A common technique for user interface design is to create a set of personas, fictional characters who will be using the software and have different needs. These help developers to scratch not just their own itch, but the itch of these characters that will be using the software. Canonical has a set of personas already in use by the design team, most are able bodied people from different backgrounds, but one of them is a visually impaired user. The Ubuntu Accessibility team is working on a project to expand the set of design personas to include a wider variety of different users with accessibility needs. Each one should have a name and a background, they should seem as real as possible, whilst being completely fictional, they even have a plausible looking picture (Creative Commons licensed). The descriptions include what their needs are and what they find difficult to do with the current release of Ubuntu. Our personas are all lovely people who just need a little bit of your help making their favorite operating system to work well for them as well as it works for everyone else. If you are a developer of any applications in Ubuntu or websites or community we want you to think about each of our persona characters and just ask yourself questions like “This works for me, but is it broken for the personas?”
Our first persona is Faisal, a 28 year old from India, here he is whilst out for a drink with a bunch of his mates:
Faisal teaches a class of 6 and 7 year old children in a primary school in Assam, India. He studied at an Indian Institute for Information Technology and certainly knows his way around the computer! He would like to make better use of technology in the classroom to bring the lessons to life and inspire the children to explore the world around them. Faisal has rheumatoid arthritis http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rheumatoid_arthritis which was diagnosed whilst he was studying at IIIT and has progressively made it harder for him to use his hands to operate the keyboard and mouse of his computer. When he first started teaching the arthritis didn’t cause much of an issue but now he is worried that if he became unable to continue he would find it very hard to get another job. He now doesn’t use the computer in the first lesson of the day when his hands hurt the most, and has found some ways to make it easier. He uses a very slow mouse cursor as he doesn’t have the fine motor control. He finds it very hard to resize windows with the standard Ubuntu themes, he has learned to hold alt and use the middle mouse button to resize because he just can’t hit the window borders. One hand on the keyboard for the alt key and moving the mouse whilst pressing the middle button is a tricky bit of coordination but he gets by. In the evenings when preparing lesson plans for the next day Faisal tends not to use the keyboard but uses the Dasher on screen keyboard, this allows him to type with just small movements of the mouse to select letters as they fly across the screen, it isn’t as fast as typing on the keyboard but it is much more comfortable and he can use it for long periods. Faisal also suffers from Deuteranopia, a form of colour blindness which is quite common in men, affecting about 1%, it can also affects women, but not nearly as many, about 0.01%. This means he struggles to distinguish red and green colours, so red icons on a green background just fade together.
Faisal is a teacher and an academic, he will have a play with new things to discover how they work, then he likes to read documentation and manuals to back up what he has found out for himself.
Faisal has a laptop, he tried a netbook but the keys were too small and close together. In the classroom he plugs it into a television for the students to see the screen too. The school plans to get more projectors but there isn’t one in his class yet.
Several other teachers at the school were impressed by Faisal’s use of Ubuntu in the classroom, they want to know more about it and Faisal has promised to spend a day showing them how to use it during the holidays.
He is keen to look at new ways to control the computer, he is looking forward to finding out if the Unity desktop will make his window management easier or harder. He likes to try new hardware as well and wonders if the Apple magic touchpad would be a better way for him to control Dasher.
Why using Ubuntu?
Faisal uses Ubuntu because he likes being able to adapt it to suit himself. He enjoys participating in the community support, both asking questions and helping other people.
Why a challenge?
Using a computer is an increasing challenge for Faisal as the keyboard gets more painful and can be used for shorter periods at a time. Using Dasher is relatively comfortable but it is slow, requires a lot of concentration and segfaults too much. Ultimately his condition is incurable and progressive, but Faisal wants to carry on working and enjoying what he does while he can.
It is quite hard in India for those with a disability to get a job, Faisal has no intention of leaving the school and wants to grow as a teacher in the area he loves. In two years from now Faisal will still be taking a sabatical from the teaching job to lecture trainee teachers on the use of technology in the classroom.
Faisal would like applications to make efficient use of the keyboard and give him the flexibility to use multiple input devices and on screen keyboards. He would like applications to be tested for colour blindness to ensure that the colours used don’t blend together.
How to be Faisal
To test Ubuntu to make sure it works for Faisal and for people like him, you need to make your hands worse. Use sticky tape to tie some fingers together, observe how this makes some key combinations harder to reach. For a lack of mouse control crank up the mouse accelleration settings to the maximum, and instead of holding it in your dominant hand as normal swap to the other hand. If this is too easy try moving the mouse by prodding it with clenched fist rather than holding the mouse itself. You could also try tying some string around your wrist and attaching a weight to it that hangs off the desk to see the effect of a lack of control and fatigue. To use Dasher as a keyboard install it from the repos and launch with “dasher -a direct”. Unplug your regular keyboard and put it out of easy reach, just to remove the temptation to press a key if you get stuck! At some point Dasher will segfault – now what are you going to do? Faisal is colour blind, so you need to be colour blind too. Install compizconfig-settings-manager package and turn on the colour filter plugin in the accessibility section. Press super+d (the super key is the one with the little Windows flag on it) to turn on the full screen filter, then ctrl+super+s five times to step through the filters to the Deuteranopia setting (the Protanopia filter doesn’t work in Maverick 10.10 due to bug 599206 which has been fixed in Natty 11.04)
We do hope you enjoyed meeting Faisal, our first Accessibility Persona, why not come and join the team in the #ubuntu-accessibility channel on Freenode IRC and help us write the rest of the set.