Why we need to make everyday things easier for everyday people

November 4, 2019

Confession time.

Sometimes, I’m not the most considerate person. I talk a big game about empathy, but I lose my patience when people don’t understand concepts as fast as I do.

Because I’m a questioner - and always have very sound, logical reasons for why I do the things I do. I find it difficult to stay chill when another person doesn’t agree with me.

The person who cops it the most is my brother.

He too has a very logical way of seeing the world. He doesn’t understand why I don’t see where he is coming from. Like me, if someone questions why he’s doing something a particular way, he feels criticised. He his reasons dammit.

Of course, those things I find challenging are magnified 1000x in a person on the Autism spectrum.

An example

On Tuesdays, when he arrives at my house, he’ll tell me his plan for the day. Then, at 9am (just like he said he would) he’ll come to my office and tell me that he’s getting ready to go. This involves turning off the television. It’s a big deal. At 9.15am, he comes up again to tell me that he is now going to wait outside for his taxi.

The constant reminders and interruptions? They kill me.

But last week I was reminded of just how much harder it is for him to navigate the everyday.

After he told me he was getting ready to leave, but before he went outside to wait, his taxi arrived.

The taxi driver honked his horn to let Matt know he was there.

I will not write what came out of my brother’s mouth at this honk. Let’s just say there were words that would have made my Nana blush. He did his best Muttley - you know, the cartoon dog that was always not quite cursing under his breath?

You see, in our house, a honk meant, “You are late. I am angry and you will know about it when you get in this car.”

So, when a taxi driver honks at Matt, that is what he hears.

“You are late. I am angry and you will know about it when you get in this car.”

His reaction is understandable. It’s not his fault the taxi is early. Why are they mad at him?

A long story, but it rammed home to me how much I take for granted.

Disability is a spectrum

'Everyday' things can be really hard.

And, when it comes to consuming content on the web, so many things can slow us down.

At one end, profound, permanent physical or intellectual disability through to mild disability.

Then temporary disability - a broken arm or finger, loss of sight due to a migraine, light sensitivity due to illness.

Or ‘situational disability’ - working one handed holding a newborn, getting distracted while working.

A positive trend that I've seen floating around the internet, is this:

Instead of defining disability as a personal health condition, consider disability as a mismatch of human expectation and reality - a mismatch of interactions*.

Some tips

Next week, I’ll be in Sydney at a full day workshop on ‘Designing and creating accessible content'.

Before then, here are some things I know when it comes to writing accessible content:

  • Use plain language
  • Use simple sentences and bullets
  • Make buttons descriptive
  • Don’t leave your audience guessing. Always explain what happens next (e.g. after they submit a form)
  • Left align text. Justifying text makes the ‘kerning’ (spacing between letters) unpredictable and makes it harder to read
  • Avoid all caps, italics and underlined words (unless they’re links). Reading is just recognising shapes. Changing the way letters show up on the page makes these shapes harder to understand.

* There are many definitions of disability. I’d only like to suggest that this definition is useful in reframing how we consider disability in relation to writing, web development, content design and UX - not the broader spectrum of disability support.

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