All humans have limitations in their physical capabilities. Some are immediately visible, others are not. When designing from an HCI perspective, you start realizing that limitations are often discussed in terms of disabilities. The application of HCI to supporting and enhancing the physical capabilities of humans is one of the most promising application areas. Strides in biomedical engineering mean that there is research to support the blind or those with low vision, those who are deaf or have impaired hearing, and people with limited mobility.
There are also improvements in the technical supports available to those who face difficulties in cognitive processing, including persons suffering with symptoms of autism, dyslexia, and attention deficit disorder. As a systems analyst you will be subject to the legal provisions of the country in which you are working. For instance, if you are designing for workplaces in the United States, you may want to access the obligations of an employer under the Americans with Disabilities Act at www.eeoc.gov/types/ada.html. There you will find definitions of who is considered disabled, which states in part, “An individual with a disability is a person who: has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; has a record of such impairment; or is regarded as having such an impairment.”
An employer in the United States is expected to make reasonable accommodation to employ a disabled person, which includes “Making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities; job restructuring, modifying work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position; acquiring or modifying equipment or devices, adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials, or policies, and providing qualified readers or interpreters.”
A qualified employee or application is an individual who, “with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the job in question.” An employer is required to make reasonable accommodation to the known disability of a qualified applicant or employee if it would not impose an undue hardship on the operation of the business. Undue hardship is defined as “an action requiring significant difficulty or expense when considered in light of factors such as an employer’s size, financial resources, and the nature and structure of its operation. An employer is not required to lower quality or production standards to make an accommodation.”
One of the best ways to ensure the broadest possible accommodation is to begin designing from an HCI perspective. That way, your foremost concern will always be assisting a user in accomplishing a task, set by the organization, with the use of technology. When accommodations for disabled people are necessary, there are many sources to examine and many assistive devices to consider.
For people who are blind or who have low vision, there are braille keyboards as well as special speech software that reads Web pages and other documents aloud. There are also screen magnifiers that fit over a display to magnify the entire screen.
For people who lack certain perceptual sensitivity (incorrectly called color blindness), you can work at testing the colors you are choosing for screens or forms to make certain that they can be easily distinguished from each other. Particular problems occur telling the difference between red and green, for instance. Always design the screen or form with alternative cues, such as icons, written text, or audio cues that reinforce the content. For instance, if a hyperlink that has been clicked on turns blue to show it has been followed, you can also add another icon to the display to indicate that it has been followed or create a separate sidebar list that shows which Web sites have been visited. These are better alternatives than relying solely on color to convey your message.
For users who experience impaired hearing, you can make sure that the documents and screens you design include access to written versions of the audio material. Alternatively, you might design tasks where headphones can be successfully used.
If you are designing computer tasks for those with limited mobility, you can think of speech input rather than keyboarding. Additionally, new advances in biomedical engineering permit mobility impaired users to move the cursor on the screen by breathing into a tube or by directing the cursor to the desired spot on the screen by looking at that spot or even, in some highly specialized interfaces, by thinking about where the cursor should move.
Implementing Good HCI Practices
The ideal is to invite a usability specialist to serve on the systems development team with the other team members. However, many systems groups are quite small, and not many professionals are available who are involved in the practice of usability per se; so even if you make this recommended change to your project, the odds are that the position will go unstaffed or understaffed. However, don’t let that discourage you. You can take some simple steps that will positively influence the outcome of your systems project. A list of guidelines for taking an HCI approach to systems design is shown below.
- Examine the task to be done and consider the fit among the human, computer, and task.
- Identify what obstacles exist for users in their attempts to accomplish their assigned tasks.
- Keep in mind the perceived usefulness and perceived ease of use from TAM.
- Consider usability. Examine the usage environment by creating use case scenarios that depict what is going on between users and the technology.
- Use the information you have gained beforehand to figure out the physical and organizational environmental characteristics. Design with prototyping to accommodate diverse users and users with disabilities.
Although we have been discussing the system in the abstract, it is important to recognize that the interface is the system for most users. However well or poorly designed, it stands as the representation of the system and, by reflection, your competence as a systems analyst. A well-designed interface improves the fit among the task, the technology, and the user. Your goal must be to design interfaces that help users and businesses get the information they need in and out of the system by addressing the following objectives:
- Matching the user interface to the task.
- Making the user interface efficient.
- Providing appropriate feedback to users.
- Generating usable queries.
- Improving the productivity of computer users.