WUD 2009 at MSU recap

Yesterday’s World Usability Day event at Michigan State University was good—but a little odd.

The morning sessions were spot-on, and some of the afternoon talks were good as well. However, it was clear that some panelists didn’t understand their audience of usability and accessibility practitioners. Their talks were still interesting, but they didn’t understand the user experience industry’s take on words like “accessibility” and “sustainability,” which was this year’s theme.

So, here’s a quick recap.

Assistive Technology Expo

I attended the Assistive Technology Expo in the morning. I posted yesterday about comments regarding CAPTCHAs gleaned from that talk.

The two presenters work in the technology field providing technology support for people with various disabilities and are themselves blind. They demonstrated how they use screen readers to accomplish various tasks online, like checking the weather, tuning into a football game streamed online, checking stocks, buying groceries, and buying a computer.

I appreciate observing and listening to people with disabilities who use the Internet, because it helps counter what I know about the technology with what is clear about people. That is, people adapt and make things work to the best of their ability. These two presenters were gracious about technology-related problems that I know many sighted people would be upset with. They also pointed out that most websites are at some level usable by them, but of course they prefer ones that are more accessible. We did see a number of examples where they simply wouldn’t have been able to overcome some technical roadblocks without significant additional effort.

One part of the presentation included them showcasing how they use an iPhone. An accessibility feature on the iPhone causes a single tap on the touch screen to say the name of the application (or letter if it is the keypad), while the double-tap will activate it. So, they have audible feedback to find the function they need, plus the capability to then activate it. This seemed to work very well for them.

Another point made during the session is that these assistive technologies like screen readers and electronic braille devices are quite expensive. Some screen reader programs are more expensive than the cost of the computer itself. However, the presenters voiced hope because the prices are coming down. They cited Apple shipping Macs that have built-in accessibility features at zero additional cost. Also, for Windows, there are some screen reader programs that are only a few hundred dollars.

Special Session: Contemporary Issues of IT in the Sustainable Global Knowledge Economy

This panel session had presenters on the topics of:

  • delivering broadband across the state of Michigan even to rural areas (George Boersma)
  • ITEC, a center in Lansing that provides after-school programs to help youth learn about technology, science and math (Kirk Riley)
  • IT accessibility (Sharron Rush)
  • global knowledge economy (Mark Wilson)

All the presenters were well-spoken and interesting. Sharron Rush seemed to be the one presenter that is part of the usability and accessibility profession, though the others shared important information and perspectives.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to provide more details on these presentations.

Hybrid Technology for a Sustainable Future

Shane Shulze of Ford Motor Company presented information on what Ford has been working on in regard to battery powered cars. His talk was focused on battery technology, and it was interesting to see the audience’s response.

One participant spoke up and asked about how these new cars will address the safety issues with quiet-running cars. Shane’s answer was that Ford is aware of the issue. I suppose we can look to future prototypes to see how what they do with this issue. (From a UX perspective, I think that is a really interesting question: what are the design concerns in regards to the volume and appropriateness of the audio.)

e-Government Services for a Sustainable County

Salina Washington of Oakland County and Constantinos Coursaris of Michigan State University presented on how Oakland County has transformed their delivery of services to citizens of Oakland County with the eGov department of the county government.

This presentation was inspiring. We know that good, usable technology can improve service delivery and decrease costs, but this was an actual example of that happening.

The take-away from this was that when faced with a challenge, like a massive cut in budget, instead of going the traditional route of laying people off, think creatively and as a group come up with ideas on decreasing costs and making the most of the resources that each part of the government agency uses.

Sustainability and Agility: UX Designs for Eforms

John Rivard spoke about integrating UX and Agile development at a bank. He shared examples of their workflow, like work-ahead, follow-behind. This was also an excellent presentation and it seems that the way John is working is similar to how we operate at Covenant Eyes.

That’s all folks

All-in-all, it was a good day with some unexpected, but enjoyable talks. Good job to the organizers from the MSU Usability & Accessibility Center! Also, check out Tom Schult’z posts on his blog.

WUD: captcha problems discussed in assistive tech expo

Tom Schultz and I are at the World Usability Day event hosted by Michigan State University today. We sat in a session this morning that focused on a demonstration and discussion of assistive technologies.

An interesting point in the discussion was that problems with CAPTCHAs for people with visual  impairments. One of the presenters went through a process at the DELL website, selected a computer and went to purchase it, but on the way to checking out, he had to pass a CAPTCHA that asked him to enter the characters he sees in the image into a text box.

Of course the problem was that he could not see the image and there was no alternative available. No sale.

Someone else brought up Google’s use of audio as an alternative to the visual CAPTCHA, but the presenters pointed out that for someone who has both visual and hearing impairments, this is still insufficient.

(You can try the audio CAPTCHA on the first page of the sign up page for Blogger. Try it out!)

They pointed out that a CAPTCHA that used reasoning could be a more accessible approach, and another idea was to send an email to verify that the agent is, in fact, a human (that’s the point of a CAPTCHA).

I’ll probably post another update from this conference later.