Podcast Episode 22 - Accessible Travel Apps

This week on the IAP, we talk about the need for more accessible travel apps, right before we all head off for American Thanksgiving.

Show Notes & Links


Announcer: This is the IAP - Interactive Accessibility Podcast with Mike Guill and Mark Miller. Introducing Mike Guill and Mark Miller.

Mark Miller: Hey, welcome to the IAP. Thanks for helping us keep it accessible. Do us a favor. If you’re enjoying the IAP, share it. Tell someone about it. Hey! Even link to it from your accessible website. Mike, happy Thanksgiving!

Mike Guill: Hey, happy Thanksgiving, Mark. How are you doing?

Mark: I’m doing well, thanks. For people who don’t know, the show is recorded a little earlier. So we’re earlier than what you hear.

Mike: Well, we do record the show like an hour or two before we post it.

Mark: We do not. I happen to know that Mike Guill works very hard on transcribing these episodes so they’re fully accessible and that that takes a little bit of time before we can publish them. So it is the Tuesday before Thanksgiving 2013.

Mike: It is.

Mark: And like everybody else, I think you and I are both thinking a little bit about travel.

Mike: Yes.

Mark: I’m not going very far. I’m going maybe 45 minutes away on Thanksgiving Day. So I don’t have too bad of a travel schedule.

Mike: I’m going about 500 miles or so.

Mark: 500, yes. So you’re thinking about a little more than I am. So this is really cool. You’ve come up with this story out of London where the Transport for London has launched a prize for developers to create apps for people with disabilities, travel apps for people with disabilities.

Mike: Right! And I should add in here that the contest is closed now. I mean, this is kind of old news, but it’s something that I pulled out because it’s pertinent to the season right now. We take things for granted. We take it for granted, that we can just open up one of our apps like whatever you use (if you use Kayak or southwest.com or whatever you use) on your phone or tablet or on your desk. You search for a flight, you book a hotel, whatever it takes – rent a car. A lot of these things even in today’s day and age are not accessible. They’re very frustrating. I’ve even encountered some pretty poor UI experiences in there as well even for users with disabilities.

Mark: Yeah, that’s what I was going to say. It’s interesting that you say that. It strikes me that out of all the apps out there and with all the UI or the UX that you would be really focused on, I would think travel would be no. 1 because you know that people aren’t sitting in a desk, you know that people’s attention is pulled by having to rush this way or having to drive a car. Even if you’re passenger in a car and you’re trying to navigate some of these things. You and I both have families. I’m never sitting in the passenger seat of a car with my attention being able to fully be focused on everything because I’ve got two kids in the backseat. If you’re helping the driver navigate, you’re trying to focus on where you are and what’s coming up, it’s funny to me that this is an area that needs so much focus on, accessibility, In essence, when we’re travelling, I think that’s the time we all become temporarily disabled in that cognitive kind of space where it’s difficult for us to pay attention to something for a long period of time. It may even be physically difficult for us to find smaller buttons and stuff like that because we’re moving or who knows what’s going on. Travel is unpredictable.

Mike: But you know, I think it’s coming though. One of the reasons I say that is because in the physical space, in the physical world, travel information has gotten easier and easier to understand and to digest. Just take, for example (I’m just throwing this out there) almost any train or subway map from around the globe, as complex as it is, you and I can both pick up the subway map in Tokyo and make pretty good sense of it almost right away because it looks conventional. It has the colored lines. It has the different stops simplified in lines and angles. It doesn’t follow the map exactly. It’s easy to comprehend. You know what the symbols are for connecting lines. You know what the symbols are for major stations and that sort of thing. So there are some conventions in there that make it easy for everyone to use. And also, there’s a good reason that most anywhere in the world the train and our subway maps don’t use weird fonts and stuff, right? I know for a fact that the DC Metro uses Helvetica. It’s crystal clear and easy to read. There’s no mistaking it. You can be from anywhere in the world and if you have a good handle on the English alphabet, you’re going to know what the letters are.

Mark: You’re going to know Helvetica, yeah.

Mike: Yeah, you’re going to see it. So again in the physical space, we’re seeing this simplified approach to convention. A lot of the icons and the spaces of airports and stuff, you can go to any airport and know where the restrooms and the information desk and all that stuff are.

Mark: It’s true. It’s true, yeah.

Mike: One of the good places to move that idea into digital accessibility and make things more not just accessible, but more easily understandable and usable. When you’re traveling, of course, like you just said, you don’t have a lot of time to assimilate information. You need to know something quickly.

Mark: One of the most difficult things for me as a user without disabilities is that the travel app I use the most is a navigator on my phone, right? I use the GPS functionality of my phone and I want my phone to tell me how to get from point A to point B and give me directions along the way. From an accessibility standpoint, it’s fine in or out once I get it set up and going, but more often than not, because of the design of the user interface, I’ve sat fiddling around with it. I remember the app that I use now (and I’m not going to name it just because I don’t want to do that), the app that I use now, it changed its interface and it was so unintuitive. I couldn't figure it out. They tried to be too fancy, Mike I guess is what I’m saying. Doing simple things like saying, "I want to go from here to here" became complicated. Now my new phone has a Siri-like functions. It’s an Android phone, it’s the Galaxy S3. It’s actually back engine and everything. It’s pretty much Siri, but different. I think the voice recognition is a little bit different. So now this big crazy complicated task where I was looking for this and how do I do that, does that mean I’m driving, does this mean I’m walking and what the heck is going on now go into this voice IA kind of deal and say, "Hey, navigate me to..." It knows where I am, right? I love that. I don’t have to say where I am. "Navigate me to..." and I rattle of the address. I haven’t even opened the app yet and it opens up the app. Almost with like 90% accuracy, it says, "Here you go." I almost click nothing and it’s walking me. To me, that’s the kind of simplicity that never mind the accessibility that a travel app should have. That’s easy. I could be doing anything and go, "Hey, two clicks of a button, navigate me here."

