Conveying Accountability through the Member’s Web Site. A short list of recommendations for members of Congress. The results of a survey (PDF) by the Congress Online Project, who also have advice on Transparency, Accountability and Grassroots Campaigns.
>  27 March 2006 | LINK | Filed in , ,
Usability Exchange. Ask persons with disabilities to test and rate your Web site remotely. See this BBC piece. (via)
>  19 March 2006 | LINK | Filed in ,
Barriers for Disability at Work. “Most disabled people would tell you that the bigger concerns they have around the workplace are not around physical accessibility,” said Andrew Imparato, president of the American Association of People with Disabilities. “They’re more around attitudes. I think it’s easier to legislate and see change around bricks and mortar than it is around attitudes.” Half of the employers surveyed said workplace adjustments for accessibility came at no expense. 43 percent reported a one-time cost that averaged around $600.
>  16 March 2006 | LINK | Filed in ,
Cooperative Housing for and by the Aging. “Opting for old age on their own terms, they were starting a new chapter in their lives as residents of Glacier Circle, the country’s first self-planned housing development for the elderly — a community they had conceived and designed themselves, right down to its purple gutters. Over the past five years, the residents of Glacier Circle have found and bought land together, hired an architect together, ironed out insurance together, lobbied for a zoning change together and existentially probed togetherness together.” (via)
>  2 March 2006 | LINK | Filed in , ,
APHont: A Font for Low Vision. “APHont was developed by the American Printing House for the Blind specifically for low vision readers. APHont embodies characteristics that have been shown to enhance reading speed, comprehension, and comfort for large print users.” The APHont Suite is available for free on the APH web site.
>  14 February 2006 | LINK | Filed in ,

Papers in the Dark is a grassroots campaign to alter the design of U.S. currency to make denominations recognizable without purely visual cues:

“Can you tell the difference between a one dollar and a twenty dollar bill in the dark?

Dim BillsBlind people use money just like everyone else, but since American paper currency is all the same size and texture, blind people can’t tell the bills apart independently. We all deserve the personal security of knowing what’s in our wallets.

Even those with sight would benefit from making paper money accessible by feel

  • It would simplify paying the bill and counting change in a dark restaurant
  • It would make it safer to get out money for an upcoming toll while driving
  • It would allow everyone to count money more discreetly in public

Please write or call your Congresspeople now! Our Contact Congress Tool makes this fast and easy.

... is an independent volunteer organization committed to the dream of having currency that all Americans can use safely and independently. Our first job is to educate the public about the positive effects of being able to differentiate between bills without having to look at them. We hope that one day we all will be able to count the money in our wallets more discreetly, no matter who we are or where we are, without the fear of being cheated or robbed.

The U.S. Treasury Department doesn’t have to invent any special technology to make our currency more accessible. In fact, they’ve already done it in roughly 100 countries around the world, including Canada, Great Britain, and the countries of the European Union (see The American dollar is one of the most powerful currencies in the world. We are committed to making it safer and easier for everyone to use.

We are not affiliated with any other organization. We do not actively solicit donations.


In 2002, the American Council of the Blind (ACB) filed a lawsuit against the Treasury Department demanding that U.S. paper money contain features that will enable blind people to independently distinguish between denominations. The government is continuing to fight the suit, claiming that such modifications would be too expensive.

The Treasury protested that this would cost too much because it would require redesigning the currency — but in the meantime, they have spent millions of dollars to redesign nearly all of the denominations in circulation! As the Treasury continues to develop new bill designs with new anti-counterfeiting features, they should include accessibility features useful to blind people, people with dyslexia, and people who work with cash in low light.”

Making design usable by a differently-abled minority (old, young, tall, short, sighted, not, or otherwise physically different) often makes it more usable by all.

>  18 September 2005 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

Captions, Television and its Double

The year 1960 marks a turning point in the history of technology and politics. The Kennedy-Nixon presidential debate was the first to be broadcast live on television. Kennedy’s telegenic composure and appeal is credited with tipping the vote in his favor. In 1960 ninety percent of U.S. households owned a television. For the first time, Americans in 1963 say that they get more of their news from television than newspapers. Television becomes an increasingly important source of information and enormous cultural force in the United States marking the assassination of President Kennedy, the rise of the Beatles, landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth, I Love Lucy, Sesame Street, the Olympics, news of the war in Viet Nam, the Watergate hearings, the Watts riot, Star Trek, and the mini-series Roots. [source]

However, it would be at least another decade before millions of deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans could begin to participate.

