Siri as shown on an Apple iPad

Designing a Manifesto for Accessibility

Outdoor wheelchair ramp

Outdoor wheelchair ramp. Photo by Tobias Abel (CC BY-ND 2.0)

It might be easy to assume that design and accessibility are two very different concepts. After all, a ramp and automatic door opener are not particularly remarkable architectural features and for the average Canadian, they often go unnoticed. For someone who uses a scooter or power wheelchair, however, a motorized sliding door and small incline give independence.

The same goes for those tiny computers we carry in our pockets. Modern smartphones feature some variation on the “personal assistant”: Siri, Cortana, Google Now. As each of these assistants is operated using just voice, barring some limitations, users can complete most basic functions without laying a finger on their device. For someone with limited mobility or another who is blind, voice activation can instantly make an inaccessible touch screen accessible.

Some more obvious than others, these accessibility features are built into our physical and digital worlds… but they are not used solely by people with disabilities. A parent pushing a baby stroller benefits from a door that swings open on its own. Or, while driving to work, a perpetually late employee might need to text their boss; Google Now has their back.