Monthly Archives: March 2012

We are all disabled #0 – Intro post.

I have told you the story about how I started to be interested in human-computer interactions here. I got deeply amazed about how accessibility problems (situations where the disabled strive to use a mobile phone) challenged me into thinking of alternative ways they (people and phones) could interact. I mean, how could one make a phone call without being able to speak? Or how can someone send a text message with no hands, or with no motor dexterity. The list goes on. A quick sit-down with a blind person could feed our innovators-hci-brain-cells with nitro.

Quick side note: I have very dear memories of me and my father watching bruce lee, jackie chan, van-damme movies, and it was always a cool part when the masters had creative (and painful) ways to teach their techniques. It was interesting how the blindfold fighting was a recurrent scene. I think it was supposed to enhance awareness by disabling the sight of the student. I think this relates well to creating alternative hci. See a classical example below on 03:18  :):

So, i kept going with experiments with mobile apps for the disabled. It felt both challenging and it was like the industry and the academia were not exploring it how it could (or should). Some ideas from our brainstorming sessions sounded so obvious and we could not find them implemented anywhere. We thought that maybe the it was a commercial/market thing, that accessibility would not be profitable enough for them to put a team of developers and designers together to work with it. After some time of reflection, we thought of many reasons to invest in accessibility, which we have been presenting in a lot of places, over the last 3 or 4 years.

But one of these reasons kept maturing and has taken over the way I think about hci. I realized that not only the disabled benefit from accessibility solutions. Think of someone trying to talk on the phone during that loud party. You will find yourself absolutely deaf (to the phone). Maybe this was an obvious example, but it is possible to stress these scenarios a bit further. Like when you are driving and you can´t (or you shouldn´t) look at the phone screen and you just have to blindly interact with it. Or this: Let´s say you are cooking and your hands are viscous, slimy, sticky, viscid, tacky, stringy, glairy, and you cannot hold your phone, but you do have to take that urgent call. How much of a handicap are you right there?

Anyway, we all have limitations and those should be the fuel of human x technology interaction innovation. Again,I keep thinking I am being so obvious here, but it gets tiring to see technologists getting self-amazed with their technically-wowing but humanless solutions. Really.

the rules of my thumb #0 – intro post

I wish to transform my own repertoire of early experiments into building blocks of scientific investigation maturity. Hopefully this will reflect on solutions to be developed further. A quick note on the expression “rule of thumb” I used in this post title. Some say that the term’s etymological origin lies in a law that limited the maximum thickness of a stick with which it was permissible for a man to beat his wife.

In the United States, legal decisions in Mississippi (1824) and North Carolina (1868 and 1874) make reference to—and reject—an unnamed “old doctrine” or “ancient law” by which a man was allowed to beat his wife with a stick no wider than his thumb. For example, the 1874 case State v. Oliver (North Carolina Reports, Vol. 70, Sec. 60, p. 44) states: “We assume that the old doctrine that a husband had the right to whip his wife, provided that he used a switch no larger than his thumb, is not the law in North Carolina.” The Straight Dope

Jokes aside: maybe i should probably have said the rule of thumb relates to principles that are not intended to be very accurate or much reliable for every situation. Let the lessons learned from my failures stick with me permanently and, as my own thumb, may I be able to easily access them as thinking tools in the time of need.

I should be posting things I’ve come to notice, as a developer, and should be paying attention when dealing with human/accessible/usable/social/urban technology. Maybe I will come up with old-news for some, but maybe useful for some and reminders for myself.

A cold night in Finland.

The story of how alternative human-computer interaction started for me:

Late 2007, we were invited to participate in a quick meeting with the corporate social responsibility team in Nokia. They had just held a workshop with disable and elderly mobile phone users and listened to their complaints about their limitations and restricted use of this technology. The team shared a few testimonials and ideas. Some of the ideas felt challenging, simply because the sentences we heard were prefixed with “Are you guys able to …[]”. Our brains itched. It was me-the-developer, wilson-the-designer and carlos-the-marketing-guy. A person from Nokia CSR asked us if we could develop a mobile phone app that could use the phone camera as a magnifier, to help the hard of reading to e.g. check what are the nutrition facts on their cereal and make other types of fine printed information legible.

We went straight back to the hotel, on a cold Finnish night and started debating about the use of zooming and macro focus range on mobile phone cameras. We started from there. Countless builds later (around two months doing this after work hours), we came up with an app that adjusted zoom and macro to what we felt it was optimal and we sent it to the accessibility team in Nokia. I have to say they were actually very patient to coach us through several accessibility principles that shaped basically all of our experiments.

So we were at this point: The accessibility team in Nokia was checking out our app! And they liked it?! And after a few improvements and bug fixes we were publishing the app here. They wrote the entry post for Nokia Beta Labs and the guys from NRC Finland produced the video. It felt really rewarding. (good times, sigh..) We have a new version now, downloadable here (S60 3rd Edition) and here (Symbian^3). Also, here is a post on the Magnifier and its results.

From there on, I understand that mobile phones are intimate pieces of technology, full of sensors, fully connected and perfectly equipped to help people assessing their environment. It also lighted up the fact that humans have limitations which will prevent some of their senses to interact with mobile phones. I am not talking to the usual concept of a disabled user. But we can talk about that later. [here]