From the National Captioning Institute:

Closed Captioned“The first innovators were not thinking about a captioning system for deaf and hard-of-hearing people. In 1970 the [U.S.] National Bureau of Standards began to investigate the possibility of using a portion of the network television signal to send precise time information on a nationwide basis. The Bureau believed that it could send digitally encoded information in a part of the television signal that is not used for picture information. The ABC-TV network agreed to cooperate. This project didn’t work, but ABC suggested that it might be possible to send captions instead.

This led to a preview of captioning at the First National Conference on Television for the Hearing Impaired in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1971. Two possible technologies for captioning television programs were demonstrated that would display the captions only on specially equipped sets for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers.

A second demonstration of closed captioning was held at Gallaudet College on February 15, 1972. ABC and the National Bureau of Standards presented closed captions embedded within the normal broadcast of Mod Squad.

As a result of the enthusiasm these demonstrations created in the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, the National Association of Broadcasters studied the technical and economic factors involved in establishing a captioning service. The Association concluded that this captioning system was technically possible, but certain steps had to be taken before it could become a reality. The federal government then said it would fund the development and testing of this system. The engineering department of the Public Broadcasting System started to work on the project in 1973 under contract to the Bureau of Education for the Handicapped of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW).

While the closed-captioning service was being developed, there were some programs with ‘open’ captions airing on PBS. In 1971, The French Chef became the very first television program that was accessible to deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers. The ABC News was rebroadcast on PBS five hours after its broadcast on ABC-TV. From the time the captioned ABC News was first produced in 1973, it was the only timely newscast accessible to deaf and hard-of-hearing people until NCI’s real-time captioning service started in 1982....

Toward the end of the technical development project at PBS, it became clear that in order to get the cooperation of the commercial television networks, it would be necessary to establish a nonprofit, single-purpose organization to perform this captioning. And so in 1979, HEW announced the creation of the National Captioning Institute. The mission and importance of NCI was clear from the beginning. It was to promote and provide access to television programs for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community through the technology of closed captioning.

On March 16, 1980, NCI broadcast the first, closed-captioned television series. The captions were seen in households that had the first generation of closed caption decoder.

A silence had been broken. For the first time ever, deaf people across America could turn on their television sets — with a caption decoder — and finally understand what they had been missing on television.

The closed-captioned television service was an overnight sensation. Suddenly, thousands of people who had been living in a world of silence could enjoy television programs along with hearing people....

NCI ensured a bright future for closed-captioned television by partnering with ITT Corporation in 1989 to develop the first caption-decoding microchip, which could be built directly into new television sets at the manufacturing stage. This led to the introduction and subsequent passage of the Television Decoder Circuitry Act, which mandated that, by mid-1993, all new television sets 13 inches or larger manufactured for sale in the U.S. must contain caption-decoding technology. Now, millions of people have access to captions with the push of a button on their remote controls.”

From a more recent Captioning FAQ:

“On August 7, 1997, the FCC unanimously approved new regulations which will mandate captioning on virtually all television programming in the United States. Section 305 of the Telecommunication Act of 1996 is being implemented as a new section (Section 713) of the existing Communications Act. On September 17, 1998, the FCC modified their rules, in what can be considered a victory for caption viewers. The ruling took effect on January 1st, 1998, and it phases in requirements separately for ‘old’ and ‘new’ programming.”

Though numerous studies have shown that mixed-case text is easier to read than all uppercase, virtually all captioning in North America is done in uppercase only. The resolution of NCSA television and caption decoders generally results in ugly and illegible lowercase letters.

“[However,] mixed-case text is often used to indicate whispering, and is also often used for text that needs to be set apart, such as comments by an off-screen announcer (voice-over), or sound effects.

Caption decoders and televisions were not required by law to support lowercase letters at all until just a few years ago. There are, therefore, some televisions that will change mixed-case text to all uppercase.” [source]

Now, with the introduction of digital television, the design of the typeface for subtitling is no longer constrained by the technology of analog television.

This new digital environment provides for larger screens, higher screen resolutions, enhanced closed captions, and higher transmission data rates for closed-captioning.

TiresiasEnter Tiresias Screenfont, a typeface for television subtitling designed for maximum legibility. Development of the typeface included extensive user testing with viewers that had a wide range of visual abilities and viewing habits.

The Tiresias Screenfont was originally designed by a team led by Dr. John Gill, Chief Scientist for the Royal National Institute for the Blind.

“The typeface Tiresias Screenfont was originally designed for subtitling on UK digital television in 1998.... It has been specifically designed for screen display and has been adopted by the UK Digital Television Group as the resident font for interactive television. Screenfont is now being adopted for European digital television. Its use is also being considered in the USA.

