Enabling people with accessible technology and positive thinking

Yesterday I attended the Inclusive Design and Accessibility meetup (“idea11y”) in Rotterdam. The central theme of the evening, I think, was that accessible technology has the unique ability to enable people.

Last night’s meetup marked the first anniversary of idea11y (congrats!), it has been running regularly since the first one. Recently, I have been attending regularly, too. These meetups are always full of interesting content from different perspectives.

First, UX designer Dean Birkett (of AssistiveWare) talked about undertaking usability testing for the products his company makes: products that enable people with impairments. He specifically explained products that enable people to communicate. The users of these products are people who can not or no longer talk, some literate, some illiterate. He showed examples of people using their tools for anything from editing movies in Final Cut Pro to simply saying ‘I love you’ to their loves ones. He talked about the challenges of usability testing: he did a lot of that remote, and sometimes they involved the user’s support network. Main takeaways: don’t let people tell you that you can’t do usability tests, there are always ways; and do tests your products with users, as it is their problems you’re trying to solve.

The second speaker was Bob Offereins (of Microsoft), who talked about what he calls “Inclusive Life Design”: it is all about looking at people around us in terms of impedements rather than impairments. They’re really two labels for one thing: an impairment mostly sounds like an impossibility, ‘impedement’ makes one think of something that can be overcome, it’s a much more positive label. Bob shared his story: at a younger age he was diagnosed with an eye disease, which meant at the time he was labelled by the authorities and people around him. He explained how important it is to believe in the power of people, and encouraged us to believe in our own power, be unafraid of making mistakes and open to new ideas. Which in his case meant: don’t believe in boundaries or labels put onto you by others, think in possibilities! Very inspiring.

Dean showed how his company’s technology enables people, Bob explained how we can enable ourselves (and others) by being open minded and believing in what we can do. Some great food for thought!

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