November 15, 2018

accessibility for in-gallery digital experiences, part 2 of 3

This is part two of a three-part series on accessibility for in-gallery digital experiences.  It was written in conjunction with my talk at the 2018 Museum Computer Network (MCN) Conference.

Recap of part 1:

Audiences bring high expectations to in-gallery digital experiences.  Surrounded by the latest tech, they assume that interactives will meet their needs, including needs around accessibility. The common standards for evaluating the accessibility of a web product, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, do not go far enough in determining the accessibility of in-gallery digital experiences because digital interactives are different from websites and web apps in important ways.  When it comes to digital interactives, the user is not in control of the environment or device; the user-flow is often relatively rigid; user interface elements intentionally eschew design conventions; and the time spent on a digital interactive is limited.

looking outside the web

When researching a model that may accommodate the particular differences between web products and digital interactives, two adjacent technologies were identified: self-service kiosks and console games.

Self-service Kiosks

Self-service kiosks have become ubiquitous. This category of technology includes ATMs, as well as the interactive transaction machines common in airports, grocery stores, and, increasingly, restaurants. These devices have some common characteristics with digital interactives. Namely, the device and environment is controlled by the presenter. They also often employ a rigid user flow.

The accessibility standard most often applied to self-service kiosks is the 2010 American with Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design, which identifies specific standards for ATMs and interactive transactions machines. Few of those guidelines apply to digital interactives, but some do, including guidelines for the minimum and maximum height of interactive touch points, which are helpful in any project.

Console Games

Digital interactives have a lot in common with console games. They both employ a rigid user flow — users can’t just navigate to the castle, they have to complete the quest first  — and creative UI elements are an integral part of the experience. Gamers have to quickly identify what elements on the screen are interactive and how to interact with them. Speaking of timing, games often put time restrictions of one of kind or another on users as a part of game play.

While it may seem that another common characteristic is that users are not in control of the device, there are numerous devices on the market that help make games accessible.  Creative and determined gamers have also developed their own accessibility hacks so that they can join in the fun with their friends.

At least two sets of comprehensive accessibility standards exist.  One set of standards was created by Able Gamers, a nonprofit dedicated to improving accessibility in the video game space, enabling more people with disabilities to be able to play video games, and another set was created by an independent group of gamers, game makers, and academics.  Many of the guidelines overlap in some ways with the WCAG, but some are unique to gaming and also apply to digital interactives.

The guidelines in the next section aim to synthesize the lessons learned from research into the adjacent technologies of self-service kiosks and console games with the WCAG into one list that is applicable to many digital interactives.  Since digital interactives come in many forms, not every item on the checklist may be applicable to every interactive. The checklist works best when it is adapted to the specifics of the interactive.

The guidelines.