Tiresias Screenfont has been designed to have characters that are easy to distinguish from each other. The design was carried out, with specific reference to persons with visual impairments, on the philosophy that good design for visually impaired persons is good design for everybody.”

Both font and philosophy have been taken from the television screen and applied to the public terminal, the built environment, and the printed page.

Other variations of Tiresias Screenfont have since been designed, each optimized for a specific purpose:

Tiresias PCfont is a typeface designed to display clearly on screen based systems, such the information displayed on TV monitors on public transport, at airports, railways or ferry terminals. Building societies and banks use screens to display information on cash dispensers. Many governments are now introducing screen-based public information systems in libraries and government offices. Tiresias PCfont makes these services and facilities more accessible.

Tiresias Infofont is designed to improve the legibility of information labels on public access terminals, ticket machines, telephone booths. The characters and letterforms have been designed to provide maximum legibility at a reading distance of around 30 to 100 cm. Infofont is not designed for large quantities of text.

Tiresias Signfont is for fixed (not internally illuminated) signage. The recommended usage is white or yellow characters on a dark background. Tiresias Signfont has a different level of boldness than Screenfont and PCfont, and has more open spacing than conventional type. Signfont is designed to provide maximum readability at longer distances.

Tiresias LPfont is designed for use in large print publications, and to be more legible than the standard typefaces that are currently in large print publications.

The Tiresias family of fonts are available for sale from Bitstream.

Update October 1, 2003: A couple of hard-of-hearing friends have brought up the petition campaigns that they, their friends, and parents participated in. The text above does understate the grassroots campaign.

>  21 September 2003 | LINK | Filed in , , , , , , ,

What is Universal Design?

I was working on an item on Universal Design and realized that I hadn’t actually defined what I was talking about. So from the man who coined the phrase:

“Universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”
— Ron Mace, founder and program director of The Center for Universal Design

Universal design has its roots in demographic, legislative, economic, and social changes among older adults and people with disabilities after World War II.

Here are some general principles for the evaluation of universal design from the Center for Universal Design. These were drafted in 1997 and refer to design in the physical world, though could be applied broadly to electronic interface design.

  1. Equitable Use
    The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.
    1. Provide the same means of use for all users: identical whenever possible; equivalent when not.
    2. Avoid segregating or stigmatizing any users.
    3. Provisions for privacy, security, and safety should be equally available to all users.
    4. Make the design appealing to all users.

  2. Flexibility in Use
    The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
    1. Provide choice in methods of use.
    2. Accommodate right- or left-handed access and use.
    3. Facilitate the user’s accuracy and precision.
    4. Provide adaptability to the user’s pace.

  3. Simple and Intuitive Use
    Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.
    1. Eliminate unnecessary complexity.
    2. Be consistent with user expectations and intuition.
    3. Accommodate a wide range of literacy and language skills.
    4. Arrange information consistent with its importance.
    5. Provide effective prompting and feedback during and after task completion.

  4. Perceptible Information
    The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.
    1. Use different modes (pictorial, verbal, tactile) for redundant presentation of essential information.
    2. Provide adequate contrast between essential information and its surroundings.
    3. Maximize “legibility” of essential information.
    4. Differentiate elements in ways that can be described (i.e., make it easy to give instructions or directions).
    5. Provide compatibility with a variety of techniques or devices used by people with sensory limitations.

  5. Tolerance for Error
    The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
    1. Arrange elements to minimize hazards and errors: most used elements, most accessible; hazardous elements eliminated, isolated, or shielded.
    2. Provide warnings of hazards and errors.
    3. Provide fail safe features.
    4. Discourage unconscious action in tasks that require vigilance.

  6. Low Physical Effort
    The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.
    1. Allow user to maintain a neutral body position.
    2. Use reasonable operating forces.
    3. Minimize repetitive actions.
    4. Minimize sustained physical effort.

  7. Size and Space for Approach and Use
    Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user’s body size, posture, or mobility.
    1. Provide a clear line of sight to important elements for any seated or standing user.
    2. Make reach to all components comfortable for any seated or standing user.
    3. Accommodate variations in hand and grip size.
    4. Provide adequate space for the use of assistive devices or personal assistance.

“Please note that the Principles of Universal Design address only universally usable design, while the practice of design involves more than consideration for usability. Designers must also incorporate other considerations such as economic, engineering, cultural, gender, and environmental concerns in their design processes. These Principles offer designers guidance to better integrate features that meet the needs of as many users as possible.”

