By Daniel Hubbell
How five personas and natural settings show what's possible in the world of assistive technology.
My name is Dan Hubbell. I am the Technical Evangelist for the Accessibility Business Unit at Microsoft. The most exciting part of my job is speaking with customers in an effort to increase their awareness of accessible technology solutions in the marketplace. Additionally, I oversee the Microsoft Assistive Technology Vendor Program. As manager of this program, I work with more than 180 assistive technology manufacturers whose products are designed to work with Windows, Office, and the broad range of other Microsoft products.
The spectrum of technology available for people of all abilities is truly staggering. Frequently, however, I find that many people either don't know that it exists, or don't understand how it can be integrated into their lifestyle. Faced with the challenge of finding a new way to educate people about technology for people with disabilities, I and a colleague, LaDeana Huyler, put our minds together. We realized that a showroom would best tell the whole story: the whats, whys and hows of assistive technology. We partnered with Hewlett-Packard, and now The Inclusive Innovation Showroom has a home on the Microsoft Main Campus in Redmond, WA.
Telling the customer story
Traditionally, accessibility had been understood in the context of individual technologies and the features they offered PC users. Our demonstrations had consisted of showing how features functioned on their own, in the abstract, in seemingly unrelated software and hardware solutions. Rarely was there any discussion of how the technology could be used together in a real-world way.
The Inclusive Innovation Showroom concept began with the creation of five fictitious personas, or customer profiles, that best reflect the major areas of customer experience. Each of these personas occupies a station within the showroom; three are set in an office environment, and two have a home environment setting. Various assistive technologies were integrated as appropriate into each of these environments, so the space looks as "natural" as possible.
Meet the personas
Allison experiences low vision and has trouble reading text on her PC. She uses a combination of features from both Windows and Office that make text and graphics larger and easier to see. She also uses software tools that provide audio output that make it easier to follow what she is doing on the screen when it is hard to see.
Michael is blind and uses a range of desktop and mobile products that allow him maintain a high level of productivity both in and out of the office. Screen-reading software gives him an audio "view" of his computer, and a refreshable Braille display allows him to read the screen with his fingers. He also uses a Windows Mobile phone that is running speech and GPS software that allows his phone to function as a high tech guide that can not only read his e-mail, but give him walking directions to the nearest coffee shop.
Garrett doesn't have use of his arms and legs and relies on speech recognition and head-tracking technology to use his computer. Using the built-in Windows Speech Recognition and Microsoft Office products like Word and Outlook, Garrett can type e-mail and project plans faster than most of his co-workers. Using the mouse is also easy with a head tracker that looks much like a webcam mounted above his monitor.
Vanessa is a student and uses a range of software and hardware products to help her overcome her learning disability. Because Vanessa can easily get lost with all of the options within the programs she uses, she has installed three-button keypad with a dynamic display. The keypad gives easy access to three common tasks that can be customized to change for each application she is using. She also uses special writing software that will read back the words she is typing.
Anne is a retired school teacher, and, like many Baby Boomers, is starting to have difficulty reading text, particularly on a computer screen. Anne and her husband take advantage of many Windows features like High DPI, mouse settings, and custom color schemes. The impairments we experience as we age are not traditionally thought of as "disabilities," yet this demographic is the largest growing segment of the assistive technology industry.
The next generation of technology
The Inclusive Innovation Showroom has afforded us tons of insight into the customer experience for a person with a disability. As we watch people interact with the showroom, we realize we're still in the infancy of assistive technology. It's analogous to the general computing experience before Windows – when computers were novel, and required a good deal of knowledge, patience, and skill.
Much of the technology necessary to bridge the accessibility divide exists today; in many cases it's simply poorly implemented. It will take a combination of existing and future technology, as well as a revolution in how we think about user interface and interaction, to reach our goal of providing products and services that can be used easily by everyone — regardless of age or ability.
My hope is that sometime in the near future we will be able to rename the "Inclusive Innovation Showroom" simply, "your office."
About the author
Daniel Hubbell is the technical evangelist for Microsoft's Accessibility Business Unit and regularly speaks at events and conferences on the topic of Accessible Technology. He has been with Microsoft since 2000.