the internet. I showed a couple of good and bad examples, accessible and inaccessible websites. In my spare time, I am involved in other projects that have less to do with accessibility. Like Blind Power, for example. It’s an audio platform for blind users and for everybody, really. I’m the technical lead there and one of the projects we’ve got going on is to broadcast soccer games for the Swiss Football League. We make the games accessible for the blind.
We send commentators to the stadiums and then there’s a live stream. So they describe what’s going on, making all of the action audible for the blind, the visually impaired, and everybody. So it’s an audio-description, a very precise description of what’s going on.
That’s very interesting. What are some other developments like that? Like compared to 10 years ago, how has your everyday life changed? I had no idea that there are audio-descriptions of soccer games. Live streams that are designed to be accessible to the blind and visually impaired community. What are some other examples like that? What are some tools, for example, that you use now in your everyday life?
Let’s see. A lot has happened. And yet, nothing has changed. A lot has happened because we have modern technology today. Technology has come a long way. My assistive devices today are a lot less assistive in that they weren’t designed just for blind people. Today, I can use what others use, mainstream solutions, so to speak. I am a big fan of the iPhone. I bought my first one… When was that? 10 years ago, wow. That first iPhone made a big difference for me. The iPhone was one of the first smartphones that blind people could buy where the screenreader was built in. It’s preinstalled and everything. I bought my iPhone at a store just like anybody else who can see. And I unboxed it and everything, all by myself, without any help. I didn’t need any additional software, either. There were no additional costs. The iPhone was one of the first inclusive smartphones to ever hit the market. The iPhone has a touch screen, too. 10 years ago, I would have said that’ll never happen. Back then, touch screens worried me. I couldn’t fathom how a blind person would ever be able to use a touch screen. But now, I have a touch screen, too. And I use all these run-of-the-mill apps. Just like everybody else. WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter. I buy groceries online at LeShop.ch. My life has become more mainstream. Then there are other changes, like legal changes, that have happened in Switzerland. The UN CRPD has been ratified. The CRPD gives us the right to take part in social life in the same way that people without disabilities do. This legal change facilitated other changes. The soccer association FIFA, for example – I’m not sure – Was it FIFA or another association? The Swiss Football League, at least, mandated accessible stadiums. And that was how we got tasked with creating live audio-descriptions of the games. Other things have stayed the same. That’s sad. We have so many tools today and it’s so much easier to create accessible solutions like accessible apps and services for people with different disabilities. But the companies aren’t moving, it’s still such a struggle convincing Swiss companies. Unfortunately, the majority of websites here are still entirely inaccessible. They don’t work and when we ask them to fix these issues they respond that they’d like to but it’s too expensive. So the discrimination continues.
What is that like from your perspective? Are you frustrated or angry or sad? What are the emotions you experience in these situations?
All of those emotions, yes. I do feel sad. I do feel excluded. It doesn’t feel good when a company conveys that you’re not wanted, you’re not worth the effort. It’s also very frustrating, because – some companies seem accessible, but then you take another look and you realize it’s just about legal compliance. The bare minimum. They’re happy with that: complying with the law. But they don’t care about our actual needs. That is frustrating. Assuming I could see, if I reported a bug in an app, that bug would get fixed quickly. But I’m blind. So I often get answers like: accessibility isn’t part of our concept. We’ll get back to you in X years when we launch our redesign. That’s frustrating.
Are there mechanisms in place so that you can report accessibility issues? Like, automated feedback systems within apps? So that you can suggest improvements? Or how do companies get insights about accessibility issues?
There are automatic test tools, both for apps and for websites. Automatic test tools help the developer to detect issues. These bots just run through everything and notify the developer of any issues. As you know, you can’t trust tools 100%. But they give you a good idea of possible issues on your site. In the end – regardless of whether we’re talking about apps or sites – you need to include real human feedback. Companies need to decide to conduct UX research with real users. Ideally, also with users who have disabilities because of the accessibility-specific feedback. But, yes, there are test tools and guidelines available. I have an iPhone so I know a little about Apple. Apple has developer guidelines that require accessible solutions. And they teach you how to do it. How to add accessibility properties, which isn’t that difficult anymore.
