Late last year (2021), I was asked to design a booklet for my new church consecration which took place in April, 2022. It was great to go back to print media after almost 20 years! This new church is the St. Sarkis Armenian Church in Carrollton, Texas. You can find articles about its state-of-the-art construction, its connection with a 7th century iconic Armenian church, and its elegance!
Once I learned about the details behind this church’s architecture, I decided that this booklet must be focused on its core information without any unnecessary distractions. It also needed to be elegant and reflect the emotions expressed by the parishioners through their congratulatory and memoriam messages! It’s important to note that the messages from the community formed half of the 68-page, bilingual, booklet. To honor these heartfelt, sensitive, and moving messages I chose to use an easy to read and inviting cursive font.
I spent a couple of days examining the fonts available and selected one that I felt will be easiest to read. When I shared my initial designs with a few people, their first response was that the young generation will not be able to read these message!!! And, my initial response was: What? Why not?
I learned quickly that in the past 20 years or so, while I was so focused on presenting content in the digital world, the education system decided to eliminate script and cursive writing from their curriculum. That, the younger generation did not learn to write cursive. So, they will not be able to read the messages that are presented in cursive fonts in printed material, either! I kept thinking…ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
Did the rest of the world also stopped this practice? I am not a wizard, but I can see some serious security implications right off the bat! Forget about encrypting anything, just write it in cursive and our younger generations will not understand a word of it. Does one need to take a special course to read important and valuable handwritten documents such as the U.S. Declaration of Independence?
Please, someone, tell me that I have seriously misunderstood my friends. Please, tell me that we did not create an unnecessary disability. What problem did this education elimination solve?
Usability Testing as commonly practiced for online products, such as applications and websites, is only one aspect of a Total Experience Study (TES). To accurately reflect the effectiveness, efficiency, and success levels of a product it needs to be tested with people with a wide range of physical and cognitive abilities, as well as with people from a wide range of ages. If a product is not tested for TES, then a minimum of 25% of the potential customers and users of the product are deliberately dismissed.
I have been a UX Designer for over 30 years. I became involved with Digital Accessibility over 15 years ago, and finally remained fully focused on it about 7 years ago. During all these years, I learned about usability testing approaches, and their value for clarifying product requirements, and to validate design solutions. I have been a facilitator, creator, and observer of discovery tests, usability tests, and heuristic evaluations. I have also audited designs and applications for their level of compliance for digital accessibility.
In the past, when I asked fellow researchers about the preferred age range of selected test subjects, I was often told that it is ages 35 to 55 years. Granted, my knowledge is not based on a scientific study, however this intrigued me to find out more about the general age distribution of people. Here are the facts according to the recent US Census:
The younger working-age population is ages 18 to 44, representing 112.8 million persons (36.5%).
The older working-age population is ages 45 to 64, making up 81.5 million persons (26.4%).
The 65 and over population is 40.3 million persons (13.0%).
Based on these records, people ages 35 to 55 make up only 30% of the population. Even if they were all working and had no physical constraints (not likely at all), this is still less than 50% of the total working population. Let’s not forget that we have an aging population that needs to work longer years. Also, we know that in US 1 out of 4 people have some form of disability.
Test Standards and Criteria
Now, let’s look at the POURprinciples set by WAI (Web Accessibility Initiative) for a product to be effective, efficient, and successful for all users:
Perceivable – Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
Operable – User interface components and navigation must be operable.
Understandable – Information and the operation of the user interface must be understandable.
Robust – Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
In order to assess the health of a product with regards to its usability by people with a wide range of capabilities, it needs to be tested by people with different abilities. Here are some of the practices that should become a common practice in a product development process:
Designs are reviewed at their conception for their Total Experience
Interactions and prototypes are reviewed and tested for their Total Experience
Products are evaluated and audited for their Total Experience before they are declared “done”
Pre-release, products are tested by people with different abilities, and/or are audited for their Total Experience
Post release, products are also tested and studied with people with different abilities.
A product can’t possibly meet the general guidelines of Effectiveness, Efficiency, and Satisfaction for all people, without passing compliance to the measurable criteria of the POUR principles.
