We have seen drastic improvements and advancements in the accessibility of computer software over the last two decades. The first generation of computer software saw their designs make several assumptions including:
- all users could read screen displays
- all users could hear and react to sounds from computing devices
- all users could use standard keyboards and other input devices
Subsequent designs addressed these assumptions through the use of screen reading aids, alternative input devices, comprehension software, voice recognition software, and screen magnification.
These adaptive techniques have continued to evolve over the years. It has recently been proven that they seem to address the problems faced by the users with physical, visual and hearing impairments. However, the truth is we all suffer situational disabilities. Fatigue from working overtime, a fracture, vision problems from poor, or too much light are all temporary disabilities. The need to address these problems through software design arises. It means that software should be designed for all of us. We need to redefine who accessible solutions are for.
Read on to see how we can redesign software from the UX perspective so that we all benefit from accessible solutions.
The current situation
Software developers need to be more empathetic and understanding of the users to develop accessible solutions for all of them. As a software developer, you need to understand the different disabilities, identities, and attitudes of the users when designing software. It would be best if you focus on their aptitudes, various limitations (whether situational, short-term or permanent), the application of the software, the usage of the software (whether it is to be used for long or short periods) and any assistive technology that might be needed.
Software developers and vendors have made use of adaptive devices and applications that allow all users to perform basic and complex functionalities of software with ease. Some of these include:
- Voice recognition applications – allow speaking to a computer to simulate typing or selecting using a mouse.
- Screen magnification applications – allow a person with low vision to view a computer screen with ease.
- Screen reading applications – read the text that is displayed on a screen. They are also called text-to-speech applications.
- Comprehension software – manipulate text on the screen to enable the users with learning difficulties to see and hear the text.
- Alternate input devices – the alternatives to a mouse and keyboard.
The adaptive technologies have majorly been developed around these issues. Many computer programs today are very visual. They pose challenges to the users with visual impairments, and this need not be the case. These users currently use the following ways to access and use software:
- Magnification: this entails enlarging the display on a screen. It helps the visually impaired users to view parts of a text or the whole block of the display while easily following the current focus. Computer programs and software make use of high contrast themes and the ability to filter content through different color pallets.
- Braille: braille technology has evolved from the hard copy made from braille embossers to refreshable braille display technology. This involves the use of software to translate text to braille.
- Text-to-speech: users with visual impairments and learning difficulties make use of these talking programs to access software. The users with difficulties in speech can use this technology in place of their own voice. This is a technology that could be used to access software by all users, to enhance comprehension and usage of computer software.
Some users are not able to use the standard keyboards and mouse to get information into a computer. They use alternative ways to enter data into the computer. Software developers deploy the use of speech recognition technologies, sticky keys, and hotkeys to enable them to input data into computer programs and software.
The current state of software accessibility fails to comprehensively address the need for all users to access software with ease. The Web Content Accessibility Guideline provides three levels that measure the accessibility of software and other digital services. The levels are:
- A: this is the bare minimum level that indicates that software is cognizant of disabled users and that it offers a basic level of access to these users.
- AA: this is the second level that shows that software recognizes that there are disabled software users and addresses the challenges faced by these users while interacting with the software
- AAA: this is the third and most advanced level of software accessibility. This level encompasses designs that are friendly and easy to use for all software users, despite their disability.
Software designs have evolved from command line interfaces to graphical user interfaces. The design of graphical user interfaces was a significant breakthrough in the accessibility and usability of the software.
Continuous assessments of software designs found that disabled users had not been considered in many designs. This led to the development of adaptive devices and technologies that help users in accessing software and other digital services.
The latest use of UX in software development shows that software accessibility is for everyone.
This article shows the current state of software accessibility and how it evolved in the last two decades. It explains what needs to be considered when designing software for every user to be comfortable using any software.