What are the biggest hindrances? What are the objections that you often come across? What is stopping accessibility from moving forward? Do people not identify with the topic enough or is it about the money or something else?
It surprises me and frustrates me, as a loud voice in the fight for accessibility, but a lot is simply due to ignorance. Many developers have no idea that blind users use their products.
Right. So they haven’t even thought about that.
Yeah, yeah, and then they often don’t bother to inform themselves. There are two kinds of ignorance. Either it’s unintentional, you just didn’t know. I can sort of understand that. People who aren’t affected may not have thought about disability before. You actually have to ask yourself, what would a person with a disability do? But there are others who know that their users have disabilities and then they have all of these prejudices about how these users use their products. It’s like active ignorance. I’m currently talking to a developer from Canada and he absolutely does not want to believe that he doesn’t need to include a special feature for blind users. He had no idea that the iPhone comes with a screen reader built in already. All he needs to do is to make his buttons readable. He’s convinced that making an app accessible for blind users means reworking all of its functions so that they work with Siri. That would be a really long list! I agree that would be a long list. But you don’t have to do all of that. Let’s see, what else? I’m very grateful that the LeShop app is accessible now. That was a long struggle, it took years until they became accessible. They would tell me: Thanks, we’ll get back to you if and when we’re interested. Like, we can’t spend a lot of money on something for a handful of blind users. Also, companies will tell you that they likely don’t have any blind users. Or that blind users can’t use the app. There’s that lack of information. A lack of awareness. A lot of people still believe that there just aren’t that many users with disabilities. So the first hurdle is awareness.
Not even doing it, knowing about it. People haven’t thought about the topic. They haven’t even heard about it.
Yes, absolutely. We need to increase awareness. That’s very frustrating. Because I’ve been involved in the accessibility space – how long has it been? 14 or 15 years now. Today, too, actually. I’m showing students how I use my laptop later. They’re going to hear how it sounds when a blind user surfs the internet with a screenreader. Fascinating for them. But for me, it’s becoming frustrating. Don’t get me wrong, I love fascinating people. And I was happy to get invited to this interview, too. But it has been 15 years, why are there still people who don’t know about screen readers? Who act like a screenreader is something special? For me and 325,000 others who are blind or visually impaired, these are everyday-life devices. What is so special about these devices?
Speaking of solutions like screenreaders: are the users the driving force? Do blind and visually impaired users or the groups they’re in push assistive devices? What role does the government play? What role do private companies play? Where do the changes come from in your experience?
Good question. There are several contributing factors. While new laws can lead to changes, and have, in many countries, Switzerland isn’t really one of them. At least not in the digital accessibility space. Other areas have seen good progress. For example, public transportation. So accessibility laws do work here, but digital accessibility is behind. We’re lucky over here that digital accessibility laws are quite strict in the US. I suspect that these laws are the reason I can visit a store here and purchase an iPhone just like anybody else can. I think that is due to the laws in the US. People have told me that the Americans have laws stating that products that blind users can’t use will no longer be used in federal administration. That apparently brought the change about. These things eventually reach us, too. Big companies like Microsoft have committed themselves to accessibility. What’s nice is that these companies are doing more than they are required to by law. So the nice part is actually what happens after the law has been instated. Accessibility becomes part of the company culture. Big companies like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft have their own accessibility teams. Apple has this, too. These corporate initiatives are supporting the changes. And then there are smaller companies like our “Blind Power” project. We are blind, we know exactly what we need, so we should be the ones offering services for the blind. There are several small companies that really value accessibility. I have several accessible apps on my iPhone that were built by small companies. These companies think it’s important that blind and visually impaired users can use their products. Apple often awards these companies special prizes like design awards and so on, which is cool. So things are happening in both directions, big companies are doing a lot, and small companies are doing a lot.
I think a lot of people who are watching this will have to do with UX and usability. Let’s say I have an app, a website, a service, a product. In your opinion, what is the correct procedure as a UX designer or researcher? Assuming I’m at the very beginning. Where do I go? Where can I get accessibility information? What are the first steps I should take? Are there small things I can do that will result in a big step forward?