In 1998, Ron Mace delivered his final public speech at the first international conference on universal design. He discussed the differences between assistive technology, barrier-free and universal design:

Barrier-free design is what we used to call the issue of access. It is predominantly a disability-focused movement. Removing architectural barriers through the building codes and regulations is barrier-free design. The [Americans with Disabilities Act] Standards are barrier-free design because they focus on disability and accommodating people with disabilities in the environment. In fact, the ADA is the now the issue of access in this country.

So, what is the difference between barrier-free and universal? ADA is the law, but the accessibility part, the barrier-free design part, is only a portion of that law. This part, however, is the most significant one for design because it mandates what we can do and facilitates the promotion of universal design. But, it is important to realize and remember that ADA is not universal design. I hear people mixing it up, referring to ADA and universal design as one in the same. This is not true.

Universal design broadly defines the user. It’s a consumer market driven issue. Its focus is not specifically on people with disabilities, but all people. It actually assumes the idea, that everybody has a disability and I feel strongly that that’s the case. We all become disabled as we age and lose ability, whether we want to admit it or not. It is negative in our society to say “I am disabled” or “I am old.” We tend to discount people who are less than what we popularly consider to be “normal.” To be “normal” is to be perfect, capable, competent, and independent. Unfortunately, designers in our society also mistakenly assume that everyone fits this definition of “normal.” This just is not the case.

Assistive technology to me is really personal use devices—those things focused on the individual—things that compensate or help one function with a disability. Many of you wear eyeglasses because you have limited sight. The assistive technology is your eyeglasses. We could legitimately say that everybody who wears eyeglasses has a disability.”

This is a good starting point, but I read in these principles a disconnect between designer and user. The user is not a part of the design process except as an object of measurement — a consumer rather than a participant. If universal design is intended to be usable by all people without the need for adaptation or specialized design, a more participatory and inclusive design process seems to be one useful way of achieving this. I’ve not yet found a handy list of such principles for the development of universal design.

Also as noted in the conclusion to the principles, these focus on physical interaction and do not address the physical life span of the design or its existence in the broader cultural world. Usability through degradation and reuse fall partially under “sustainable design.” The cultural context, though, surely shapes legibility, user assumptions, and what is considered normative just as much as the physical context.

As Mark Robbins, former NEA Design Director, said on the promotion of universal design principles:

“Central to universal design is a developing awareness of difference that questions normative standards. The sense of what is the norm needs to change.”

Simply put, underlying the principles of interaction listed above is another basic principle. From Leslie Weisman:

“Architects and planners have traditionally defined the ‘user,’ or the ‘public’ in the case of urban planning, in very narrow terms. Rather than recognizing the vast array of ages, cultures, and lifestyles that use buildings and public spaces and that actually exist in communities, architecture and planning theory has been based on a conception of the ‘user/citizen’ that is inherently masculine, and a ‘public’ that tends to be made up of middle-class white people living in nuclear families. So when architects and planners attend to the provision of housing, transportation, and community services, they have tended to design and plan for only a small segment of the population, thereby creating many problems for the ever-increasing numbers of people who do not fit into this assumed definition and life pattern.”

Universal design is vehicle for promoting social equality and justice, environmental sustainability, and human health and well-being. This is as not just design for equal use, but for unemcumberbed participation in everyday life, and in public life. This is design for democrcacy.

>  19 August 2003 | LINK | Filed in , , , ,


ISO logoThe International Organization for Standardization is an international non-governmental organization that coordinates the development of voluntary technical standards.

ISO is a network of the national standards institutes of 146 countries with a Central Secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland, that coordinates the system. National standards institutes, not governments themselves, are eligible for membership. Each country sends only one member, and each member has one vote.

The ISO does not regulate or legislate. It’s standards are developed by international consensus among “experts drawn from the industrial, technical and business sectors... experts from government, regulatory authorities, testing bodies, academia, consumer groups or other relevant bodies.”

“There are more than 2,850 of working groups in which some 30,000 experts participate annually. This technical work is coordinated from ISO Central Secretariat in Geneva, which also publishes the standards.

Since 1947, ISO has published more than 13,500 International Standards. ISO’s work programme ranges from standards for traditional activities, such as agriculture and construction, through mechanical engineering to the newest information technology developments, such as the digital coding of audio-visual signals for multimedia applications.

Standardization of screw threads helps to keep chairs, children’s bicycles and aircraft together and solves the repair and maintenance problems caused by a lack of standardization that were once a major headache for manufacturers and product users. Standards establishing an international consensus on terminology make technology transfer easier and can represent an important stage in the advancement of new technologies.

Without the standardized dimensions of freight containers, international trade would be slower and more expensive. Without the standardization of telephone and banking cards, life would be more complicated. A lack of standardization may even affect the quality of life itself: for the disabled, for example, when they are barred access to consumer products, public transport and buildings because the dimensions of wheelchairs and entrances are not standardized.

