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Facilitating The Development Of Cross-disability Accessible Products: The Product Design/Interface Evaluation Toolkit

Joseph Schauer, Kitch Barnicle, Gregg C. Vanderheiden Ph.D.
Trace Research and Development Center
5901 Research Park Blvd
Madison, WI 53719
Email: schauer@trace.wisc.edu

Increasingly, companies are facing the need to make their products accessible to a broader range of users. The objective of this project is to create a Toolkit to assist designers and manufacturers in maximizing the accessibility of their products. The Toolkit will allow designers to (1) identify access issues and browse through strategies and ideas for making designs more accessible; (2) see examples of accessible design in products currently available; (3) review a design for accessibility; (4) find further information on various topics; and (5) find components that could be used in accessible designs.

Background We look to technology to open doors and increase opportunities. Yet, at the same time, technology can create barriers that prevent individuals with disabilities from capitalizing on these new opportunities. If technology is to be of benefit to all potential users, then all users must be considered throughout the development phase. For users with disabilities, that means that accessibility concepts must be in place early and throughout the development process.

While some companies have moved forward in this regard, most have been slow to recognize the consumers' need for accessible design. Even when companies have been made aware of accessibility issues, many lack the expertise required to build accessibility features into their products and to evaluate those features from the perspective of users with disabilities.

Yet, the need for information on accessible design will only increase. Federal legislation has been introduced in recent years that will raise industry awareness and require that manufacturers become actively involved in accessible design. In 1999 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted rules to implement Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (http://www.fcc.gov/dtf). These rules require manufacturers of telecommunications and customer premises equipment to ensure that equipment is designed, developed, and fabricated to be accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, if readily achievable.

In addition, the Federal procurement process is being revised to strengthen the government's commitment to buying electronic and information technologies that are accessible. Companies that wish to sell electronic and information technology to Federal agencies will have to take new steps to ensure that their products are accessible to people with disabilities as outlined in section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998 (http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/508/508home.html).

In early 2000, the U.S. Access Board is scheduled to release standards for Section 508 based on the recommendations of the Electronic and Information Technology Access Advisory Committee (EITAAC) (http://www.access-board.gov/pubs/eitaacrpt.htm); within 6 months of this release the Federal procurement processes should be updated to take these standards into account.

These Federal requirements, together with market forces (such as the aging population), are increasing the pressure for manufacturers of electronic products to make their products accessible. More and more companies are asking for readily available, easy-to-access, authoritative and focused information that can help them efficiently address accessibility issues.

To better assist industry with the complex task of creating more accessible products, we looked at many questions and issues, including:

What is the most practical way of gathering information and presenting it to designers? How can we help the designer discover the accessibility issues relevant to a particular product design? How can we best illustrate techniques that can be implemented to improve the accessibility of a product? How can we most effectively guide the designer and facilitate the design process? How can we take advantage of current technology to make this information both easily accessible and manageable? Product Design / Interface Evaluation Toolkit

To address these questions and support designers in the process of developing accessible and usable products, we have begun development of a web-based Product Design / Interface Evaluation Toolkit. The objective of the Toolkit is to help designers:

find resources for additional or more in depth information on related topics, find strategies and solutions for making designs more accessible, review examples of accessible design in products currently available, find out where to purchase selected product components that promote accessibility, and review the accessibility of a product or feature This Toolkit will consist of the following five components.

Resource Library
Design Ideas Browser
Exemplar Portfolio
Accessible Component Database
Evaluation Instrument

Resource Library Many excellent resources exist that are relevant to the topic of accessible design including standards, design strategies, research, laws and regulations, and guidelines. However, these resources are scattered, hard to identify, and often not formally published. Designers, facing limited resources, rarely have the time to find and gather such resources.

The Resource Library is a fully searchable bibliographic database containing references to background documents, summative documents, underlying research papers, training materials, and other materials or resources relating to the design of products to make them usable by a more diverse population. It brings together in a single database, references to topics which include Universal Design and Ergonomics, Standards and Guidelines, Telecommunications, Computer Access, Disability Statistics, and Laws and Regulations, among others. These topics are covered by a wide range of materials including books, journal articles, chapters, meeting notes, working papers, conference papers, and videotapes.

Many entries include links to extended information such as an abstract and information on where the item can be found or purchased. If a resource is available in electronic form, and we have permission to make it available to Library users, that resource item is placed on-line or linked to at its home site.