Let me think. Maybe we should start by saying that it’s praiseworthy of a UXer to want to build an accessible product from the start. It’s also important to ensure that the whole team is on board. Accessibility isn’t just about the user experience. It needs to be a management decision, too. The people in charge have to be convinced: if it’s not ready for everyone, it’s not ready for anyone. If that were the general consensus – well, many products wouldn’t be on the market yet. It’s a great principle, though. It would be nice if companies lived by it. When it comes to websites, there are guidelines, the web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG). Recently, version 2.1 was released. It’s a set of instructions, approximately 80, I believe, and these instructions describe how to build a website so that it’s accessible for as many users as possible. For example, for blind users. One instruction here is that all graphical elements should be perceivable with another sense. This could be a written description of the image. User experience designers realize things like: in order to visualize whether a course is full or not, a red or green stick figure isn’t enough. At the very least, the red figure should look sad. And the green one should look happy. There should also be a text behind these images, for example: The course is full. Or: There are seats available. Those are the little things that you can read up on. Then there are platform-specific guidelines. Like Apple explains its iOS rules in its developer center. There are great examples there explaining how to develop an accessible product. You have to decide how far you want to go. There are courses you can take, for example, on making an excellent accessible application. Those go into more detail.
So if I’ve got my app, and then I work my way through the guidelines, if I’ve done everything on the checklist, can you use my app? Will my app meet the criteria that enable you to use it?
Most likely, yes. Most of it for sure. However, if you want to be sure, I recommend you collaborate with users with disabilities. Actually, you should always do that anyway. Here at TestingTime, a business specializing in user testing, this would mean that some of the users you recruit should have different disabilities. When these users try the product, the designers can see how well it works for them. There’s another way, too: use the tools we use. A screen reader, for example, or tools that magnify visual content. You can access all of these tools online, a lot of them are even free. Every Mac, every PC, every Android, and every iPhone comes with a free screen reader. Why not use it as a designer or developer and see how it reads your product? The one downside is that these tools are complex and inexperienced users can get an unrealistic impression if they’re not using these tools every day. So the people with disabilities are the true experts.
How often do people with disabilities or you, yourself, get invited to test products at companies? Have you participated in user tests before?
I have participated in user tests before. However, each and every one was to test accessibility specifically. Also, and this was disappointing, most of the tests were towards the end of the process. Accessibility was treated like an add-on. So, for example, a large Swiss company had just finished building their website and then realized they needed to make it accessible. So they overhauled certain parts and wanted to know whether we could use them or not. That gives you the feeling you’re a second-class citizen. It’s not a very nice feeling.
Is it fair to say that people with disabilities are rarely consulted from the beginning? In order to make accessibility part of an app’s foundation? In your experience, I mean.
Not really, no. To be fair, however, I don’t really advertize my consulting services. I’m not good at presenting and recommending myself. So I haven’t been to a lot of tests in the past couple of years and it’s possible that things have changed. But during my time at the Access for all foundation, there were a few companies who thought about accessibility from the start. The Swiss Postal service, for example. Of course, they are obligated by law to be accessible. But they did come to us frequently with prototypes of apps and the like. They requested that we take a look at the prototypes and help them to optimize their accessibility. But often, accessibility is an afterthought.
Right. Maybe we could take a look at some of the apps you use. And maybe we can project your screen for our viewers. Maybe you can open an app and–
Yeah, let me try and record my screen for you. The iPhone has a built in recording function. You’ll have to synchronize it when you add it to the main video.
So you’re just recording your screen?
Great, let’s try that.
It probably won’t work because it never does when you’re trying to show somebody something, right? I think I’ve found the recording tool now. Here we go. Now, it’s telling me that it’s recording my screen. Let me slow it down so you can understand it better.
Yeah, I was just going to ask you about that. So what did you just do exactly? You’re recording your screen and what are we seeing or hearing now?
You should be able to see my home screen. But it’s a little different than your phone because whenever I touch the screen, it doesn’t automatically click on something. Instead, it tells me what I’m seeing. It tells me which object exactly is under my finger right now. It’s kind of like touching a physical object like a table. It lets me explore my screen. So now we’re hearing that my messages are on the top left. Next to it, I’ve got the TvhClient app.
It’s so fast I can’t understand anything!
So you’re just used to it?
