Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A game of a different color: design for accessibility

In an earlier post, I deconstructed the design of Candy Crush and sang the praises of a lot of the smart decisions that the designers made that improved engagement, increased replayability and fine-tuned the concept of social. It was clear to anyone who read it that I love Candy Crush (I've now passed my sister and am holding steady at level 213). But this week, my husband deleted Candy Crush from his phone, frustrated because he could no longer engage with the game as I can.

John is severely color-blind. I learned early on in our relationship that I couldn't use color as a reference to things. Instead of color, I would have to rely on shape or size or location or any other identifying characteristic to describe something to him. It made me realize how much I rely on color as a differentiator, and challenged me to notice more details about things so that I could have more effective conversations with him.

For weeks, we've been playing Candy Crush together. We cycle through different games, but this one had stuck for awhile. I'm a lot more competitive than him, so John had lagged behind a bit in his quests. Over the weekend, he got to the level where Candy Crush introduces bombs. On previous levels, John was able to differentiate game pieces by their shape. He even gave them names: Werther's, Mike & Ike's, lollipops...John had figured out a work around to the color coding and so could play just like me. When he got to the bomb levels, however, there was no work around. John would have to ask me or the kids what color a bomb was, which frustrated and annoyed him. After getting past a few levels with our support, he finally gave up. Candy Crush had introduced a design element that prevented him from being able to play the game.

This isn't the first game he's had to give up on. Even board games that have color-coded die force John to rely on others to navigate the game play (I'm looking at you, Smart Ass). He gets frustrated that simple design elements could easily be included to overcome reliance on color, but that designers are only focused on color-abled players. Did you know that 1 in 6 men are colorblind? This is a huge, significant player population.

In our family of 8, we have 2 colorblind family members and 1 bionic boy that is 85% deaf.  For us, helping each other navigate the world without reliance on color and sound is a way of life, and a big part of our lives is playing games. While we understand that there are some limitations of design that just can't be overcome (it's never going to be easy for Vardan to play football because he can't hear his teammates on the field), what's particularly frustrating is when there are easy ways for games to be designed that provide access for the broadest possible player populations.

So, here is my request:
Dear game designers, please consider that a significant portion of your players have disabilities. Your design decisions have a serious impact on the playability of your game. Design standards exist to help you identify how to overcome many of the design traps that can alienate players with disabilities. Please use them. And if you decide to not use them, make it a conscious decision - you can't claim ignorance towards designing for accessibility anymore.

Oh, and while I'm at it?
Dear Santa Barbara, painting your curbs red or green to indicate where street parking is available is a complete accessibility fail. Seriously? Red and green? For the love of all of your colorblind residents, please reconsider your design choices there.

a person who believes accessibility is not a design constraint but an opportunity for BETTER design

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Misery loves company

My second service as Worship Associate at USSB is this Sunday, and since we're still in the month-long theme of "despair," my reflection is another serious one (I really hope my next service's theme is "joy" or "love" :)! The theme this week is "Misery Loves Company" and I'm posting my reflection here.

I have a friend I refer to as Eeyore. Eeyore, if you know the character from Winnie the Pooh, always sees the clouds instead of the sunshine. Despite her gloomy outlook, I know I could count on her to be there for me whenever I need her, because she has been. She's the friend who's known me the longest and best, the friend who no matter what life threw at us, I knew we'd be there to hold each other up. For years, through budding careers, new marriages, new babies and world travel, we shared in each others' lives and struggles.

Our friendship was easy when times were good. We seemed to run on parallel tracks and these connections of work, marriage and motherhood kept us bonded as we traveled down our happy paths, finding support and love and sisterhood in our shared experiences. 

Then, slowly, life wasn't so happy anymore for either of us. We shared in this transition too. Eeyore embraced our time together as a place where all of her grievances against life could be shared. Every interaction with her, every girls' night out, every "catch up" lunch was filled with a laundry list of everything bad in her life. Her ex is crazy. Her other friends don't call enough (I suspect I don't either). She hates her job. She doesn't have enough money. She feels trapped in her new relationship. Her clothes are getting tight and she doesn't have enough time or will power to diet and exercise. She worries she's drinking too much. She wants to go on vacation but she doesn't have the time or money. 

There was a time, looking back on it, maybe too long of a time, when both of us participated in commiserating. I, too, had relationship drama, money problems, self-image issues. Our conversations, with each of us taking turns sharing our problems, were a safe place to work through all the bad stuff. We were both deep in places of sadness, grief, depression and with each other, we didn't have to hold back or pretend that everything was ok. Neither of us were fine and it seemed like our friendship was the one place where we could embrace where we were without shame or guilt or ego. 

And then something changed. More accurately, I changed. It wasn't enough for me to talk about the bad stuff anymore; I wanted to do the work to make things better. I started focusing on the good things in my life and realized that even in the darkest hours, there were still good things - lots of them. I started moving on. It didn't happen all at once, but I noticed that when we met for lunch, I'd start feeling frustrated or annoyed, maybe at her or maybe at myself reflected in her, that every conversation was a repeat of the last. We had been stuck in despair together, a support system for each other when it seemed like no one was listening. But I wanted out. I had hope. It was becoming clear to me that she didn't.