Product Design Ideas Browser Despite the existence of many different guidelines that offer recommendations for making accessible products, few mainstream products are considered to be accessible today. Although there are many contributing factors, one barrier that has been reported in the application of these guidelines is that designers must search through too much information, much of it not relevant to their specific needs, and not organized in a way that makes it easy to use. The time and cost involved in tracking down relevant, precise information can preclude many organizations and companies from seriously embracing accessible design during the development process.

The Product Design Ideas Browser is meant to provide easy access to guidelines, strategies and techniques that are responsive to the needs of designers and consumers. This is accomplished in a number of ways. The Ideas Browser is organized around topics that are relevant to specific constituencies. For example, for the telecommunications industry, we have organized the information in a manner consistent with the FCC Telecommunications Act Guidelines; and for Federal Government purchasers and vendors the information in the Ideas Browser will be organized around the EITAAC guidelines. In this manner, the particular target group or industry can review the strategies and ideas in a way that is most relevant to their unique challenges and specific needs. In addition, the information will be in a form that they will already be familiar with because they must deal with those regulations in the normal course of their work.

Within each topic the Browser provides specific ideas that designers can review as they design their product. Guidelines, strategies, and recommendations published in the field of accessible design were reviewed in order to generate the list of ideas offered in each section. These guidelines and recommendations were collected, categorized and condensed to into a format that will make it easier for designers to find specific ideas. As new guidelines are published, they will be added to the Toolkit.

In addition to strategies and ideas, the Browser contains resource sections with supporting information that can be easily accessed or passed over as needed by the user. These sections include:

Access Issues: The Access Issues section describes the accessibility issue surrounding a given topic and describes real life situations where product users with disabilities are confronted with access barriers. This information helps the designer with little disability experience or knowledge to get a better understanding of the issues and challenges the design must address.

Analysis: The Analysis section provides an "expert" analysis of the accessibility issues that pertain to a particular guideline or topic. This information is intended to provide designers with little experience in accessible design with a "big picture" perspective.

Examples: This section highlights features and products from the Exemplar Portfolio (see below) that address the specific accessibility issues related to the guideline. In order to best illustrate the product or feature, examples are presented in the form of pictures, text or multimedia.

Exemplar Portfolio The Exemplar Portfolio includes examples of products that distinguish themselves from other products in the area of accessible design. This component is meant to show designers how other commercial products have successfully incorporated accessible features into their design. Showing designers that accessible designs are possible and commercially viable can be much more effective then just telling a designer that he or she must make a product accessible. Users will be able to "tour" the collection of exemplars, which will be organized by product category (e.g. phones, pagers) and accessibility features.

Accessible Component Database The fourth component of the Product Design / Interface Evaluation Toolkit is the Accessible Component Database. This database will include contact information or direct links to manufacturers or vendors of products, parts and services that may be of use to designers. Products and services in the Component Database might include such things as handsets with built in volume control for use with kiosks and ATMs, captioning or audio description services, or commercial braille services.

Evaluation Instrument The fifth and final component of the Product Design / Interface Evaluation Toolkit is the Evaluation Instrument. The Evaluation instrument will help both designers and purchasers evaluate the accessibility of a product. The Evaluation Instrument, still in the concept stage, is envisioned as an on-line interactive tool that will query users about specific aspects of the product under review and point out aspects of the product design that may be problematic to users with disabilities.

Conclusion The Product Design / Interface Evaluation Toolkit puts background information, design ideas, examples of accessible products, and relevant contact information in a central location that is easily accessible to product designers. By making all of these resources available in a single location, the Toolkit can provide support to designers recently introduced to the concept of accessible design as well as to designers who currently practice accessible design but need to be kept up-to-date on newly developed design techniques. In addition, the Toolkit can serve as a resource to other organizations and individuals interested in accessible design including, consumers with disabilities and their advocates, federal regulators, researchers and purchasing agents.

Significant progress has been made on the Product Design / Interface Evaluation Toolkit. Initial versions of two of the five components, the Resource Library and the Product Design Idea Browser, are currently available on-line (http://trace.wisc.edu/world/tool_nav.html). The Exemplar Portfolio and Accessible Component Database are scheduled to go on-line in 2000, followed by the Evaluation Instrument in 2001. Development plans call for field tests of the Toolkit so that we can determine if the structure, format and content of the Toolkit are truly meeting the needs of product designers. Comments and suggestions are always welcome.

Until universal and accessible design practices are fully incorporated into the research and trade literature, textbooks, and undergraduate and graduate curriculums, designers who wish to develop products that are usable by the full range of users will need access to information on accessible design. The goal of the Product Design / Interface Evaluation Toolkit is to help provide comprehensive and convenient access to that information.

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