I usually don’t feel a need to write about personal matters, but this story is related to my advocacy for web standards, accessibility and design thinking.
I recently wrote a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook to let him know how much the accessibility features included in Apple products are a critical value to a minority group of people that rely on technology to help them connect to the world. These features are often a baseline that improve user experience for everyone.
My late mom’s cousin, David, suffered from blindness and other ailments his entire life. He was the only child of an English teacher and very innovative engineer.
As David’s symptoms got worse from age, my uncle offered to provide him a technological solution to help him stay connected to the world and express himself through writing. My uncle has been an Apple user longer than I have through his career in creative arts in education.
As a web UI/UX designer, my career path has guided me to become very familiar with web technology accessibility needs. Web standards and properly formatted HTML is very helpful for those relying on screen readers to present web content and page structures in a way that makes sense to the audience. The days of a designer hacking up a web page in a table to get things lined up is thankfully a thing of the past, though there’s still many who learn why they should come aboard the standards train. It’s a disruptive experience to hear web page content read out like it’s a data table when it really isn’t.
My uncle and I talked about accessibility features iPads have for the visually impaired. Siri seems like a good start for helping someone get a task accomplished. He gave David an engraved iPad and some Bluetooth-enabled accessories that would help him.
Unfortunately, the iPad didn’t quite meet his needs, and in contrast with a general policy to not accept returns on engraved items, the Apple retail store employees offered a full refund, even for items he didn’t keep in the packaging. It turned out that a Mac Mini would have additional features for accessibility he was looking for and was up for giving that a try.
Sadly, I received a call to learn David’s health had suddenly taken a turn for the worse and he passed away that week. My uncle wasn’t given another chance at enabling him.
However, when I heard my uncle tell me how thankful he was for the common sense and general kindness he experienced from Apple store employees, along with the product choices that help people do things they need and want to do in their lives, it reminded me of how important both accessibility and good customer experience management is. My uncle expected to suffer the financial burden of the cost of the iPad and was pleasantly surprised when he was told otherwise. If only all retailers were this respectful of their customers. If only all people were this respectful and kind. Of course the “kindness” is a long-game business strategy and only goes as far as what’s a cost-benefit for the company. This was far from a charitable effort, but it was refreshingly decent and creates an emotional engagement when expectations are met.
Beyond all the hyped marketing and salesmanship, there is a value to technology that is pure and not at all cynical or falsely self-important.
In the technology business, a ruthlessly competitive world that can be dehumanizing and treat users and customers as a disposable short-term relationship or a personal data product generator to sell to the highest ad bidder, it’s hard to find those trying to understand and actually help people with invention and not spending their effort chasing down a merger/acquisition lottery ticket from a bigger fish.
As a designer, I know it can be a struggle to sell clients on the value of quality design and user experience, but it’s worth the extra effort even beyond the reasonable, bottom line cost-benefit analysis, though that really helps.
I hope I get an opportunity in my design career that allows me to build something half as meaningful as a tool that enables a person to reach out to the world that would otherwise not have such empowerment.
Thanks to computers, the Internet and accessibility, there are more people communicating with each other right now who in other times in history would never have been able to.
The key to this working is making sure through all the chatter, we’re also listening.