Exactly. That’s typical for blind users. They always have their phones set on highspeed. But it’s like listening to metal music. After a while, you realize that the screaming is words. I’ll slow it down some more, hold on.
Screen reader: “65%… 55%…”
Alright, that’s good. Let’s listen again, it should be intelligible now.
Screen reader: “20min app. 1 new object.”
So I’ve got one new object, the app store, and so on.
So what about the special case you’ve got on it? Is that an assistive device, too?
No, no the case is just for protection. You know, in case I drop my iPhone. This thing could survive a war.
You’re ready for anything.
Exactly. Other than that, I’m using a normal iOS 12.3.1. The only thing I’ve done is activate VoiceOver. Anyone can activate this screen reader, all they have to do is tell Siri to activate VoiceOver.
That’s very interesting. So do you use Siri often? Is it useful? And is it convenient for you?
I don’t use it that often. Every now and then when I want to dictate a text message. Let’s see, what else… I use Siri a couple of times per day to start a program, but not excessively. I don’t particularly like it. Oops, now it wants to turn itself off. I prefer to analyze things manually and to activate things manually. Siri really isn’t THE tool for the blind. Instead, we use VoiceOver to make the touchscreen work for us. Maybe I can show you how I shop for groceries online at LeShop.ch. It took a long time for them to become accessible. But when the media got involved things suddenly happened a lot faster. I’m happy with the result. It’s an extremely good app now.
You guys can’t see this but he’s got several pages full of folders and apps.
It’s a lot, yeah. I’m kind of a nerd and I love to try stuff. So a lot of those apps are just junk and I never use them. One whole folder is full of Danish public transportation apps because I love traveling through Denmark.
Okay, I see you’re inside the LeShop store.
Screen reader: “0.00… Scanner”
If I move my finger over the bottom row, I can see there are these tabs. So we’ve got “search,” “scanner,” “0.00 Francs.” In the middle, it says my cart is empty. Here are my lists and my profile. I particularly love the list function because it’s not like I’m buying all new stuff each time I go shopping. So if I enter my lists, I can use my finger to search for the “my favorite products” tab.
Screen reader: “My shopping list…My previous orders…”
Screen reader: “My favorite products: 97 products.”
There we go.
I see, these are the things you buy most often.
Exactly, let’s take a look at an example.
Screen reader: “Gruyère, Swiss hard cheese, full fat, made from raw milk, 350g 600g, 7.15 Francs.”
Okay, now this is interesting. It tells you that it costs 7.15 Francs but it doesn’t say that that’s because it’s on sale.
Oh, okay, let’s listen again. Nope, not one word about a sale. I don’t notice these things when I’m testing the app by myself. Someone who can see would have to notice that a visual piece of information is missing.
And what was this app like before? It reads almost everything to you now.
It used to be that absolutely nothing could be read. Basically, VoiceOver would read a list to me, but the list was unintelligible because instead of labels, it read each item as “button.”
Wow, that doesn’t help at all.
Exactly. Let’s say I want to add this cheese to my cart. Oh, my calendar is telling me about my next appointment.
Screen reader: “In two hours,…”
Let me get rid of that for now. Let’s go back to the shopping app.
Screen reader: “Add to cart.”
Now, I’ve added the cheese to my cart. And it instantly updates itself.
Screen reader: “Your total is 7.15 Francs.”
So I always know how much the price is. They did a really good job building that.
So what are some other things you do with apps? For instance, do you use a public transportation app?
Yes, I do. I buy my tickets through the SBB app. Well, actually, I have a GA travelcard. But I do use the app to see when the trains go. One big accessibility problem here that I have had to deal with over and over again is the local app for the trams in Bern, where I live. I do use this app now and again, even though it is quite difficult to use. Let me show you why it isn’t really accessible. The tram stop where I live is Fischermätteli and I frequently go from there to the main train station. So that’s the connection that comes up first here.
[Screen reader reads all of the departure times in a row.] “Bern main train station to Bern Fischermätteli.” [Screen reader reads all of the arrival times in a row.]
Oh, I see, it’s reading columns, not rows.
Exactly, and this would be easy to fix. All you need to add is the information that tells the screen reader which order to read in. Now, it’s giving me all of the elements but not in a meaningful order.
Yeah, it’s reading vertically instead of horizontally.
