Blog

The Importance of VR for People with Disabilities

D06141CC-524F-4C1B-8C18-5C8BF3E15544

What is VR from the Virtual Reality Society – https://www.vrs.org.uk:

“Virtual reality is the term used to describe a three-dimensional, computer generated environment which can be explored and interacted with by a person. That person becomes part of this virtual world or is immersed within this environment and whilst there, is able to manipulate objects or perform a series of actions.”

VR is very valuable for people with a wide range of disabilities. Providing an immersive gaming experience is just the beginning. These innovative organizations are changing the world and the lives of people with disabilities through their products and research. 

It can provide computer access for people with limited hand and arm use. One example is the startup Eyeflite. Eyeflite is using a VR headset, Oculus Go. They are developing software that allows people with difficulty typing or activating a touch screen to access a computer with their eyes. The use of VR and specifically the Oculus Go headset allows this technology to be significantly more affordable than any previous solutions. 

VR technology can take people with mobility difficulties to places they can’t get to on their own. For example, The Kremer Museum is the first all virtual reality museum. The 74 17th century Dutch and Flemish paintings can only be viewed through a VR headset. The paintings remain hanging in a private gallery in The Netherlands but the exhibit is able to be viewed around the world through VR headsets. In the past, someone who was unable to travel due to a mobility limitation, cost or time, would be unable to visit museums around the world. Now they are open to all through VR. 

Virtual reality technology can provide new experiences for people with autism. Using virtual reality, the AIMTech Centre in Hong Kong has developed a training program for children with autism. The program teaches emotional and social skills using VR technology. This eliminates the need for travel to a single location opening up the therapy to many more children and families and decreasing the cost of therapy.

VR has tremendous potential for opening up opportunities for social practice, therapy  and new experiences for people in mental health treatment. VR can provide realistic role playing scenarios helping people develop coping strategies for addictions such as alcoholism and drug addiction as well as social anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder. Limbix, a California startup, is using VR for healthcare initially concentrating on mental health. 

There is incredible possibility for VR to allow improved visual experiences. Samsung has developed Relumino glasses using the Gear VR system. These VR glasses allow people with low vision to see more of their world. The glasses make blurry images more clear, reduce glare caused by particular colors, change contrast and correct for central vision loss or tunnel vision. 

Finally, VR can provide a vehicle for empathy – Filmmaker Chris Milk created the film Clouds Over Sidra to allows others to feel what it is like to live in a Syrian refugee camp.  A team of researchers at the University of Malta created a VR app to help teachers understand what it is like to have autism. This allows them to understand their students better. 

Virtual reality technology is in its infancy. This technology has tremendous implications for leveling the playing field for people with disabilities. It also will allow all of us to travel the world and have experiences previously inaccessible. It’s is exciting to think about the possibilities for this technology. 

Is the Chromebook Good for Older Adults?

749FAA15-E293-43A7-ADC5-354064330FA5
When my 82 year old mom decided she needed a new computer my heart rate quickened. My mom is fairly adventurous when it comes to technology. However, I am her #1 tech support. My sister is #2 but she lives 1037 miles away.
My mom had an older (and very heavy) laptop that was quickly dying. She did some research and thought a Google Chromebook might be perfect for her.
I was skeptical.
My 13 year old has a Chromebook for school. He hates it. The thought of double the daily Chromebook complaints was daunting. My mom explained that she only uses her laptop for web browsing, games like Solitaire and email. She felt that a Chromebook would work for her needs and have less tech issues for me to solve.
I started thinking about Sam’s complaints. They all had to do with loading software. My mom doesn’t need much software but she does use TurboTax. She has always used the software version. We discussed her level of comfort with the online version of TurboTax. She said she thought she was okay with that.
I convinced my mom to go to MicroCenter and off we went to buy a Chromebook. The salesperson tried briefly to discourage her from a Chromebook as he feels they are “restrictive”. I replied “Restrictive is good when I am tech support”. He nodded in agreement and we picked one based on screen size and weight.
My mom took the Chromebook home and I sat with her as she set it up. We had one issue over her Google account and password. Once we tackled that, I did a brief orientation with her. It’s now been two months and she hasn’t had any problems with it!
My mom’s experience with her Chromebook made me start thinking about the usefulness of the Chromebook for older adults. It makes sense that Chromebooks would be good for older adults. They eliminate the storage issues since all documents are stored in the cloud. It also decreases the risk of viruses. Both of these factors greatly reduce the need for tech support. Many older adults use their computers for email and web searches only. Chrome books are well suited for both of these functions. Many older adults are not concerned about loading software which is also limited with Chromebooks.
When looking for a new computer for an older adult consider a Chromebook. It may be the answer! It has definitely lessened my mom’s need for my tech support services!

