Archive for the 'accessibility' Category

What’s not being considered in the MEL train debate: User experience

As a frequent traveller, I’ve noticed the long drawn out debate about whether Melbourne ought to have a train to the airport has heated up again this year, possibly as a result of Victoria’s transport minister Martin Pakula saying it isn’t a priority. I have to be honest, I have a vested interest in the outcome of all this. As an expat Kiwi living in Melbourne who travels home regularly and has experienced the best and the worst travelling to the airport has to offer, I’m firmly in the pro-train camp–but the reasons for this are more than just my personal best interest, as we shal explore below.

Those arguing for rail point out that it could bring signficant money to Melbourne, that Melbourne is growing (as is the congestion on the Tullamarine freeway), and that it is a necessary competition to the exhorbitant parking fees paid by those who drive to the airport (this last from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission). Those arguing against a train claim it is not needed and likely to be uneconomic, based on experiences in Sydney and Brisbane, and that a travel time of 40 minutes each way to the airport during peak time is acceptable.

At present there are three main options for getting to and from the Melbourne Airport:

All of the currently available options have significant negatives for all users: those in Melbourne on business can expect to lose nearly two hours of their day travelling between the CBD and the airport; disabled travellers may have trouble getting to and from the airport at all; the first and last thing tourists see of Melbourne is either the SkyBus or a taxi, both of whch travel on the congested Tullamarine Freeway; and regular travellers face the choice between the possibility of a long wait at the airport if they allow sufficient time for traffic or (and I speak from experience here) cutting it hair-raisingly close to missing an international flight. Things are sufficiently bad that it makes sense to have a rail link simply on the basis of the improved experience of those who need to get to and from the airport–and if the planners that be get it right, the improved user experience will also make a train make economic sense.

Captcha and accessibility

I’ve written before about the problems with anti-spam devices, but today I read some wonderful blog posts on this, and since I’m neither a user with a dsiability that prevents me from using CAPTCHA, nor an expert on accessibility for users with visual impairments, I will let the posts speak for themselves:

  • One user’s experience trying to sign up for a Gmail account, which failed because CAPTCHA has accessibility problems.
  • A study, showing that this is the majority experience of CAPTCHA (73% of users were unsuccessful using the ‘accessible’ version of CAPTCHA)
  • A discussion of the issue at Feminists With Disabilities, noting that to provide Google with feedback, you have to get through Captcha first, and how this further disavantages an already disadvantaged user population.
  • A link to the Google accessibility reporting function–please use this liberally if you notice any other problems with Google’s interfaces (and you have been able to sign up for an account).

As this article on anti-spam devices points out, it’s not just users with visual impairments that suffer when presented with CAPTCHA, it’s also users with reading difficulties, and even users without disabilities suffer some inconvenience.

It is telling that  one of the best cited posts on Captcha effectiveness (which finds CAPTCHA to be very effective) refers only to the ability of CAPTCHA to prevent spam. The “false positives”, where CAPTCHA fails to allow a human being to access a website, are dismissed with a single line “these are eminently human-solvable, in my opinion”, while pointing out that CAPTCHA is used on most interactive internet sites.

Spam is a usability and accessibility problem, but the way to solve it should not prevent users with disabilities accessing internet content. Not only is CAPTCHA as an approach inaccessible and unusable, but it’s widepsread implementation could end up costing sites which use it a lot of money.

Not that helpful

I was filling in an online form the other day and I got to the anti-spam device. This is what I saw:

If I literally “can’t read” then the way out isn’t going to help me much. On the other hand if I am (for example) red-green colourblind (as many people are) I may have trouble reading the text they presented here regardless of my reading abilities. I think it’s probably best to stick with the stock-standard “can’t read this?”, personally.

Social engineering and usability: a post about toilets.

I’ve been away from this blog for far too long again, I know–sadly I have had things happening at work that have demanded my attention more urgently than this blog.  Now I’m back, and I am going to write a post about something I never thought I would see on this blog: toilets, specifically the dual flush ones.

The first dual flush system was designed in Australia in 1980, and modern ones are estimated to save households up to 67% of their annual water usage–a lot in a country that suffers chronic drought, but favoured by environmentalists everywhere.

Early dual flush system by necessity had to clearly mark which button gave a whole flush, and which a half flush, meaning buttons usually looked something like this:

dual flush toilet button--early The images on the buttons clearly dwmonstrate the concept of “full” versus “half”.  It might not be obvious to unfamiliar users exactly what this does, but once explained is likely to be relatively obvious (apparently, too, it is relatively easy to train new users–even children–to use “one button for pee-pee and one for poo-poo“).  The particular model displayed might have a minor design flaw, though.  The half flush button, the one an average user is likely to use most often is on the left as you face the toilet–further from the dominant hand of approixmately 90% of the population.  While this is a tiny inconvenience, it may affect behaviour in some cases, meaning the full flush may be used slightly more. Conversely in much design left is less and right is more–consider the volume knob on your car stereo, or the speedometer on your car, for example, so maybe this left-to-right design has consistency advantages that outweigh the convenience issue–experimentation would be the only way to know which side induced the “best” behaviour.

round dual flush More recently, though, manufacturers have been moving toward circular designs, presumably in response to the fashion of the day.  Unfortunately, not all these circular designs are clear, as evidenced by the signage in this picture.  This design really does have a design failing; while the designers have kept to the left-half right-full convention, the half flush button (again, the one likely to be used most often) is a smaller target, on the left, and therefore harder to hit.  On the positive side, for at least some of these toilets, hitting both buttons (which is possible in this style of design) triggers the half flush, rather than the full flush (as scientifically tested by an army surgeon).  So again, this toilet may be discouraging “good” behaviour by its design, in the first instance because it is marginally confusing, and in the second because the correct usage of the toilet is discouraged by its design.

New dual flushRecently, though, I was in a pub and I saw a dual flush toilet that is entirely based on the principle of encouraging “good” behaviour (in this case only using the double flush when you need to).  Because I have not been able to find a picture of this design (and strangely enough, I don’t routinely have a camera with me in the toilet), you can see an approximation of the design at left.  This design is quite clever, in that most of the time it does not require users to understand the concept of the half flush–provided they hit anywhere on the button but the small square, a half flush is what they are getting.  This may be particularly beneficial in a pub, where judgement may be impaired, and the amount of water per flush is probably the last thing on patrons’ minds.  Basically, this design is a clever little piece of social engineering, because unless you really want a full flush (enough to hit the relatively small, off-centre target that is the full flush button), all you get is a half flush.  There is a downside to this, though–it could make life harder for users with fine motor control impairments, for example tremors, Parkinsonism (or even drunkenness, ironically).  The fact that this design relies on the small square being pushed as well as the big circle (as opposed to instead of it) makes this somewhat less problematic, but users having to flush multiple times when they need a full flush (because they have poor aim) may cancel out the general benefit.

This flush design highlights the tension that can sometimes arise between what’s best for the group, and what’s best for the individual in interface design.  As to whether people do have trouble with the full flush, or whether this design really does save water, I don’t know, but it made for interesting thinking on a Friday night at the pub.  What do you think?  Would you put this flush in your house?  Is there anywhere it shouldn’t go?


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