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Let your customers be themselves

October 10, 2011

I’m in a workshop in central London listening to experts in accessibility talking about the challenges of ensuring inclusive interfaces to all sorts of financial services, it’s a long list.

What’s being said to industry here is make sure you design so blind and partially sighted people can use these services whether online or kiosk or tiller machine or mobile.

For me there’s a problem here, what is a blind or partially sighted person? Try to pin it down and this way of framing up a customers requirements falls down because using a disability label is a medical model approach rather than an individual model approach.

It’s fine to profile customers into segments based on their behaviour and common choices, but where the blind and partially sighted thing doesn’t work is that it describes a person’s eyesight status, which isn’t such a strong indicator of their behaviour especially their communications choices, as perhaps people here assume it is.

“See the person and not their disability” applies to design of service interfaces too!

In practical terms this translates into it being better to be offered audio display by any service interface as an alternative to visual display, than the interface asking you If you are blind or offering a special accessibility mode for blind people. The former is about Providing interface options designed around impairment not disability.

Yes you might be thinking why is being given a service labelled for audio instead of blind an issue? Surely a blind person knows they are blind and won’t react to being given a service branded for blind people?

Thinking from the individuals perspectiv is important for designers:

– any service should be designed to accurately meet customer needs and not spill out beyond this objective

– you cannot know that a given customer thinks of themselves as blind or even whether they need audio display because they have that disability, they might well need audio for another reason

– it is socially responsible to leave people to choose whether they label themselves as disabled or not

– People striving to rise out of any disability they feel they have will welcome any company who provide services free of social baggage

Thinking individual model when building interfaces is important to get right first time, because Service interfaces are likely to be the only way that many customers engage with that company, there’s no where else for any awkwardness that the customer may feel to be smoothed out by that company anywhere else

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