Hear no, see no, techno

Last week I attended Camp Digital, in the beautiful Town Hall of Manchester.

It was your usual digital conference. Your usual crowd. But, today I saw a talk that has changed the way I think about websites and service design forever.

By now, 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, and columns should stack when the viewport becomes narrow.

We know the fonts need to scale on mobile devices, and that we may need to include higher resolution images for retina displays.

We have this all figured out. But, we still assume people are always using the same devices we use and seeing the site the way that we see it.

Accessibility matters

'Hear no, see no, techno', was an inspiring talk I attended by the incredible Molly Watt.

Molly spoke about how technology allows her to interact with the world and the web, despite the small barrier of being both blind and deaf!

Molly was born with Usher Syndrome. She was born deaf, then became almost completely blind due to retinitis pigmentosa.

In the past, this would have made a lot of tasks impossible. But, here she stood, strong, independent, and educating us on how to do better.

She delivered an amazing talk, interacting with the audience through the use of cochlear implants, which stream the audio straight into her head by converting sound waves into electrical impulses to stimulate the auditory nerve.

She also wears an Apple Watch, and uses haptic feedback to navigate the city. Something as simple as making the watch vibrate to indicate whether its time to turn left or right seems so simple, but it's something most people, myself included, would overlook.

Molly talked about things that are often not on a designers radar. For example, can you change the colours or the contrast of your website? Can you change the font size? The answer is probably not, unless it involves opening the stylesheet.

Infinity scrolling is a damaging trend

Another thing I found fascinating was something as simple as a twitter widget. Twitter uses 'infinite scrolling', which means as you're scrolling and you approach 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, because it is called 'infinite scrolling', you could be seven years deep in somebodies twitter feed by the time you get out!

Doing better

I originally posted this on my old inaccessible WordPress blog. But thanks to Molly I've made some changes. I plan to learn as much about accessibility as I can, so that I no longer disable people through bad design.

As designers we often focus too much on making things look pretty. Instead, we should be making them available to everyone!

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