[Author: Bill Fischer]
These design principles go beyond simply following technical rules and drive creative solutions that maximize the universal attainability of the media we create for both current and yet unforeseen technology applications.
Universal design aims to create media that the abled and disabled can experience together, no matter which senses each participant has at their disposal or which situational limitations are in-play. These two people could be on a bus, one could be deaf. The media needs to work for any combination of these and things like captions on videos can do that.
Media that loads and plays seamlessly on any electronic device, anywhere, on any network is the ultimate attainability goal. The smart phone is often a person's only available access to digital media. Over 50% of web page views worldwide occur on mobile devices. Websites, documents and digital media in general, must be compatible with smart phones and slow 3g connections to be fully accessible. Situations where mobile devices are the only option include:
- Low income persons whose only digital device is a smart phone.
- Persons that are traveling short and long distances.
- Persons that are in situations where a laptop or desktop computer is not an option (like an impromptu meeting or public venue).
Internet Bandwidth Continues To Be A hurdle
The digital divides in the world today center not only on hardware, but also access to networks, the 21st century life blood of culture, knowledge, and society.
According to the Federal Communications Commission’s 2018 broadband report, nearly 31% of Americans living in rural areas lack access to home internet speeds over 25 Mbps. GovTech.com reports that over 9 million K-12 students are without high-speed internet.
According to a report from consumer research site BroadbandNow, 16 states have average internet speeds above 20 Mbps, but below 30 Mbps, while 36 states have average speeds less than 40 Mbps.
Nearly 25 million people are still living with home internet speeds below 25 Mbps in rural areas alone, with over 19 million of those living in hard-to-reach rural areas. Bringing high-speed internet to places that don’t have it is incredibly expensive. in early 2019, the U.S. Department of Agriculture introduced a $600 million pilot program to bring broadband (defined as 25 Mbps download speeds) to areas that don’t have it already. The FCC estimates $40 billion would be needed to bring broadband to 98% of Americans. And to close that final 2% gap? Another $40 billion.
Designing for low bandwidth access
Text is the fastest and most accessible way to share information across networks, including the internet. Images add dramatically to wait times, but they can be optimized for speed by following the guidelines for optimizing images in the Imaging section of this site.
Multimedia, that integrates text, animation, audio, and interactivity, engages more parts of the brain and increases attention and retention. How do we deliver that over low bandwidth networks without the need for downloading and storing native apps? At present html5 applications are ruling the day.
An Example of low-bandwidth design
The web app shown above was built using html5 by KCAD student Melissa Boverhof as part of The Epic Project. The images are flat, with minimum color, it includes audio, and the animation is generated using code (text). It requires 64k of data. Video animation with audio, instead of code generated animation, would inflate the file size to 440k.
A fast 3g mobile network transfer rate of 200k per second, will result in these wait times for a single page:
- 2.2 seconds: video (with audio)
- .32 seconds: html5 (with audio)
Though these differences seem small. A web app with 20 screens can realize substantial gains. The coded animation version would load in about 6.4 seconds versus the video animation version at 44 seconds. 44 seconds is a long time to stare at a loading screen.
Breaking media that requires pre-loading into small chunks and delivering them on-demand
- Can distribute the wait times
- Avoids requiring users to download media that they will not choose to engage with.
As the amount and variety of technology delivery systems continues to expand, a universal design plan will need to include every aspect of our digital lives. Most of this technology has the built-in capability of providing universal access to all of our available senses. That includes visual displays, speakers, and physical inputs. It's up to designers and developers to configure them for universal attainability.
Personal Consumer Media Technology
- desktop & laptop computers
- smart phones & tablets
- smart speakers
- smart appliances
- smart watches
Shared Consumer Media Technology
- public transportation
- movie theaters
- classroom projectors & televisions
- retail stores
- entertainment locations
Assistive Devices and Technology Examples
The web, being the most prevalent digital media in our lives, presents examples of some of the assistive technology that is available.
A standard keyboard
- is also an assistive technology when used with screen-reader software. Web based media should be navigable using a keyboard's arrow and tab keys.
- Examples include JAWS, NVDA, and Narrator for Windows, , or Voiceover for Mac.
- This software will read clicked-on text with a synthesized voice and may have a highlighter to emphasize the word being spoken. They assist persons with reading challenges.
- Examples include Google's ChromeVox and Natural Reader for laptops and desktops as well as Voice Dream Reader for mobile devices.
Screen magnification software:
- Provides the ability to enlarge a section of text in relation to the rest of the screen. This is done by emulating a handheld magnifier.
Speech input software:
- An alternative to using one's hands to operate keyboards, this type of software allows users to type text and control the computer.
- An examples is Dragon Naturally Speaking for Windows or Mac.
Alternative input devices:
For users unable to use a mouse or keyboard to work on a computer.
- Head pointers: A stick or object mounted directly on the user’s head that can be used to push keys on the keyboard.
- Motion tracking or eye tracking: This can include devices that watch a target or even the eyes of the user to interpret where the user wants to place the mouse pointer and moves it for the user.