Exactly, and that issue isn’t difficult to solve. But I can use the app anyway because there are only two trams that go from my house to the main train station. So you can learn to deal with the chaos. But it doesn’t make you feel confident. If I need to go anywhere far, I use the SBB app. The SBB app is quite accessible. Where is it… SBB… Here we go, the SBB mobile app. I see I’ve got a connection open already because I wanted to know how I get from here to my next appointment.
Screen reader: “Departs: 2:54 on track 1. Arrives 3:52. Duration: 58 minutes, change trains twice. Capacity 1st class: low, capacity 2nd class: high…”
Oh, wow, okay. So this app really tells you everything. Wait, no, it doesn’t tell you when to change trains.
We can see that when we click on the connection.
Screen reader: “2:54pm Zurich-Wiedikon on track 1, S24, 20455, direction: Zug, arrives at 3:08pm in Thalwil on track 4. Capacity 1st class…”
And so on, and so forth. You can go into that connection and then you can see even more details if you want or need to. And so on, and so forth. They did an excellent job here. An accessibility specialist or an everyday user will encounter some issues. Let’s listen to this example. Pay attention to what it reads first. I want to know when the train leaves but…
Screen reader: “Due to current issues, we’re offering you additional connections. The situation can change at any moment…”
It’s been like 10 seconds already.
Yeah, you’re waiting and waiting.
Exactly, and it’s still on the fine print. And now, finally, it tells me what I actually want to know. We actually told them that in a Tweet. They responded that they’re working on that right now.
Right, okay. That’s so interesting. I feel like a lot of developers don’t have the exposure it would take to consider what the blind community, for example, needs. Like I had no idea that anybody with an iPhone can simply activate and use the screenreader.
Yeah, it’s really cool. And today, all systems come with some sort of screenreader. So, yeah, give it a go. There are other accessibility features, too. For example, my best friend is visually impaired. So in addition to VoiceOver, the iPhone screenreader, she uses Zoom to help her navigate her screen. All you have to do is activate it and then it will make all of the elements on your screen much bigger. There are other things, too. For example, colorblind users can make their iPhones display everything in black and white. Or they can invert the colors so that light elements become dark and vice versa. There are so many features just for visual impairments. There are also features for people with auditory or manual impairments.
So what are some things that are frustrating in everyday situations? Things where you think, it wouldn’t be that difficult and yet we haven’t managed to make it accessible yet. Anything you find particularly sad?
Hm, good question. I’m not very good at creating a “top most frustrating” list. Usually, if I want to do something, I do it. I don’t base my decision to do something on how difficult or frustrating it is. However, from a philosophical standpoint, the most frustrating thing is that you can’t ever stop fighting. You have to keep at it. At my university, for example, the Zurich University of Applied Sciences, the people are great and they’re very committed to accessibility. They really do a lot in this regard. But now they’ve installed these new garbage cans with four separate slots for different types of waste. One is for recyclable plastics, one is for cans, and so on. But without eyesight, how am I supposed to figure out what goes where? At the train station in Bern, on the other hand, they have the same garbage can system but at least they added labels I can read with my finger. However, I get tired pretty fast and I have some mental health issues. I am mildly to moderately depressed. When that depression kicks in, you lose the will to fight for everything all the time. But from a practical perspective, it’s very frustrating that BernMobil still hasn’t made their app accessible. I say this to anyone who will still listen and unfortunately, I’ve been saying it for several years. So I don’t know what it’ll take. Let’s see, what else? Some smaller apps that I sometimes use, for example, to order food, often don’t work, which is aggravating. Burger Kind, McDonald’s, Domino’s pizza, none of them are really accessible. But to be honest, I haven’t written to them, either. It probably wouldn’t do any good. Because I’m just that one blind guy. That can be quite frustrating sometimes.
Do you frequently write to companies to report an accessibility issue, for example, via Twitter? Do you feel like that has an impact?
With some companies yes, with others, no. But in general, Twitter is a great way to get in touch because – and this may sound a little mean – it makes the conversation public. I do get responses from companies. They usually react. So I feel like my reports have a certain impact. On Twitter, it’s rare for companies to not react at all. The answers aren’t always great. Sometimes, they just apologize and tell you that they’ll get back to you and then nothing happens. But at least they take notice and admit publicly that their product isn’t accessible yet.