A Total Experience Study (TES) report, will include the outcome of the currently practiced “usability” as well as the results of its “accessibility” tests to generate an accurate picture of the experience of that product.
Watch for my follow up blog on the ways to review and test your designs and products.
Recently, I found myself repeating “we are evolving creatures.” I am sharing these few words with you in celebration of my own Evolution Experience. I hope that you too have noticed your own evolution and growth and are pleased with your own journey.
Those who know me know that I am a spiritual creature. But my quest has not been limited to the answers found “out there”. I have looked for them in my own reality, within, and continue to do so. At some point, I realized that if I wanted it to be successful in my quest the key to this process is that I had to be extremely and brutally honest with myself. I have to admit, that took some doing!
I come from a strong heritage of artists. So, aside from the creativity, I also inherited the very sensitive nature that most creative people possess. When one adds the vulnerabilities and the baggage from growing up as a female in somewhat of a hostile environment for women, you can imagine that I had a chip or two on my shoulder – all the time!
When I look back, I remember how easily I would get offended by a specific statement or behaviors, in the past. Along the way, I also realized that I too was often very judgmental of others. Well! You don’t get apples from orange trees, after all! I grew up in a culture and amongst people who judged each other all the time. I was a product of my culture. We criticize others to make ourselves feel better. I grew up with my own biases, which I learned that is an outcome of fear. I am neither proud of them, nor excusing them. These were facts of my life at that time. The point is that, through my own soul searching, I was able to see the reality for different points of view, and unlearn a lot of the negative thoughts.
Hopefully, in the course of our evolution path, we all learn to stop such destructive behaviors! That is what truly matters.
Many things happened in my life, good and bad, that pushed me forward and helped me to become a better person. I will mention a few of the good ones. For example: when I started doing better academically in a new high school, and begun tutoring fellow classmates, I begun gaining confidence in myself. After I gratudated from high school, I came across a precious book that became a turning point for me. The book was: How to Stop Worrying by Dale Carnegie. In college, I took Kung Fugraduated classes for a few months. This boosted my confidence to levels I never imagined before. After wedding my late husband David, he taught me Transcendental Meditation. That was the single biggest life-changing event in my life! And, about a decade ago, I read The Power or Now by Eckhart Tolle. Another milestone in my life. These are a few highlights. They each came to me after I had gone through a very rough period in my life. So, I have also learned that what we consider as a “bad time” in our lives, could be a great blessing, if we are able the lessons these experiences offer to us.
I feel so blessed that I was grantedthe knowledge (through so many difference avenues), the strength (through my faith), and the wisdom (with the help of the great people and leaders in my life) to learn from these experiences and to evolve! When I look back at “me” at certain times in my life I don’t like myself very much because I don’t agree with what I had said or thought back then. But that was then. If I misbehave now as I did back then without any efforts to correct my ways, that will be inexcusable. That would mean that I have not learned a single lesson from my life experience. But, if I have changed, then a celebration is in order…not a punishment for the past.
I believe that we are also witnessing an evolution in our collective consciousness in our society. This is so wonderful and a very encouraging evolution…from the much needed “Me Too” and “Black Lives Matter” movements, to the recognition of people with disabilities and their needs…and, so many more! It is extremely unfortunate what pushes us to get on the positive side of evolution. But, as long as we are learning, then we are on the right track. What a blessed time this is!
In the same spirit, I have learned not to judge myself as best as I can. I may not always happy with what I said or did in the past. But I have learned to forgive myself, as long as my behavior was not damaging. This mindset allows me to forgive others for their human errors and mistakes as well. When I hear about someone losing their job because of a single statement they made 20 years ago, regardless of who that person is today…well, that doesn’t seem right to me. I wonder if any of us can ever stand that level of scrutiny. Please be clear that I am not referring to excusing repeated bad behaviors either. I am talking about “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.”
I am so grateful that I can practice forgiving…of myself first, and the others. Recently, I was reminded again that we are all extensions of the creator, experiencing His/Herself through each of us. When I think of that how can I hate anyone! I feel so empowered to practice love vs. hate, only as a sign of love for my creator. I celebrate the fact that I have come such a long way in my own evolution. I celebrate a caring and just future for all of us! Regardless of how things might look, I celebrate our collective evolution!
