No Cursive Experience

A spread displaying both the English and the Armenian versions of an article.

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.

Section Title page for the Messages from the Parishioners.
Close up of one message. Names of the parishioners are blurred out.

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?

Total Experience Study

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.

My Background

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.

Test Subjects

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 POUR principles 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.

Also, let’s remember a key standard set by ISO, the International Organization for Standardization, which is: – use by people with the widest range of capabilities”.

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.

Conclusion

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.

Evolution Experience

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 granted the 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!

Stress Experience Empathy

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:
  1. Chronic Stress Increases Mental Illness – reslting in anxiety disorder
  2. Stress Changes the Brain’s Structure – effecting decision making and problems solving abilities
  3. Stress Kills Brain Cells – effecting memory, amongst other things
  4. Stress Shrinks the Brain – effecting emotions, and memory
  5. 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…
A trip details indicating duration time for the trip and the layovers.
Trip Details indicating duration times: Total trip / Layovers
A trip booking form with grouped form content.
A form with grouped content: One way / Round trip / Multi-destination
A form with required fields and the instructions for its indicator.
Error prevention instrustion: * Required
Example of an email form field with an error message for an invalid format
Helpful Error Messaging: Invalid email format