Accessibility with Dr Alice Good, Course Leader for MRes Technology at the University of Portsmouth

“Not everyone uses an interface like I do”

We chat with Dr. Alice Good, Course Leader for MRes Technology at the University of Portsmouth, on the importance of accessibility.

Our clients have expressed concern over a lack of understanding of accessible design within their teams, and wondered how the push to ship products quickly could compromise accessibility. In the first of Move’s interview series with industry thought leaders, we sat down with Dr. Alice Good, Course Leader for the Masters of Research and Technology at the University of Portsmouth, to find out how the UXers of tomorrow are studying accessibility beyond just designing for visual and auditory impairment and how this can impact your product design.

“there’s very little out there for mental health”

Dr. Good has a particular interest in well-being, specifically looking at how to improve ease of interactions that may be impacted by cognitive impairments caused by mental health issues. She explains that when it comes to W3C and accessibility for auditory or visual impairment, there is a solid understanding of how to design services and websites. However, “there’s very little out there for mental health”, for example, illnesses like dementia and the cognitive impairment it causes, and similarly, depression and anxiety are not fully catered for in today’s product design.

Discussing her students’ early approaches to accessibility, Dr. Good explains that the hardest skill for many to grasp is the inclusive consideration of the variety of different people and their differing needs. The attitude is often ‘if it works for them, it’ll work for everyone’. Once they realise “not everyone uses an interface like I do”, the penny drops and they start to understand the true importance of UCD.

Dr Good’s PHD students work on projects to address these issues and to improve the lives of people who may have impaired cognitive functioning or mental health issues. She explains that some apps already exist to support the treatment of mental health issues and wellbeing, but that many have not been designed in an accessible way for that particular user group. The content is there, but they are not always fit for purpose. The PhD students are working on creating apps that are “fit for purpose, theory-based, user-friendly and accessible”.

One such project supports reminiscence therapy, a dementia treatment that asks patients to look back on positive memories through family videos, photos or letters. By accessing these fond memories, some of the more distressing symptoms of dementia can be alleviated. PhD student Dr Claire Ancient developed accessibility guidelines for this user group to ensure the product design supported and complemented their specific set of cognitive impairments, however these guidelines have since gone on to inform the design of products aimed at other groups with mental health issues, e.g. depression.

On this note, Dr. Good cites an app being developed for women suffering from postnatal depression. PhD student Omobolanle Omisade has almost completed her research specifically looking at theory-based development of a mobile health model to support the wellbeing of women with postnatal depression. This research also considers the importance of accessible design given the needs of this specific user group. The resulting app, designed to be accessible as well as user-friendly, helps PND sufferers to improve adherence to the interventions that they’ve been prescribed by their professionals.

Another project of note from Dr. Good’s PHD class is Shane Ogilvie’s research which uses electroencephalogram, or EEG, to measure the accessibility of a website by looking at the electrical activity in the user’s brain during use. The intention is to try and provide more quantitative measurements of usability, working from the theory that the higher the activity in certain areas of the brain, the less user-friendly the site must be.

Understanding usability and accessibility requirements from elderly user groups is also important. PhD student Memory Tauringana is looking at reasons why more elderly people are not shopping online and identifying the barriers.  Part of her research is looking at developing guidelines for inclusive design for the elderly.

Recommendations for designers.

Dr. Good has some key recommendations for designers, particularly when designing web-based resources in mental health. It is important that these resources are categorised under the following accessibility themes:

  • Searching for information: Provide intuitive navigation and ensure filters and search functions work properly.
  • Presentation of information: Ensure information is organised well and avoid distracting design.
  • Understanding of information: Avoid complicated language and ensure menu options and links are easy to understand.

Further to these recommendations is to advise designers to carry out user-centred evaluations of their products. These can be as simple as cognitive walkthroughs using predominant tasks, through to more involved user testing.

“helping to push the boundaries of technology for all”

Dr. Good is optimistic about the future direction of the industry and the technological advancements happening within it. She believes that as we move away from using exclusively touch-enabled devices, people with motor impairments will not only gain access to new services but also to new interactions with others that may have not been available to them before. It will “open up a whole new world” to them where impairments are increasingly likely to be less of a factor. For Dr. Good, HCI is “helping to push the boundaries of technology for all”.

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