If you image the ideal situation, a perfectly accessible world, what would that look like? Or what would need to change in order to achieve that world? What would a perfect world be like?
In a perfect world, I wouldn’t be constantly reminded that I’m missing the sense of sight. Currently, that happens far too often. Also, the reminders are negative. In a perfect world, people would be more sensitive towards and more aware of the fact that different people have different needs, different abilities, and different senses with which they approach a product. Designs shouldn’t be made for one prototypical human who functions perfectly in every way. There are some strange stories. Recently, I heard that an eye clinic had implemented a ticketing system where the patients come in, get a ticket with a number on it, and then there’s this screen that tells them when their number is up.
At an eye clinic of all places?
At an eye clinic, for goodness’ sake! Of course, they’ll come get you if they see you have a white cane. Or you can come in and let them know that you’re blind. But that’s just incredible at an eye clinic. And the ticketing machines didn’t even talk. Obviously, they just reused some concept that doesn’t fit the eye clinic space at all. Things like that make me wonder: what more will it take?
I get the feeling, from an outsider’s perspective, that it’s an empathy issue.
It’s not top of mind for most people. So there’s that lack of awareness. On the other hand, though, it’s difficult for a designer at a company to really put themselves in that user’s position. I mean, I’m assuming that usually, accessibility issues aren’t ill-intentioned.
No, of course not. I doubt that any designers think: oh, no, we don’t want any blind users. I can’t think of a single ill-intentioned example. But I probably shouldn’t say, even if I could. It’s more like passive ignorance, the designers really don’t know, but they’re also not doing anything to find out. I mean, if people designing an eye clinic aren’t aware of blind users, then how can I expect Starbucks to make an accessible app? Because unlike the eye clinic designers, they aren’t around any blind users who could tell them about their needs.
Are there any associations or groups people can join for blind people or people with other disabilities to get together to practice activism?
Yes, there are a couple. They’re mostly specific to a certain disability. Like self-help organizations. For the blind and visually impaired, there’s the SBV. Or the “Schweizerischer Blindenbund.” Those self-help organizations function as special interest groups or lobbies. There are a couple that are aimed at people with different types of disabilities, too.
I mean, the reason I’m asking is, here at TestingTime, we have a lot of people in our pool now. More than 300,000 people. So there are people from all over, different colors, sizes, disabilities, and much more. So we send these people off to test something. We help our customers to conduct research with different groups of people. But what about companies who don’t have an extensive pool? Where can these companies get access to people with different disabilities? Is it best to go through a self-help organization? Or where should companies go to find test users?
Yeah, that’s a good point. There are so many different organizations. So that’s definitely a sound option. Just search for organizations on Google. You can also contact the “Access for all” foundation where I used to work. The team in Zurich includes people with different disabilities so they can test your products and services and offer you firsthand feedback. Then there’s another organization called “Sensability” in Bern. This organization isn’t specialized in testing digital products but they do a lot in the way of raising awareness. So they would definitely be able to put you in touch with potential test users. Another way you can go is to test for disability-specific accessibility issues. The SBV offers this, for example. So a blind user will test your product to see if he or she is able to use all of it. But you have to keep in mind that other users’ needs may not be satisfied this way. Like people who rely on simplified language, or people who have motor impairments.
But that’s a huge issue, I mean, there are so many different disabilities. Where do you start? Do you start with the most frequent disabilities? It’s such a difficult question.
It really is. But you can consult the WCAG, the web content accessibility guidelines, because they provide different priority levels. So A, AA, and AAA. Each level means stricter requirements and so you get an idea of what to do first.
What does that mean A, AA, AAA?
Well, if you conform to the first level, then your product will be usable for most people with disabilities. It won’t be a great experience, but usable. It’ll work. But if you want to conform to level AAA, for example, then one criterium is that all content or the most important content should be available as a video with sign language. So while that’s very important to do, it’s also a question of funding. It means an extra expense for companies. Also, the vast majority of people who don’t hear well or at all can make do with a written text. They don’t necessarily need a sign language interpreter.
Are there any AAA companies? I mean, are there companies that have made their products so accessible that they were able to achieve this level?