Mike: Right!

Mark: I guess my point being, adding to your point about bringing all this functionality or this accessibility that travel in general across the world has adopted and bring that into the digital is also this idea of really utilizing our technologies within these travel apps to make them more accessible as well. I think that that’s a benefit of this technology. Let’s use it for everything.

Mike: To bounce on what you just were talking about, one of the quotes from the Transport for London website when they wrote this thing about the prize they were making available for accessible travel apps, they said that the primary objective is to focus the functionality around the needs of the passengers. Now they specifically mentioned people with disabilities, but they also specifically mention good design and useful features and said that "older people who find conventional information challenging may also benefit from a design that allows minimal interaction."

Mark: Right! And I think that’s the key. I think that that’s what I was saying. It’s funny because my mom has those same features I was just talking about on her phone and I showed them to her yesterday and she flipped out. She’s like, "Oh, my gosh! This is so much." She always struggles as being an older person with integrating herself into a world that uses technology because she is in that aging group. We talked about the aging adopting disabilities like mobile disabilities, but I think we don’t often stop to think about that in a sense, they can also be in the cognitive disability space because they don’t adopt to change. As we as human beings get older, we don’t adapt to change in the same way we do when we were younger. So my mom who is very bright actually does a pretty darn good job of it is still always struggling to figure out how to operate it in a technological world.

Mike: Well, it doesn’t take that much age to be tied to a routine. I’ll give you a quick one. Me...

Mark: A confession from Mike Guill.

Mike: I’ll admit to something as a pretty technologically savvy user that it took me a little while – I use the Chrome browser a lot and you know that in the address bar with the Chrome browser, it’s a multi-purpose bar, that field. You can type an address there, but you can also just type a search phrase or term and it will return searches from Google. For a long time, it wasn’t hard for me to do it to either get over the habit of typing the URL to the search engine first and then do the search. Somebody looking over my shoulder who’s a brand new Chrome user would go, "What are you doing?"

Mark: What are you doing? Yeah.

Mike: I think of it the same way. And this is funny. You’ve seen people do this before I’m sure. I’ve seen it happen a million times in usability studies. Somebody goes to a search engine like Google or Yahoo or whatever and in the search field, they’ll type the URL.

Mark: Ah, that’s funny.

Mike: Of course it returns the result to the URL, but they could’ve just saved a step and typed it in the address bar.

Mark: Yeah. While we’re admitting stuff, Mike I will admit to still typing www. In the address bar. I know I don’t have to.

Mike: No, but that pays off sometimes. You almost do have to. The prominence of sub-domains used for extra sites and stuff like that...

Mark: It’s true. It’s true. But you know, well I know when I have to and when I don’t and I still do. Anyway, obviously, it’s very cool that the Transport for London launched this and put prizes around it. I also kind of love like you were saying before some of the language that they talked about, just breaking out of the barriers and talking about people with disabilities and talking about the aging population as the aging population. And they’re also saying right here on this article, "Hey! You don’t have to make this thing accessible to all people with all disabilities. If you’ve got a great idea that’s going to help one group like the elderly, like the blind, run with that." I think that that’s an important concept in innovation. We, in the accessibility industry when we go and remediate digital content like a website, we think about overall accessibility, people with a variety of disabilities using a variety of assistive technologies. But as innovators, sometimes or most of the time, I would say that focus on one issue is very valuable. So that was the thing to me in this article as well.

Mike: Right! Well, it’s like that old Voltaire quote. To paraphrase, don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good.

Mark: Right!

Mike: If you strive for something that’s good, at least you’re going to make progress whereas if you’re just looking for perfection, you’re never going to get anything done at all.

Mark: Yeah, definitely. Analysis paralysis, right?

Mike: Yeah, that’s right.

Mark: Alright! Well, good turkey day discussion here, Mike. Thanks for finding this one for us.

Mike: Yeah, I know. I think we’ll skip in Turkey this year. We’re going to Texas, so I think we’re going to make barbecue for Thanksgiving.

Mark: Oh, really? That’s pretty good. I heard that there was a shortage of Turkey. I don’t know how you have a shortage of turkey, but I heard that that was the case this year.

Mike: I do not know. I’m kind of an alternative Thanksgiving kind of person. We’ve done smoked salmon and all kinds of stuff like that in the past. It just depends on...

Mark: I’m a turkey fan, but I’ll tell you what, smoked salmon sounds pretty darn good to me.

Mike: Last year, I smoked a salmon. And then I made a big crawfish boil.

Mark: Oh, crawdads! You’ve got the crawdads. Alright, I’m coming over to your house for next Thanksgiving. That settles it.

Mike: Alright!

Mark: Alright! Hey, thanks, Mike. I appreciate it. And happy Thanksgiving.

Mike: Yeah, happy Thanksgiving, Mark.

Mark: Yeah. This is Mark Miller...

Mike: ...and this is Mike Guilll...

Mark: ...reminding you to keep it accessible.

Announcer: The IAP - Interactive Accessibility Podcast brought to you by Interactive Accessibility, the accessibility experts. You can find their Access Matters Blog at Interactiveaccessibility.com/blog


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