Accessibility in world 4.0: Why this needs to improve

Hey guys;

So, this will be the very first post where I explicitly talk about accessibility. Previously, I either mentioned it briefly, or implied about it in posts, but this will be the very first post dedicated to this issue, and thus this post will go under its own category as well.

As the title suggests, this post will be about accessibility in the digital era, A.K.A world 4.0. Given that governments around the world are moving towards a digital society relying primarily on mobile apps and the internet, accessibility is going to be the main issue. Why? Because a good host of mobile apps and websites that are commonly used, along with internal portals/web systems of organizations such as universities are not totally accessible!

First, let’s talk mobile apps. On iOS, other than apps created by Apple, accessibility ranges from extremely poor (especially with games and lesser known chat and social media apps) to excellent (mostly apps dedicated for users with disabilities such as audio games). Even apps that ranked very highly in the top charts don’t score the best in terms of accessibility. For example, in Line, which is the king of chat apps for Thais, when selecting photos VoiceOver can’t tell when a photo is taken, and whether it’s in landscape or portrait. This can be an issue, especially for visually impaired users who have lots of photos stored on their iPhones; this issue was also present in Facebook Messenger app. WhatsApp is perhaps the most accessible, but it’s not that popular outside some regions like Europe. Skype for iOS use to be very accessible, but Microsoft somehow messed that up with the new Skype refresh around the middle of last year, and as of now there are still some accessibility issues, once again most noticeable when trying to send photos or videos. Microsoft does release an app to help visually impaired users describe things and objects, called Seeing AI, but it’s only available in a handful of countries and…I don’t know why…seriously, describing objects doesn’t require localized data. At least make this basic function available worldwide…I don’t really care about recognizing people or currencies…I care about being able to have my phone describe objects to me…

Let’s move on to mobile payment…

Although I have never used this feature, accessibility is critically important, especially now that the world is moving towards a cashless society. Apple Pay is only available in select few countries, and even in those countries apple Pay isn’t available everywhere either, so most users have to rely on third party apps and, once again, they might not be the best in terms of accessibility. Personally I didn’t use any of the e-money features in chat apps, such as Line Pay, so I can’t really comment on the accessibility of such features. If you’ve used Line Pay, please comment down below on the accessibility of this feature (particularly how well VoiceOver performs in critical tasks such as adding/sending money, checking available balances, and paying bills). Right now visually impaired people can still rely on cash, but I do believe that the days where payments by cash are still being accepted are numbered. Without accessible e-money solutions, these people would be essentially left in the dark. Imagine this. You want to buy a cup of coffee. You placed your orders, and took out your wallet to pay for the coffee, but the salesperson said, “Sorry, we no longer accept cash. Please use mobile payment instead”. You take out your iPhone, launch the app to make a payment, but found out that it’s not accessible with VoiceOver at all. So what can you do? Nothing. Without an accessible mobile payment solution, you’re pretty much screwed.

Now, let’s move on to web…

Accessibility on the web is and has always remain an issue, for a pretty long time now. From my own personal experience, the majority of the websites I visit to read news or any articles are quite accessible, however alt text in images is still lacking in many places around the web. And, some sites still use pure image captchas during registration or log in process without an audio version, and in some cases the quality of the audio captcha is not so good. I don’t have any statistics as to the percentage of websites that are accessible; so if you have those, please comment down below along with the source where you got the statistics from.

With regards to the accessibility of online systems of organizations such as universities and schools, I can’t really comment much on that as I didn’t have enough experience. But there is one such systems that I’ve been using ever since I started college and I know full well how accessible it is. That system in question is MUIC’s Sky system.

A screenshot showing the log in page of MUIC's Sky system, with the pure visual captcha visible.
A screenshot showing the log in page of MUIC’s Sky system, with the pure visual captcha visible.

As you can see by this screenshot, there is a captcha, but only in a form of an image with numbers. There is no audio version at all, and the alt text for the image containing the numbers isn’t even present. How will a student with 100% blindness log in without any assistance?

Once logged in, the interface is pretty accessible. Jaws and NVDA reads the links and texts correctly, and I was able to register and withdraw courses and check my grades without any technical issues. There is one big flaw though, and that is that Jaws and NVDA will most likely not tell the user if the page has been changed, for example when the user switches from the dashboard to another view, such as student record or once the user confirms that he or she is adding a course or withdrawing a course. For me, since I can still see that the system is processing since the main view seems to be grayed out, but for students with 100% blindness they will not be able to tell whether the system is processing something since Jaws and NVDA most likely won’t tell them so. But at least, when searching for courses such as in the class schedule page, Jaws and NVDA does announce the search results.

To conclude, accessibility is still an issue in the digital age, and will most likely remain so as we move further into world 4.0, in particularly into a cashless society. Improving accessibility in mobile apps, especially apps that are used to make mobile payments, is the key to ensure that people with disabilities won’t be left behind. Web accessibility is also important, in particular, all captchas should have both a visual and an audio version and the quality of an audio captcha should also be good enough.

That’s it for now…

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