In my talks on Making the Extremes Mainstream I have pointed out the categories of Human Factors and Ergonomics studies where they identified how a situational context can create a temporary disability for people who are otherwise considered “enabled”. For example, excessive workload, or lack of trust – two categories of Cognitive Ergonomics – can create stress for many individuals.
Let’s examine what stress itself can do to an individual! The very informative article 5 Surprising Ways That Stress Affects Your Brain, by Kendra Cherry posted on verywellmind, presents the following as outcomes of experiencing stress on a continuous basis:
Chronic Stress Increases Mental Illness – reslting in anxiety disorder
Stress Changes the Brain’s Structure – effecting decision making and problems solving abilities
Stress Kills Brain Cells – effecting memory, amongst other things
Stress Shrinks the Brain – effecting emotions, and memory
Stress Hurts Your Memory – effecting short-term memory and memory retrieval
One case which clearly causes extra workload and continuous stress is caregiving. This was a situational context that is becoming more and more prevalent for many, due to the aging population. COVID-19 is also increasing the number of caregivers due to its complications and long-term effects on those who have experienced it.
As I have written before, I was a caregiver for three years. I, too, experienced the effects of high levels of stress, first hand. To be honest, months later, I am still suffering from some of these effects.
You may ask, why am I sharing all of this with you! I am bringing this point up to remind everyone that when we design and develop application that are accessible
for people with cognitive constraints, we are helping ourselves – especially, those of us who are stressed, yet not clinically declared disabled! Yet, we suffer from cognitive constraints as well, temporarily or not!
The following are some of the considerations asked from our designers and developers to meet digitial accessibility standards:
Maintain a coherent hierarchy of information for the users to follow.
Make it easy to navigate through the site, including returning to previous screens and steps.
Make simple calculations within the application/site – such as duration of a flight, the total charges, etc.
Make the language of the application easy to read and comprehend. The rule of thumb is making it easy for an 8th grader to do so.
Prevent errors, and present clear and helpful messaging to resolve them.
Present important form elements initially, and in meaningful groups. Present optional information on demand as much as possible, with easy interactions to disclose and access.
Present information in sensible chunks, rather than presenting an overwhelming amount of text and let the users struggle to read.
These don’t seem very difficult tasks to follow. Do they? Yet, we come across so many applications that don’t follow such simple considerations to make their products accessible, and they make it difficult for everyone to complete their tasks.
Let’s have a little more empathy for our users…or ourselves…and create accessible products and services!
Some Good Examples…
My friends tell me that I am one of the strongest women that they’ve known! Yet, 2020 tested me to my extreme limits in so many ways! This was the most challenging year of my life that I recall. And, I should add that my life, although very blessed, has been a difficult one by many standards. Regardless of all that happened I found this to be a year of reflections and empathy!
I begun the year stressed to the limits of insanity! At work front, I was managing the Digital Accessibility Program at Sabre and we were reaching the ultimate milestone of having an executive’s endorsement, which needed a great deal of effort on my part. At home, I had been a caregiver to my husband, David, who was suffering from aftereffects of multiple strokes, as well as dementia. This, also, made me the head of the household at all fronts. We had daytime caregivers while I was at work. That topic deserves several blogs on its own. So, I won’t get into it here except that I had my hands full with them as well!
The COVID-19 lockdown was a blessing for me (forgive me for putting it this way) since I got to rest a little when I would’ve been on the road. I also had to stop our daytime care giving services. Somehow, I was able to balance work and caring well since the shutdown. It also became was a period when David and I were able to reconnect and spend quality time together! I can’t express enough the value of those few weeks for me! Precious memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
Late March, I decided to leave my job and become a fulltime caregiver to David. Unfortunately, my departing from my position took lover a month due to the need for knowledge transfer. I did not know that my David did not have that much time to wait! I lost David, the love of my life and my soulmate on April! 15.
This year had already begun with the loss of three friends and associates. A week after David’s passing, I also lost a mother-figure of 43 years! And, the deaths in my church community kept adding up to the point that now I don’t even want to open an email from my church with the fear of reading about another death. I am saturated with grief!