There are certain crossroads that we come to that are so subtle that we don't even realize we've past them until we're well down our new path. So it was with Eeyore and I. I had taken a sharp left at some point while she was forging straight ahead. My new path was lifting me up and my heart was becoming lighter. Every day it was easier to breathe. Talking to her was a harsh and unwelcome reminder of where I had been and where I didn't want to be again.  It felt like she was clinging to me, trying to hold me down with her as I was struggling to claw my way up. The very things that had drawn us together and strengthened our friendship were the things that were making it impossible for me to maintain it. 

When I would talk about selling my company, she’d answer “it must be nice for you. Too bad I’m stuck in my job forever.” If I’d bring up the cooperative parenting my ex and I had established, she would invariably respond with a story of her ex’s attempts to disrupt her efforts to have a peaceful relationship for the sake of their kids. She seemed to be bitter, almost angry, that my life was getting better while she still felt stuck. I started to feel guilty that I could see the silver linings when she could only see the clouds.

I tried to lift her up with me, encouraging her to try new strategies: take a class! Stop responding to your ex’s abusive emails! Let’s plan a trip! Let’s go shopping! Her answer to everything was “I can’t.”

It is hard to let someone you love move on without you and it’s difficult to leave someone behind. I finally had a glimpse of light and I needed to grab it without a shadow eclipsing its warmth and promise. Eeyore and I stopped getting lunches. I suspect that as difficult as it was for me to hear her continued despair, it was just as difficult for her to see me happily moving forward. We each needed a different validation and our parallel paths had diverged so much that we couldn’t see each other reflected in our own lives and experiences any more.

I still feel the loss of our friendship. There are things I’ve wanted to share with her, happy things and yes, new sadnesses and frustrations, too. Our conversations now are strained, shallow – only touch points of the realities of our daily lives. While I know Eeyore values our friendship as much as I do,  we both seem to have come to the place where we know that we need to love each other from a distance to allow ourselves to grow beyond the things that once bonded us together.

There is mourning that comes with letting go of despair; the mourning of what you lose when you let go of the people who once held you up but have begun to hold you back. As we move past despair, we grow and evolve and our hopes and dreams change. We should hold the people who have helped us get there in our hearts, even if, for awhile, we cannot hold their hands. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Actually, everybody IS doing it: ageism and tech-savviness

I have the luxury of working from home as my schedule allows, or in my case, as has happened with some frequency over the last couple months, working from Starbucks. I see and hear the most interesting things while I'm sipping on my iced decaf Americano with soy milk and researching online communities or piecing together the business case for a particular product direction. Last Friday was no exception.

While I am continually intrigued by the two guys who sit in the corner playing RPGs ALL DAY every day I've been there (seriously, they sit there throwing back iced mocha grandes, sitting across from each other and NEVER talking), there was a particular conversation I had last week that I can't get out of my head.

As I was engrossed in some deep thinking and writing, I felt someone walk up to my chair. It was an older man, probably in his mid- to late- sixties. He was examining my laptop when I looked up. He asked me if it was a MacBook Pro, and I said yes...I'm on my third one and I really love it, except they run hot and if I don't pay attention or use a cooling pad, it will burn my legs. He chuckled,  turned to the even older gentleman sitting at the table next to me, and said, "See! I told you they get hot and we'll have to get you a cooling pad!"

He went on to explain that he was trying to figure out what laptop to get his father. We went on to discuss the pros/cons of getting a MBP versus a MacAir, and I told him the big difference was the internal DVD drive in the MBP, to which he adamantly explained, with hands gesturing to the sky, "Who uses DVDs anymore? Everything is in the cloud!"

We talked for a few more minutes, this man in his 60s, his dad in his 80s, and me, the young whipper-snapper breathing down the neck of 40, about what this octogenarian wanted to do with his new laptop and which type might be better. After determining that the main priorities would be reading news, playing online games and using social sites, I told him that an Air would probably be fine, but he should figure out his graphics and video needs for the games he wanted to play before he made his final decision. They thanked me and off they went, coffees in hand, arguing about when they could make it to the Apple store.

I was reminded of this conversation when I saw a link posted by Dr. Jane Bozarth on Facebook from Pew Internet Research that shows 43% of Internet users over 65 are on social media sites.  And then there's this research report, which shows more than a third of gamers are over 36 years old (also, 45% of gamers are women, but that's for another post). Or this study, another from Pew Internet Research, that shows 45% of people 50-64 and 18% of people over 65 have smartphones.
She's 100. She's a gamer. 

