BEYOND COMPLIANCE – ACCESSIBILITY BY DESIGN
Authored by Rick Vertolli and presented by Vertolli, Chris Ficken and Johnny Poon at the 24th Annual International Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference in March. The three, from Academic Technologies, collaborated on designing and building the informational video kiosk for the lobby of the new Student Services Center.
The kiosk in the new Student Services Center features real-time energy monitoring, computer animation showing how the building works, video descriptions about the campus, and a building directory with the ability to “search by name” and to “search by subject.”
The goal of the design team was to make all of the kiosk multimedia materials fully accessible to people with disabilities. This presented three design challenges: physical design, designing for the hearing impaired, and designing for the blind or visually impaired.
An extensive search of kiosks available for purchase revealed a huge flaw in expectations. Most kiosk manufacturers tout ADA compliance in the design of their product. In order to earn this claim, all a kiosk manufacturer need abide by is a specification that the touch screen be no greater than 44 inches in height at the center of the screen. The ability for the user to directly face the kiosk screen is not required. When considering wheelchair access, interaction with a kiosk touch screen of such limited specifications is uncomfortable at best and typically fatiguing. As a result, most kiosks are not worth the physical effort. Our solution to the problem was to design and fabricate a kiosk that allows people in wheelchairs to directly approach the kiosk as they would any accessible computer station. This gives them the ability to access any portion of the screen easily and effortlessly. We further found, with this new design, that we could lower the height of the screen and still have it be operational by someone in either a standing position or a wheelchair.
Designing for the hearing impaired
Our second design challenge addressed providing open captioning for the deaf and hearing impaired, with video and animation components. However, this was our first high-definition (HD) video project. Converting from a standard NTSC video format of 4 x 3 to a HD video format of 16 x 9 creates an enormous problem with screen composition. And losing more vertical space by embedding “Open Caption” over the video was not acceptable. Our solution was to incorporate “Open Caption” into the design of the video format, changing the resolution of our video from 720p to a custom resolution of 960 x 620. Bottom line, this allowed the video and the “Open Caption” to become elegantly designed into the video page.
Designing for the blind or visually impaired
The third and most challenging problem was for the kiosk to present meaningful information to people who are blind or visually impaired. This was accomplished by installing Braille buttons and using a second audio track. Stereo audio consists of two channels, left and right. By design, we recorded two discreet audio tracks. The left audio track is sent to an overhead HD Monitor with two speakers. This monitor plays the selected video with the synchronized narrative and music. The right audio track is sent to a monaural earpiece headset mounted on the kiosk. The headset receives navigation instructions that help the visually impaired select options as they move through the menus. Using Adobe Flash, we programmed the seven Braille buttons to duplicate the button selection of the touch screen. Furthermore, an audio database was created that mimicked the building directory database. The result is that when the user performs a “search by name” or a “search by subject,” the information is displayed on the overhead HD monitor and is also heard on the monaural headset. With this approach, approximately 75 percent of the information delivered has become available to people who are visually impaired.
It has been an exciting opportunity to create and install the multimedia kiosk for the Student Services Center at CSU, Chico. With this project I have found that if one considers the problem of accessibility for people with disabilities at the onset of a project, it becomes a matter of problem solving. And problem solving is at the center of any project. Our kiosk is as unique in shape as it is in content delivery. Much of the design is a result of accessibility. It is a great example of how form follows function.