Hear no, see no, techno

Last week I attended Camp Digital, in the beautiful Town Hall of Manchester. It was your usual digital conference, and your usual crowd; but today I saw a talk that has hopefully changed the way I think about websites and service design forever.

We all know websites have to be responsive. They have to be malleable so that they look crisp and well laid out on all devices. We know the font size needs to increase for mobile devices, and that columns should stack when the viewport becomes narrow. We think we have this all figured out. But the problem with assuming, is that we think all of these people are using the devices we use and seeing the site the way that we see it.

Hear no, see no, techno‘, was an inspiring talk by the incredible Molly Watt, about how technology allows blind and deaf people to interact with the world and the web. Molly was born with Usher Syndrome, leaving her deaf. As if this was not challenging enough, in adolescence she became almost completely blind due to retinitis pigmentosa. But here she stood, strong and independent, delivering this amazing talk and interacting with the audience through the use of digital hearing aids.

Molly began to talk about things that are often not on a designers scope. Can the contrast of the website be changed? Can the colours be changed? Can the font size be changed? The answer is probably not; unless it involves opening the stylesheet.

Another issue was something as simple as a twitter widget. Twitter uses ‘infinite scrolling’, which means by the time you reach the bottom, it loads in more tweets. This is fine you are able to click away from the widget and continue your interaction with the site. But what if you’re trying to tab through the content using a keyboard. Every time you tab down a tweet, it loads in another one, and as it is called ‘infinite scrolling’, you could be seven years deep in somebodies twitter feed by the time you get out!

I realise the hypocrisy of publishing this post on my non-accessible WordPress blog. But at least I have had my eyes opened to these kinds of challenges, and can begin to implement some design changes in future! Perhaps as designers we often focus too much on making things look pretty, instead of making them available to everyone.

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Hi, I'm Craig, and I'm an Interaction Designer at the Department For Work and Pensions.

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