I’m sure there are. I just can’t think of any. Here in Switzerland, it’s a common practice to conform to the AA level and to then add in certain AAA requirements. That’s called “AA+” and it’s like a mix of AA and AAA. Most people can live with this compromise.
Speaking of Switzerland, what are some companies that are doing a good job or that are headed in the right direction? Some companies that could potentially inspire UX designers and researchers?
A couple of companies come to mind. PostFinance, in the banking sector. They regularly get their products tested for accessibility. Not all of their products, though. Those that aren’t come with a label stating that the product isn’t accessible. Crédit Suisse is another bank. They were one of the first banks to make their products accessible from A to Z. They’re a good example. Then there’s a radio station called “Swissinfo.ch” that apparently puts a strong emphasis on accessibility. Let’s see, what else? On the “Access for all” website, access-for-all.ch, there’s a list you can consult. The cool thing about testing with them is that, provided you meet the criteria, you get a certificate. So they keep adding companies to their list. SBB is on that list. Their website is now accessible. Unfortunately, not all parts of it are accessible. This has been criticized because some people feel that the certificate isn’t justified.
Yeah, and I mean, you can “only” see it from a blind person’s perspective.
That’s right, yeah. But then there are so many other types of disability. So are there different categories? Because before, you mentioned the different levels A, AA, and AAA. So within those levels, do companies become accessible for all users with any type of disability? And what categories are there?
So the categorization is as follows: there are cognitive disabilities like visual and auditory impairments. But, of course, those are already quite different. Then, there are motor impairments, so these people have problems using just the keyboard or the mouse so they use assistive devices to be able to use computers. There are people – what is the technical term? Some people can have a seizure triggered by visual stimuli. So that’s another category. Your visuals shouldn’t trigger seizures. And then there are people with – you might say psychological impairments. So these people have language difficulties. For them, all copy should be made available in simple words that are easy to understand. No loanwords, short sentences, stuff like that. I think that’s about it. At least, as far as using websites and apps goes.
What about products like Kindle and other e-readers? Do you use these products, too? Or how do you usually read books?
I read a lot of e-books. I have some apps on my iPhone. Most of them are very mainstream. For example, the Apple Books app. Amazon Kindle, too. That one was a struggle accessibility-wise. But they put a lot of work into it and it’s quite accessible now. I also have some niche apps which have been around for a long time. Like the SBS, the Swiss library for blind, visually impaired, and dyslexic readers. The SBS is here in Zurich. They specialize in turning books into audiobooks. I borrow a book from them every now and then and listen to it on my iPhone. Another service I sometimes use is the electronic kiosk run by the SBV, the Swiss association for the blind and visually impaired. It gives blind and visually impaired users access to most of the newspapers that appear in Switzerland. It’s a very simple format without pictures so you can read the daily news.
So it’s a proxy, not a service the newspapers offer? The kiosk takes the data and makes it accessible?
Yes, precisely. The publishers give the kiosk the raw material. This is not an ideal solution, of course. Because it’s not inclusive. It shows that all of the media here in Switzerland so far have failed to make their printed products accessible. That’s the only reason the electronic kiosk still exists and it’s actually quite sad. I actually subscribed to a PDF newspaper once but it was such a mess of numbers and dates that I canceled my subscription immediately. So I’d like to remind your viewers that people with disabilities are not a minority. They form a large group of consumers that your company stands to profit from. Include them in your solutions, consider their needs, and you end up with a win-win situation.
What a perfect note to end on. Our final question for you: how can our viewers get in touch with you? Where can they ask questions?
I am on Twitter. My handle is: @THE_Swissionary. The same goes for Facebook. You can email me or even call me if you like, I’m in the phonebook. I am generally open to being contacted. I should, of course, focus on my Bachelor thesis. But I’m very interested in collaborating on projects and I very rarely say ‘no’ to accessibility-related projects. I’m happy to help and look forward to hearing from you.
Great, we’ll include all of your information in the blog post and/or description box. Alright, awesome, thanks so much for taking the time to be here and for sharing your insights into accessibility with our viewers. We hope it will make great progress.
I’m sure it will!
For more accessibility-related content, head over to 👉 testingtime.com/accessibility.