Accessibility Research in a Vocational Context

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Abstract

Current experience shows that vocational context has a vital role to play in research on inclusive information society technology, for at least four reasons. First, the occurrence of disabilities has a major impact on employability and employment. However, the potentially significant contribution of accessible and usable information society technology (IST) in employment has yet to make more than little difference in practice. Context of use is still often ignored. In other words, to ensure that applications can achieve as broad a customer base as possible, they are often designed for generic, rather than specific, cases. While this enables those applications to support a wide variety of use-case scenarios, the corollary is that not as much specific support is afforded to individual use-case scenarios as when designed for a more focused sets of tasks. Second, despite the impressive increases in computing power, innovations in interactive design, such as 3-D user interfaces (UIs), are rarely incorporated into mainstream IST products. One of the fundamental principles taught to most software UI designers is that of ’consistency’, i.e. that similar functions should look the same and behave in similar ways across a variety of applications. The benefit of this approach is that once a user is familiar with the interaction metaphors being used, it will take minimal time to learn to use a new and unfamiliar application. The flipside of this principle, though, is that it can stifle the development of new and innovative UI techniques, because they will not be ’consistent’ with existing applications and UI designs. Greater emphasis upon the context of use in general and the vocational, educational and lifestyle context in particular could lead to better user uptake, as the resultant UI would be better suited to the individual needs ands wants of each particular user. This better uptake, in turn, gives better feedback to mainstream system designers. Third, without context, the identification of user and system characteristics is an unbounded problem. There are simply too many possible different design options to manage easily. The consideration of vocational or recreational context significantly reduces the scale of the problem and renders it more manageable.Fourth, accessibility research in a vocational context ensures that the participants not only gain indirectly from it but benefit directly too, often gaining an improved vocational standing. If so, emerging design methods like unified user interface design (UUID) methods should place much more concentration on the vocational context of use.