An old sport saying goes like this “I could beat them with one arm tied behind my back.” Well, after six weeks with my arm in a sling, I am in awe of whoever tries that because everything is a lot harder. Like washing your hand and then drying it, becomes more of a challenge than it once was:
Let me tell you, someone calculated the tension on those towel holders to the strength of two hands pulling on that flimsy paper towel. A one-hand pull generally means you get a very tiny piece of paper towel. There is generally a wheel that will let you advance the paper, but only some machines remind you of that.
Oh, and don’t try to get lunch at a buffet alone one-handed unless you are in the mood to create comedy.
If being down an arm complicates one's life, try being down a leg. Navigating the real world using a wheelchair or scooter will give you a brief, yet eye-opening, taste of what their users go through. If my childhood dream of being an architect magically came true today, the facilities I would design would be vastly different than before these recent experiences.
Dealing with these temporary physical setbacks reminded me of how inaccessible the world can be at times. Recently I was editing Phil Factor’s recent editorial Xerox Stars For Accessibility, and I realized that a lot of these issues were probably due to a lack of empathy. When software designers test software, do they know what their basic users go through?
One immediate example comes to mind. At every car dealer service center I have visited, before they hand my keys back after a pre-paid, packaged service call, the person at the desks types so much that I honestly wonder if they are writing a sequel to War and Peace on company time.
Did the software writer ever have to sit down and do that job for a living? Probably not. What about for a day? And what if the person doing this job has any physical challenges, either temporary or permanent? Obviously, certain parts of what they were typing needs to be manually typed. A lot of problems with a vehicle need to be captured in the customer’s words. But not enough for one to have to stand there for 5 minutes being serenaded by the typing of a physical keyboard.
So, when building software, consider the range of possible users of that software in the coming years. Put yourself in their place. And then put people of all abilities in their position too. Not every ability deficit can be predicted or handled in every piece of software, but far more than we tend to handle, even in 2023.