Does Your Digital Product Reach an Older Audience?

B0253599-E784-4D48-9C3E-5A43FC91F3A8As a speech pathologist, I worked with people in all stages of life — literally from birth to death. When I became involved in the tech industry, I was amazed by the power of technology in the lives of people with health conditions and disabilities.

When the iPod Touch was released, I began using it with my senior patients. They loved the touchscreen interface, and for people with communication difficulties due to strokes or diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, it was a lifeline for communication. Prior to the release of the iPod Touch, touchscreen devices were impossible to get due to the expense.

As tablets became mainstream and apps became plentiful, I became more and more interested in the use of organizational and productivity apps with the older population. As we age, we all lose vision and hearing. We have memory difficulties and brain fog. We all need more supports as we age, and technology — especially mobile devices — are the perfect solution.

The Problem:

People born in the 1970s and earlier had little to no exposure to technology as children. I was born in the late ’60s and didn’t have access to any technology until my second year of college when the school built a “computer lab” with word processors. I did have some limited access to a gigantic mainframe computer in one of my social science classes. We had to go type in some code and then wait for 24 hours for the results! I had no idea what I was doing, and it certainly didn’t make me feel comfortable with technology! People born before me had even less exposure to technology. My husband is five years older than me, and his first experience with a computer was in his mid 30’s.

People currently in their 40’s and older — and many in their 30’s — didn’t grow up trusting technology and are frequently reluctant to use it. People in their 60’s frequently have no experience with technology within a learning environment, and people in their 70’s and 80’s often have little experience with technology even in a work environment.

As digital products are developed, it is vital that the segment of the population over 50 is considered. This part of the population has the largest disposable income. They are often the people who need financial, medical/health, and other digital products.

Many of the digital products on the market now were designed and developed by people in their 20’s and early 30’s. They are digital natives and have little understanding of how their target users think about technology. This causes a great divide. When the people with money and need for a product can’t use the product effectively, the product will not reach its optimal success.

When designing and developing digital products with a large market in the ages over 50, it is imperative to consider the digital literacy of those users. It is also important to be aware of the deficits of aging. These changes, unfortunately, begin in the early 40’s and worsen during the second half of life.

Digital products are so valuable and life changing, but if the target audience does not feel comfortable or are unable to interact with the product, they will not use it, and they will not benefit from the product. You will also ultimately lose their business.

User Accessibility Case Study: ProFlowers

90982557-A271-4B60-9DA1-FE2493131099My sister recently sent me flowers. Due to Hurricane Harvey and the fact that I live in a flooded neighborhood in Houston, they took a while to get to me. The flowers didn’t last long but the packaging provided me with the perfect example of accessible and usable content!

I was tired from hurricane recovery when I opened the box. I also wasn’t wearing my glasses, so I was unable to see well. I don’t get flowers very often, which means I’m unfamiliar with how to care for them.

Luckily, ProFlowers provides excellent directions on their flowers. As I removed them from the box, I noticed they were in a water-soaked piece of foam. Just as I was wondering what to do with that, I noticed a big sticker on it that said:

This foam has kept your flowers fresh.
1. Discard foam.
2. Cut and rinse stems.
3. Put flowers in water.

