Home shim clear shim
WhatsHot Companies News Products Features Help

Kiosks and Accessibility

By Chris Law

"KIOSK Magazine and Kiosks.Org recently asked Chris Law, a human factors engineer at the Trace Research and Development Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to use his experience with kiosks and the disabled to address kiosks and accessibility. Here is what he shared with us."

Neal Anderson is a busy professional and a technology power user who works on the R&D team of a successful software corporation, and he doesn't have time to shop for the annual occasions he will attend that require gifts. When he hears an advertisement on the radio for a kiosk gift registry at a local department store, he realizes he's found a time-saving solution. Neal is prepared to spend a bundle to complete all his annual gift purchases in one shot, but when he gets to the department store a major obstacle keeps him from using the kiosk. Unfortunately, the only thing keeping Neal, who is blind, from completing his mission is the fact that the kiosk can't be used by someone with low vision or blindness because there's no voice output to read what's on the kiosk screen.

Why consider accessibility?

Some might be quick to point out that all the kiosk needs for Neal to use it is Braille on the keys. However, according to the 1994-95 National Health Interview Survey, only eight percent of legally blind adults read Braille. Further, Braille can't be used to show the information displayed on the screen, and making a kiosk accessible means more than just making it usable for people who are blind. The good news is that accessible design solutions for cross-disability access do exist. But why is this important, anyway?

U.S. Census figures show that more than one-third of the population will acquire some type of disability by the time they reach retirement age - and the percentage goes up steadily after that. What could be overlooked is the fact that this sizeable group of consumers is going to have difficulty using many electronic products, including kiosks, the way they are currently designed. The key to serving this large segment of the population goes beyond knowing the details of the Americans With Disabilities Act and recent Section 508 regulations. The key is to incorporate accessible design solutions at the outset of machine manufacturing and to do it in a way that makes the kiosk, or point-of-purchase device, easy to use for people with and without disabilities. This can be done!


Kiosk Design Issues

Using a kiosk interface requires certain capabilities that can be broken down into individual functions, like the ability to read the screen text. In most cases, figuring out how to design the interface can start this way:

  • Some people will have no ability to read the screen text
  • Some people will have a reduced ability to read the screen text

The accessible design solution can be considered in a similar manner:

  • There needs to be an alternative means to reading the screen text to get information, such as speech output

If this requirement is met, then people with no ability to read the screen information and/or a reduced ability will both have access to the kiosk. And there are other design questions to ask, like can the kiosk interface function be enhanced in some way so that as many people as possible who have reduced abilities can access that function without relying on an alternative presentation of the information?

Table 1 shows interface design techniques for people who do not have certain abilities, like sight, and Table 2 shows what enhancements can be made for people with reduced capabilities, such as low vision.


Accessible Interface Design Solutions (for those who do not have this standard ability)


Voice output of displayed information [utilizes hearing]


Voice output of displayed information [utilizes hearing]


Visual display of all sounds (e.g. closed-captions) [utilizes vision]

Reaching all interface controls

Providing alternate controls within reach

Controls that require fine motor control

Providing alternate controls that are easy to manipulate

Table 1

Reduced User Capabilities


Low Vision

Enhanced text display (size, contrast, legibility etc.)

Reading difficulties

Simpler text


Enhanced audio (louder), compatibility with hearing aids


Move interface controls closer to the user

Manipulating all interface controls

Larger controls, more spacing between controls, no twisting, grasping or simultaneous actions

Table 2


Solutions and Costs

Implementing a large number of different strategies on a single product can be difficult and confusing. To address this, the Trace Research and Development Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has been working on combining design solutions into a package of integrated techniques. By carefully selecting techniques that work together, it has been possible to provide access across a wide range of disabilities with relatively few techniques. These packages, called. "EZ™ Access," have been used in different kiosk applications. The most recent is a voting kiosk in conjunction with QuadMedia and VoteHere (see "Links" at the end of this article). Some of the techniques used include:

  • Voice output: (text-to-speech or recorded speech) Voice is the only known technique for conveying information to most people who are blind. (As noted above Braille is also effective but only for eight percent of the adult population who are blind). Although expensive in the past, software voice synthesizers are now low in cost or free and utilize the sound card that is already in most kiosks. Voice output can enable access by people who are blind, who cannot read, who have trouble with some words, or who left their reading glasses behind.
  • Visual display of all sounds (captions) Multimedia clips with dialog, or voice-over narration on kiosk screens can be accompanied by text either as optional captions or as text which is part of the standard screens. This can enable access by people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Additionally, in a noisy environment such as an airport, or shopping mall, this feature helps everyone use the kiosk.
  • Providing alternate controls that are within reach and easy to manipulate Providing two sets of the same controls, in different locations, is both costly to manufacturer and confusing to kiosk users. However, a simple set of three buttons (up, down and select) can allow the user to move to and control any item on screen. As the user moves around the items on the screen, a visual highlight appears around the item. The three buttons facilitate access for people who cannot reach all items on the screen (even when it is at regulation height) and enable people with tremor or poor hand control to reliably select even small things on screen by using the buttons to step to them. Combined with voice output, the buttons can allow a blind person to use a touch screen kiosk in a sure and reliable manner.


Will Accessibility Increase My Customer Base?

It can. Some people who couldn't use your products before will be able to once accessibility features are included, and this may lead to increased sales, but there's more to think about. Kiosks with accessibility features are not yet the norm and until they are, most people with disabilities, or older people with functional limitations, assume they can't use public machines based on past and present experience. A rollout of accessible kiosks may need clear signage, targeted marketing and/or public relations efforts to build awareness.

Another source of increased sales is the trend by public agencies toward the purchase of accessible products. The federal government is required under the new Section 508 regulations to show preference in the purchase of information technologies, including kiosks, toward those that are accessible. Many state governments, other public agencies, and private companies are also specifying accessibility in their procurements either as part of their own accessibility policies or to comply with ADA guidelines.



EZ™ Access

EZ Access main website: http://trace.wisc.edu/world/kiosks/ez/

Press release: VoteHere announces program for ADA compliant voting systems



Design Process - Courses

Adapting the Design Process to Address More Customers in More Situations. One day tutorial at the Usability Professionals Association Annual Conference, Monday, June 25, 2001. http://www.upassoc.org/conf2001/reg/program/tutorials/t4.html

Designing for Usability, Flexibility & Accessibility. July 24 - 27, 2001 - Madison, Wisconsin http://trace.wisc.edu/ufcdesign/



Section 508: The Federal Information Technology Accessibility Initiative.


The US Access Board:


For more information visit the Kiosks.Org ADA and Accessibility Page


WhatsHot Companies News Products Features Help
home shim clear shim

© Copyright 2001 and 2000 NetWorld Alliance

navhome navhome

Home | What's Hot | Companies  | News | Products |  Features | Help