Hey Siri, how do I start a conversation with someone with a disability?

Thoughts By 8 months ago

We all love Siri’s little witty quips, but I recently read a heartwarming article over on Mashable that reflects the power of technology to change lives in ways that most of us would never appreciate. I won’t spoil the ending, though I would encourage you to find out for yourself by asking Siri the question in the headline above.

This latest Siri surprise comes via a Cerebral Palsy Foundation campaign in the U.S featuring celebrities such as comedian John Oliver, actor Michael J Fox and now Apple CEO Tim Cook. Apple has led the way in terms of accessibility in recent years by including a number of features designed to make the lives of users with a disability easier and their involvement in this latest campaign reflects a philosophy of Universal Design, sometimes known as Inclusive Design or “designing from the edges”.

“Inclusion inspires innovation, diversity gives us strength” – Tim Cook, Apple CEO 

“Philosophies” tend to get thrown around a lot, but what does it actually mean to design from the edges? Essentially, it means having empathy for all users of your product, not just the mainstream. While many companies pay lip service or include accessibility as an afterthought, it isn’t actually any harder to design for accessibility from the outset, it just requires some thinking up front but soon becomes second nature.

At b2cloud we’ve been lucky enough to work on some great projects over the years, designed to genuinely improve the lives of all users. Recently we’ve been working with City of Melbourne and Vision Australia to trial ways of making it easier for vision-impaired people to navigate in the city via i-beacons. The beauty of projects like this is that these products and services can provide genuine utility for everyone with the added bonus of solving a critical need for those living with a disability.

Once you understand the process, it is no more difficult than building products the “old” way,  only now you are conscious of making a product that is is labelled correctly, conforms to colour standards and reduces the number of steps involved in any process. As you can see this creates a much better product overall, not just for users with a disability.

It’s easy to take for granted how much smartphones have impacted our lives and the way that we carry out our day to day tasks. Imagine for a moment that you weren’t able to use your phone at all, how much more difficult would your life be?

Here’s a little experiment for you

Spend 20 minutes exploring and using the accessibility features on your phone (in iOS – Settings > General > Accessibility) (in Android Settings > Accessibility). Try using your phone:

  • Without your hands (yes, your nose works too!)
  • With your eyes closed
  • With just your voice

What did you learn? Sure it takes more time to do things, but now consider someone who has never been able to access this technology before, it can be transformative.

Conversely, now picture someone trying to use these features with badly designed apps, where the labels are not being read out, the buttons aren’t visible to the scanner or the colours are indistinguishable – you’re back at square one – not being able to use the technology.

Right now, over 4 million people in Australia have some form of disability, that’s 1 in 5 people. This number goes up to more than 1 in 2 when looking at people over 60. With these sort of numbers, shouldn’t we be focussing more on creating products for everyone?