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Ladies That UX – Designing Mobile Experiences for Everyone

We attended the Ladies That UX September event last night, a brilliant chance for women working in User Experience or related roles to meet, network and discuss particular topics relevant to the industry.

The topic of the evening was “Designing Mobile Experiences for Everyone” – in this case the idea that some users will have disabilities that aren’t obvious, so how to ensure that their needs are also met when designing a mobile app. We heard from a selection of ladies with various “hidden” disabilities, from dyslexia to partial sight problems, Multiple Sclerosis and deafness.

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Introductions were given by the delightful Katherine Moonan (@ladymoonan) – an accessibility consultant – who began by explaining that whilst this talk would not be a fully comprehensive breakdown of how to incorporate accessibility, it would be a call to action to inspire designers to engage with people with disabilities more.

She highlighted the “vicious circle of poor accessibility” where people with disabilities are not perceived as users of products due to inaccessibility, they are then not engaged in research, products are not designed with disabilities in mind, resulting in more inaccessible products or services.

LTUX

When doing the user research and testing you may find that you are already talking to people who may have a hidden disability – it’s all about asking the right questions. Additionally, to alleviate any concerns budget holders may have, Katherine pointed out this isn’t necessarily something that will cost, it can be done on a budget through social media, accessible survey software such as UserZoom and Survey Monkey, or even through a Skype or phone call. However it’s important to be discreet – not everyone will be comfortable opening up about their disabilities, so they need to be in an environment where they feel safe, and know that their information will be kept private if requested.

“The earlier accessibility needs are considered, the more it will benefit users”

The BBC recommends that for every 8 people in a sample group, 1-2 of these should be people with disabilities.

 

Next we heard from a selection of ladies with various hidden disabilities, who explained the difficulties they face, and then gave examples of the apps they found worked for them, and which ones didn’t.

A common theme across the board was issues with passwords. Almost all of the ladies mentioned that they struggled to remember passwords, especially when every app had a different requirement for the number of characters, inclusion of special symbols or numbers.

Added to this the fact that many apps will make you sign in to use them every time you go back to it, it’s easy to see why some users would struggle. Len, who suffers from MS, told us that she has recently developed concentration issues – within the space of minutes she is likely to forget a series of letters and numbers, meaning that having to log in again every time she exits and re-enters an app would be a likely reason for her to just stop using it all together.

Another common problem is visibility. Sarah and Andrea both mentioned that they struggle to see certain colours or fonts on a white background, and are frustrated by chunks of long, small text. Andrea pointed out that it is sometimes simply a case of contrast – making sure that text-input boxes are outlined in a way that makes them obvious they’re there, rather than a white box on a white background with only a shadow to announce its presence.

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Apps that are easy to navigate, or make good use of icons and images rather than endless text were praised. Len brought up an app called Boxer, an email inbox. Boxer uses icons and profile pictures to show you who emails are from, through Facebook and LinkedIn integration, or a direct upload. This means that users can easily see which emails are likely to be important, or which are just spam, with little reading – useful if you struggle with text or concentration. The main focus of the last speaker was communicating with friends all across the world, so she appreciates visual apps like Instagram and Tumblr. She also makes use of the video feature on Whatsapp as she is deaf – being able to use sign language in a quick video keeps messages personal.

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l-r: Boxer, Instagram, Tumblr

One very important point was raised by an attendee – does the fact that so many apps ignore accessibility needs go against the Disability Discrimination Act? Kath followed this up by saying that whilst the DDA does cover digital services, unfortunately most people disregard this, “but not here, and not tonight”.

The message that UX designers can take from the event is simple – consider all users when designing a mobile app. While it may be pretty, or seem easy to use for those with no underlying conditions, it may not work for everyone. Speak to people with varying abilities, understand what they need or what they might have problems with. And the earlier on in the design process you start to consider this, the more likely you are to create a successful, and accessible product.

 

Do you have any other tips for how apps can be made more accessible? @zebrapeople

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