Tag Archives: assistive

Understanding How Assistive Technologies Make Products Accessible

 

Hi Testers, welcome to the brave new world of assistive technology.  Assistive technology is a term that refers to all types of technological devices that enhance the quality of life and improve independent function for people living with disabilities.  Assistive technology is available for people with visual, hearing, mobility disabilities as well as cognitive impairments.  Assistive technologies range from low-tech devices that assist with daily living activities such as eating or showering to high-tech readers for the blind and listening devices for the deaf. 

How does this fit into the category of software or device testing?  In many cases, testers are responsible for accessibility testing of new products, including web applications, personal fitness devices, and hardware/software products for finance, transportation, and other areas.  Knowing how the assistive devices work, and understanding how they are tested, is an essential part of understanding the requirements of accessibility.

My friend Max introduced me to his world of assistive technologies when I visited him recently.  He is legally blind and has an impressive array of assistive technologies in home office.  His devices range from lighted magnifying glasses to the Optelec Reader and Zoomtext.  The Optelec reader will not only magnify pages of magazines but also scan and read them aloud.  Zoomtext is a software program that will enlarge, enhance and read aloud everything on a computer screen.  Using Zoomtext, Max is currently writing a book.  

Max is an avid reader and when the Library of Congress digitized books, Max was a beta tester for the various reading devices.  Max uses his phone to dial into the National Federation for the Blind’s Newsline to keep up with current events.  He has access to thousands of newspapers and he can listen to articles of his choice.  I was so impressed with how much these technologies improved Max’s quality of life.

After my assistive technologies demo, as a tester, of course I became interested in how and who would test these devices and software programs.  My initial thoughts centered on accessibility testers who can apply their knowledge of specialized accessibility test techniques that they use to determine levels of usability by people with disabilities.  Accessibility testing is critical for websites and software programs, yet actually testing assistive devices requires something more.  More than any other type of device or software, assistive devices and software must be designed and tested based on the needs of the user.

Since usability testing is so critical for assistive technology, I realized that human experience testing so as applicable here as it is to wearables.  I recently developed a framework for human experience testing that I’ve presented at several testing conferences.  Human experience testing goes beyond usability in scope, depth and approach.  The closer the device becomes to the human, the more important “Human” Testing becomes. 

The Human Experience testing framework uses personas and user value stories to test the interaction between the person and the device.  Personas are detailed descriptions of the archetypical users who represent the needs and motivations of the user group.  They represent the motivations, values, expectations and goals for their interaction with the device.  User Value stories describe the ways in which users interact with the device.  They are based on how the users go about their daily lives.  Since people with disabilities depend on assistive technologies in the daily lives, human experience testing is critical.

The use of personas in assistive technology design is happening today. The Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) is currently working with Jeff Higginbotham, PhD,  professor at the University of Buffalo on promoting persona-based design for assistive technologies and Microsoft is pioneering the concept.  So it follows that testing should involve the human experience.

I believe that testing assistive technology requires not only special test techniques, but also, special testers.   The initial testing of the prototypes and human experience testing can be done by accessibility testers; however, the final user experience testing should be done by those for whom the device is designed; those who will actually use the device in their daily lives.

Testing assistive technology is not only challenging and fascinating, but also, it is rewarding on many levels.  As my friend Max told when he introduced me to his assistive technologies, “Assistive technology makes life a little bit easier.”

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