This is when my empathy for those who have lost loved ones grew even deeper for me. I truly feel the pain that the family members experience. It doesn’t matter whether the death was caused by COVID-19, an illness, or senseless gunshots! I feel your pain and I truly feel sad for anyone minimizing such pain for political reasons.
Also having been in a vulnerable situation of not having a job or enough income in the past, I empathize with the anxiety for those who are in similar situations now. My heart breaks every time I see the images of rows and rows of cars waiting for a share at food pantries. It’s a cliché to say these are hard times. But they are…in the most unprecedented ways. The way I see it, the problem is not just an unknown disease, hardships caused due to environmental disasters, or a political situation. The problem is that they all have been intertwined in the worst way in 2020!
During my most stressed times, I would find myself losing ground and perspective of my life and the happenings around me. So, they would stress me further. I found myself having to ground myself and my emotions over and over. My way of doing that was to listen to Eckart Tolley’s book, The Power of Now. And, to make sure that I meditated well on daily basis. What blessings have these been to me. These practices helped me clear my heart of anger and frustrations, and helped me see things clearly.
So, my message to you is to please, please, stay in touch with the core of yourself! It is so easy to get caught up with all the fears and angers around us. Don’t accept them from anyone! Let the good inside you to shine through and overshadow any negativity that is influencing you. Even if you disagree with someone, respect the other person and choose to see the good in them, and speak of love and not hate! Speak with love. You will be surprised to find out how liberating this mindset can be! I assure you that this is not just empty words. My best friend and I could not be any further apart on certain topics, most obvious one being politics! Yet we love each other and respect each other’s points of view. We choose to see the humanity of the other, first. We touch sensitive topics every now-and-then. But, agree to disagree respectfully and move on. We are not an exception either. I have seen that amongst other friends and colleagues as well.
I hope that you will find your path to connecting with the better angels in you on regular basis and allow empathy for all grow within you.
I wish everyone a new year full of joy, good health, and empathy!
Year 2020 has been a year of changes, to put it mildly!
I consider year 2020 the beginning of the COVID-19 Era. This virus has brought so many things to light, both good and bad!
COVID-19 has taken millions of lives, and destroyed thousands of livelihoods! This is so unfortunate and sad. When I watch the news about a young father with his little girl in his arms pointing to a few stuffed bags inside a stroller as their belongings since they are now homeless, it just breaks my heart. When I hear about an elderly woman who had to call 911 to ask for the address to the nearest location where food is distributed, I want to weep. I remind myself that these are hard times for all of us in different ways and we all have to be strong and go through it, like marching through the worst storm possible!
Now, I’d like to talk a moment and mention the positive that I have seen during this period. I have seen the news about so many angels amongst us! Essential workers who display so much empathy that is beyond anyone’s expectations. The agents as 911 call center collecting donations for the caller who is hungry! People who share what they have, whether its money or goods, with others who need them more. And, so many others who contribute in small acts of kindness and love!
Yes! We will get through these hard times. I hope that we can all learn from these angels and do our jobs with dignity, integrity, love, empathy and care!
One of the most highlighted aspects of COVID-19 is how integral technology is in our lives anymore. Technology is what is helping us pull through it. And, how important Digital Accessibility is for all people.
I, too, have had my share of the unfortunate events. In many ways, this has been the worst year of my life, so far! However, I am too stubborn! I am one who doesn’t subscribe to the victim mentality and doesn’t give up easily. So, I do all I can to make things better, for myself and for everyone else around me. I regard starting the Seda Maurer Consulting services as one of these positive moves, for me, and hopefully for many others! I started this small business following my heart and my passion for Digital Accessibility!
As I mention before, Digital Accessibility is not an option. It never was! But, organisations have gotten away with putting out non-compliant applications and websites for so long. Of course, things started changing, especially since 2018, when the number of lawsuits for ADA compliance tripled in one year and keep increasing! We all know that we still have a long ways to go. This is why Seda Maurer Consulting was created. I will help businesses manage their risks, have better products, and be successful, while the people using their products are delighted by using them!