Five trends in accessibility and inclusive design

  • Author: Tim Lohman
  • Date: 22 May 2014

Accessible user experience, more agile standards, voice-based user interfaces, embedded assistive technology, and fewer accessibility-related legal challenges will be major trends in the accessibility and inclusive design space in the years to come.

That’s the view of The Paciello Group’s Mike Paciello. Speaking at the Inclusive Design 24 web event to mark Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), Paciello said he expected accessible user experience, or AUX, would become “the new accessibility”.

“Over the years, when you think about it, it's amazing how many advances we've made in things like accessible coding, the HTML level, Java script level… we have achieved phenomenal areas of compliance just from that level,” he said. “We have done a good job in many aspects of validation, whether it's in the deliverance services and tools, or quality assurance from that standpoint.

“[But] the area that I believe we are seeing grow, and it's certainly one that needs, frankly, maturity, is user experience. In this case, accessible user experience.”

Another major trend in the coming years would be the emergence of more agile standards that could better cope with the rapid pace of technological change.

“The time has come for agile standards,” Paciello said. “We want standards now; we don't want to wait a decade for them to come.

“This is not meant to accuse or find fault with, but the fact of the matter is, one of the main reasons why our field is so far behind in terms of standards and development, so far behind mainstream technology, is because our own standards environment can't keep up with, has not kept up with the technology standards the rest of the world is being driven by.”

Voice-driven user interfaces, or voice I/O (input/output), would also become increasingly common in smartphones, PCs and other devices in coming years, Paciello said. To a large degree, these would overtake the touch, gesture and haptic-driven interfaces of current generation devices.

“I think as we start to look at the maturity of user interfaces and where things have been and where they are going, it seems quite clear that we are moving closer and closer to a voice I/O (input/output) interface,” he said.

“Right now we are still in the throes of what we have been experiencing and playing with over the last few years, the haptics, the touch paradigm and user interface, but already these things are becoming obsolete in terms of where things are going in the labs.

“It wouldn't surprise if these very changes, and this move to a voice I/O interface, as a complete paradigm shift could in fact replace common ATs (assistive technologies), like screen readers, to a certain degree, parts and portions of screen magnifiers, but in and of itself, a voice I/O dependent paradigm and user interface will also present challenges for other disabilities.”

Software-based assistive technology, such as stand-alone screen readers, would also increasingly be surpassed by assistive features embedded at the operating system level, Paciello said. This could already be seen with Apple and VoiceOver, Microsoft and GW Micro, and with apps such as Google’s Talkback.

“I really do believe that it will only be a short period of time where most of the traditional software technologies we use, that …will be woven right into the heart of the operating system, the operating environment of the technologies' hardware telecommunications and across platforms, including the browsers,” Paciello said.

“There won't be any area that will be left undone. It will make things, for example, like interoperability, much easier. We are not going to have to deal with that constant fighting, if you will, worrying that goes on between traditional AT companies and the software companies.”

The final trend likely to emerge in the coming years was that of fewer accessibility-related lawsuits in favour of the reinvention of accessibility as a business opportunity or market differentiator, Paciello said.

“Frankly, we would be hard pressed to say [lawsuits don’t] work. [They do] work. But the reality of what it does is it creates, I think, a larger barrier,” he said. “It creates the antipathy that often exists between consumer and users and corporations and industry and technologists.

“Fear-based incentives don't really work. They cause anger, they cause the very mind set the industry has, that they are in the business of compliance, means they have to, which means accessibility is perceived merely as the cost of doing business, as a — rather than leveraging it, as we would like to see it — business opportunity. A business value proposition.”