Standardized symbols provide danger warnings and information across linguistic frontiers. Consensus on grades of various materials give a common reference for suppliers and clients in business dealings.

Agreement on a sufficient number of variations of a product to meet most current applications allows economies of scale with cost benefits for both producers and consumers. An example is the standardization of paper sizes.” [source]

The internatinoal technical standards also include international safety standards for products including toys (ISO 8124-1:2000), camping tents (ISO 5912:1993), bicycles (ISO 4210:1996), and contraceptive devices (ISO 8009).

In 1987, the ISO expanded to develop “generic management system standards.” ISO 9000 is set of a quality management guidelines that apply to all kinds of organizations in all kinds of areas. Once the a quality system is in place, an accredited external auditor can certify that your quality system has met all of ISO’s requirements. They can then issue official certification that you can use to publicize that the quality of your products and services is managed, controlled, and assured by a registered ISO 9000 quality system.

ISO 7001

ISO 7001ISO 7001, “Graphical symbols for use on public information signs,” is a set of international symbols based on the “ISOTYPE” system of icons and pictograms introduced by Otto Neurath in the 1936. However, soon after the 7001 was published, it was determined that the standard international symbols did not have a standard meaning or clarity in every country. Published in 1989 and revised in 2001, ISO 9186 is a procedure for user testing of graphic symbols to determine which symbols communicate the intended meaning most readily to most people. There are two main test methods: a comprehensibility judgment test and a comprehension test. [source] Pictograms with exceptionally high comprehensibility in several countries can eventually become part of the ISO 7001 set.

ISO 13407 “Human centred design processes for interactive systems” provide guidelines for the planning and management of usability testing in the development of computer systems.

In 1993, the ISO established a technical committee, ISO/TC 207 to develop standards for “Environmental management.”

“This move was a concrete manifestation of ISO’s commitment to respond to the complex challenge of “sustainable development” articulated at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. It also stemmed from an intensive consultation process, carried out within the framework of the Strategic Advisory Group on Environment (SAGE). SAGE was set up in 1991 and brought together representatives of a variety of countries and international organizations — a total of more than 100 environmental experts — who helped to define how International Standards could support better environmental management.

Today, national delegations of environmental experts from 66 countries participate within ISO/TC 207, including 27 developing countries. In addition, 35 international non-governmental and business organizations participate as liaison organizations. The national delegations are chosen by the national standards institute concerned and they are required to bring to ISO/TC 207 a national consensus on issues being addressed by the technical committee. This national consensus is derived from a process of consultation with interested parties in each country.” [source]

The committee works in hand with ISO/TC 176, which develops the ISO 9000 family of standards for quality management and quality assurance.

“ISO 14000 refers to a series of voluntary standards in the environmental field under development by ISO. Included in the ISO 14000 series are the ISO 14001 EMS Standard and other standards in fields such as environmental auditing, environmental performance evaluation, environmental labeling, and life-cycle assessment. The EMS and auditing standards are now final. The others are in various stages of development.” [source]

ISO 14001 certification remains valid for three years and requires audits performed at least annually.

While U.S. environmental regulations do not apply outside of U.S. territory, ISO 14001 applies to all of your operations:

“Perhaps the most significant factor accelerating ISO 14001 compliance is the ever-increasing globalization that characterizes the auto industry. More and more, auto manufacturing is mirroring airplane manufacturing: parts and components might be manufactured anywhere, and assembly might occur anywhere.

This means that a single automaker can have multiple facilities all over the world, under the same corporate umbrella, which require a consistent EMS and measurable results in order to operate competitively. ISO 14001 is one of the best ways to ensure that these needs are met.” [source]

UPDATE: See my August 5, 2003 blog post ISO 14001 Reconsidered.

>  24 June 2003 | LINK | Filed in , , , , , , ,

Images of Universal Design

“[In 1996,] the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Building Museum sponsored the first national search and collection of images showing examples of universal design excellence in the fields of architecture, graphic design, industrial design, interior design and landscape architecture. This collection was completed in September of 1996 and is intended to encourage and assist universal design by providing examples that can be used in design practice and education. The jury selected images feature and credit the work of designers who are reaching beyond compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act to create products and environments that are usable by people with the broadest possible range of abilities throughout their lifespan.”

The project was managed by Universal Designers and Consultants of Takoma Park, MD. The list of winners links to four project profiles: links to four others:

Read the introduction for an overview of universal design principles and the project selection process.

>  1 October 2002 | LINK | Filed in , ,

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