I knew what to do, and I confidently threw away the foam! Next, I began to remove the outer paper on the flowers. Again, ProFlowers included a sticker that I couldn’t miss with directions. The font was easy to read. This one said:

Trim the stems to fit your vase and cut the stems at an angle.
Add flower food to fresh room temperature water.
Display flowers in an area without direct sunlight or extreme heat or cold.
Change water every other day.
Enjoy your flowers.

I was gaining even more confidence in how to care for these flowers! As I removed the inner wrapper, I saw the third sticker with more instructions. This set was impossible to miss, as it was holding the edges of the paper wrapper together. This one said:

Be Gentle.
Tear here and unwrap your flowers with care.
Please cut my stems and place me in water with flower food.
After 12 hours of drinking water, I will perk up and bloom.

The company also included easy-to-read directions on the flower food packet and a separate postcard with directions and specific instructions for certain types of flowers.

ProFlowers did all the right things with their content. The directions were placed on stickers directly on the product – the recipient couldn’t miss them. The instructions were short and direct. The font was large and easy to read. Important instructions were repeated.

Kudos to ProFlowers! While not all your customers are older adults, I am sure many are, and your packaging is perfect for them – and all of us!

 

Why I Am Passionate About Usable Design

Untitled 8This is why I am passionate about usable and accessible technology:

Everyone deserves a voice, a choice and a meaningful life.

Tech should work.

Aging adults should feel comfortable using tech that makes their lives better, not more stressful.

Tech companies are losing customers and money with products that only digital natives can use.

Work arounds are not a solution for typical users.

Usable and accessible design is better for everyone.

Everyone is disabled at some point -ill, tired, stressed, injured- late nights, too much coffee, too little coffee. All of these factors limit a person’s ability to interact with tech products.

I want tech products to work to their full potential to allow people of all ages, abilities and educational levels to live to their full potentional.

Why I Am Passionate About Usable Technology

This is why I am passionate about usable and accessible technology:

Everyone deserves a voice, a choice and a meaningful life.

Tech should work.

Aging adults should feel comfortable using tech that makes their lives better, not more stressful.

Tech companies are losing customers and money with products that only digital natives can use.

Work arounds are not a solution for typical users.

Usable and accessible design is better for everyone.

Everyone is disabled at some point -ill, tired, stressed, injured- late nights, too much coffee, too little coffee. All of these factors limit a person’s ability to interact with tech products.

I want tech products to work to their full potential to allow people of all ages, abilities and educational levels to live to their full potentional.

Easy Tips to Up Level Your Website

Two colleagues at work looking at tablet computer

It is easy for a solo entrepreneur or small business owner to get a website up and running these days. With WordPress, SquareSpace, and other web hosting platforms, tools for creating your own business website are available and inexpensive or free. While consulting on website design, I have identified a few simple tweaks that will immediately level up your website.

Identify your brand colors and stick with them. It is important to stick with consistent colors for branding purposes. Your website will look polished and professional with a well thought out color scheme. Be careful to not over-use color. Using just a few colors will create a unified look. A general rule is to use a primary color for 60% of the site. Thirty percent of the site should use a contrasting color to the primary color. The remaining 10% of the site should be an accent color that complements either the primary or secondary color.
Identify your brand fonts and stick with them. I prefer only one or two fonts on a website. The accepted rule of thumb is three or fewer. If you are using different fonts, do not place similar fonts close to one another; doing so will look strange on the page. By identifying and sticking with a set of fonts, you will unify your branding and make it easier to create your website and other products.
Select your images carefully. If you are using stock photos, make sure you have the rights to use them on your website. I use primarily my own photos to eliminate the need for stock photos. Choose photos carefully, keeping in mind the culture and “feel” of your brand and the color scheme.
Identify your audience and create your website for them. Make sure your website solves your audience’s problem. Visit your own website periodically and make sure you are meeting the need of your audience. Update your content as your offerings change and as your audiences’ needs evolve.
Less is more. Provide plenty of white space and decrease busyness on the page. A simple website is elegant and easy to navigate.

By incorporating these tips, you can quickly and easily increase the usability of your website.