Keynote: The False Dichotomy between Accessibility and Usability

Dr. Ed H. Chi – Staff Research Scientist at Google Inc. Portrait of Ed Chi

[Tuesday 14, morning] Traditionally, accessibility researchers have focused on the barrier-free designs that make information available to a diverse set of user abilities and constraints. Usability practitioners and researchers have focused their efforts on making information interfaces usable by the average abled-bodied user.

The problem in this dichotomy is the myth of two assumptions. First, there is the myth of the “average” user. The first rule about psychology experiments is that often the individual subject variations in an experiment often overwhelm any effects that you’re attempting to observe. We use the “average user” as a concept so that we have a prototypical user to design for, when in fact, often we’re designing for a set of different user persona, use cases, and skill levels. Second, there is the myth of “barrier-free” design. Design is inherently an exercise in which we optimize for a certain set of use cases, while deemphasizing other less important use cases. As a result, a design can never be entirely “barrier-free”.

If we treat this dichotomy as false, we start to realize that a whole set of problems between the two fields are one and the same. If we reject the dichotomy, then we see that many accessibility problems are also usability problems, and vice versa. For example, language barriers in social media, mobile devices and their ease of use while walking, and the ability to input text using voice rather than typing are all accessibility and usability problems. To emphasize, usability and accessibility are both fundamentally about the ability to get at information resources and knowledge. Broadly, I see many opportunities to bridge this false dichotomy and will attempt to give examples during this talk.

William Loughborough After-Dinner Speech: Pushing the Raman Principle

Dr. Clayton Lewis Picture of Clayton Lewis, Department of Computer Science and Institute of Cognitive Science, University of Colorado, Boulder. Currently with the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.

[Tuesday 14, evening] T. V. Raman has said, “The way to think about the visual system is as a way to answer queries against a spatial database. If you have an alternate way to ask the queries and get the answers, you don’t need the visual system.” If we push this Raman Principle, where can it take us? Non visual “visualization” of data? Inclusive presentation of geographic information? Non visual “visual programming”? What does the principle offer when we think about inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities? Besides emitting a lot of geezerly vapor around these possibilities, Clayton will present at least a little concrete work.