January 25, 2017

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Accessibility Engineering: The Ball in the Goal

When optimists and pessimists were fighting over the glass, the opportunist solved the puzzle saying the glass is 100% full – half with water and the rest with air.

Similarly, traditional businesses are often busy with making a choice between the qualified, and the experienced. Here too the puzzle can be solved by opting for a balance – the best is to have qualified employees who have the right experience.

So, I would like to introduce you to the world of accessibility engineering- disability testing/accessibility testing or usability studies – a landscape that must be driven by qualified and experienced individuals, and striking the perfect balance.

The core idea is ensuring universal product usability – incorporating every perspective.

Usability is more than mere corporate social responsibility – the focus is not on ‘our’ need or ‘their’ need. Accessibility is a key tenet of ‘Hard Core’ engineering – ensuring 100% usability, thereby maximizing your market reach. There’s about a billion of specially-abled users eagerly waiting to use your products, and a development approach that doesn’t take a major market segment into account is fundamentally flawed. This is what defines 21st Century Engineering Technologies – an unwavering focus on the customer.

In my last blog, I talked about why accessibility is essential for universal digitalization. In this blog, I will discuss

Why usability studies or accessibility engineering must be performed by specially-abled persons.

Wikipedia defines accessibility as design models/practices for products, devices, services, or environments geared for people who experience disabilities. What if we test such products by testers who experience real disabilities – like visibility, hearing or mobility

This will garner real insights into product features and flaws – whether it barely meets compliance norms or if it surpasses expectations; whether the product just reaches accepted standards or creates a ‘wow’ factor.

This is a product’s real litmus test.

A huge portion of the user base must not be ignored just because the product meets benchmarks without surpassing them – especially when you are investing millions of dollars in the R&D phase of development.

The product needs to be tested under every circumstance – by people who face these circumstances every day.

These testers (people with special abilities) bring the real magic to product testing – they offer a unique perspective and unearth hidden shortcomings. These are highly qualified testers with a lifetime of experience using specialized aids and technology.

Our dedicated team at HCL’s Engineering and R&D services division, is doing an incredible job with specialized usability testing. Our accessibility engineering team includes people with low-vision, zero-vision, hearing or mobility challenges – they are ready and equipped to test every latest innovation at HCL.

Their natural and professional experiences make them uniquely qualified to evaluate the products with a perfectly calibrated approach to accessibility engineering. They go beyond product testing – besides providing feedback, they also action a high impact analysis along with recommended solutions.

One of HCL-ERS’s top ISV customers appreciated the team’s usability study – “I really enjoyed participating in the usability study session yesterday with the team. I learned a lot, both on how a usability study should look like, and on what should we do to improve our products accessibility. Thank you!”

I had an interesting conversation with one of my colleagues – Srikant, a lead SME in the usability team, faces zero-vision but argued that he or others in the team are not specially-abled people: he insisted they are disabled people. I argued that he could motivate a billion people with our initiative, with a distinctive and personal approach. Professional enthusiasm, an insistence on skill development, and a profound socio-cultural responsibility - for me, this is  Srikant’s real special ability.

Srikant, along with his teammates Akash, Ajay, Rajesh and others commend HCL for our efforts, our commitment to flexibility in the workplace, and our eager interest in ensuring they are an intrinsic part of our workforce. No one is perfect, but HCL will always strive for perfect and universal equality.

In spite of identifying several other issues in your product and preventing it from failure, there is no assurance of ‘extraordinary’ success. Every product must be tested by the testers with real time challenges – the target demographic that it is ultimately geared for. Like in soccer, one can defend hundreds of attacks but there is never a winner until you put the ball in the goal.

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accessibility

https://www.w3.org/wiki/Accessibility_testing