Technology is not simply for the young and the idea that we should be designing for the next gen is overlooking a significant portion of the population that is embracing technology to improve their lives today. I was, but shouldn't have been, surprised by my conversation in Starbucks last week. It was a real-life example of what the research is telling us: everyone is adopting technology and our designs should account for the unique characteristics of different populations, but should not assume that any particular demographic (e.g., gender, age, or shoe size) makes someone more or less likely to be passionate about or eager to learn or use a new technology. Yes, there are resistors, but their resistance is more likely tied to their personality than their age.

Feel free to cite the above research when someone says their employees "aren't technology savvy." :)

Monday, August 5, 2013

Putting yourself out there

At the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara's new members' luncheon this spring where John and I were celebrating officially joining the congregation, Rev. Aaron McEmrys leaned over and said to me, "You should join the Worship Committee." We were actually in the middle of a whole group discussion, and the comment was a whisper, almost as if he had slipped me a note in the middle of class. My heart almost literally stopped. How did he know, how could he have known, how much that one sentence would mean to me?

On our first date, as I was throwing everything I could at John to scare him off, I told him that I wanted to go to seminary. He didn't flinch, but even as I talked to him about it, I was terrified.  With many of my crazy ideas, reality (at some point) settles in and I realize what I've gotten myself into. Usually, this pertains to something fun, like driving cross-country or creating our own prom. Sometimes, it's big stuff, like starting a company or writing a book. In all of these things, when I start out down the path, I'm excited, not scared.

It is different when it comes to my spiritual beliefs. As passionate as I am about my own journey, what terrified me was leading others in their journeys. How could I teach anyone else anything about spirituality when I have so many questions myself? How could I be worthy of that awesome responsibility?

Yet, I wanted to try. When Aaron invited me to join the Worship Committee, I said yes. And then I signed up to help lead the service on August 4th. The monthly theme was despair (great, uplifting theme for my first service!). The service ended up including a puppet show put on by our kiddos and John supporting the service on stage, doing the candle lighting and helping with the puppet show. I was honored to be trusted to help lead the service and honored to have John by my side as I put myself out there (literally, actually...Ken Ralph, who was the other lay-leader for the service, built an extension for the chancel so that we could do our reflections closer to the congregation).

I am so very grateful for my amazing partner and family, and for Ken Ralph, Rev. McEmrys, the Worship Committee and USSB for trusting me. Yesterday was amazing and everyone's support got me to take the risk of putting myself out there and work through my fears.

Below is my reflection that I shared with the congregation yesterday. I'm already looking forward to the next service I'll help lead later this month (two services on despair!) and more committed than ever to working, seeking, persevering and honoring the title of our service: "Pounding the Stone."

Finding my religion 

Growing up, whenever someone asked me what religion I was, my mom told me to tell them "Christian." The truth was, we weren't really anything...I suppose if pressed, I would have said yes, I believe in God, and I do remember praying, but I never had any sort of religious education. By high school, I was starting to feel a gap. I had lots of questions and I wanted answers. I decided I would find my own beliefs, not blindly believe what someone told me I should. 

The first real connection to religion I felt came when I stumbled across excerpts from the Old Testament and the Torah. That's it! I thought...I'm Jewish! I told my mother that I wanted to be Jewish, and she patiently explained to me that being Jewish and practicing Judaism were different, that I could practice Judaism but that by bad luck of birth, I would never BE Jewish. It felt like a door closed on me that day, but I kept searching.

I took a comparative religions class my senior year and was introduced to Hinduism with its beautiful gods and Buddhism with its centering meditational practices I still use today. I learned more about Muslims and Christians...the basic facts, really, but enough for me to question the validity of organized religion. Over and over again, the stories the same: my beliefs are right, yours are wrong and you should be punished for not thinking the same as I do. And the Jews...usually the target of the other religions, the perpetual underdogs, but with idiosynchrocies in their own right...I realized I couldn't convert to Judaism after all, as I was NEVER going to give up bacon cheeseburgers. 

In college, I read the Bible cover to cover. Yes...even every "beget" in the Book of Numbers. I read more of the Torah and continued my study of Jewish history. I read much of the Quran. I read Siddhartha and books on Native American mysticism. I researched the Mormons and Mayans and the practice of VooDoo and HooDoo. I read story after story of near death experiences, watched the tv psychics who claimed to speak to the dead and researched ghost stories. I did everything I could to try to see the patterns, to see what all of these religions and spiritual connections were trying to tell us, to understand the underlying thread that ties together religious beliefs and tries to answer THE question of the meaning of life. 

In graduate school, I attended a Lutheran church and went through classes to be baptized. Every week I came to class and argued with the Pastor about the content of the homework he had assigned to me. I didn't even really buy the concept of baptism by that point, and I was disillusioned that I could disagree with so much of the Lutheran religion but by showing up each week and arguing, they would baptize me anyway. What was the point of it all?

At the end of all of my seeking, and after reading The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, I decided that as an answer to “What is the meaning of life?” 42 was as good an answer as any. 

Many years later, recently divorced with three small children, my parents having moved back to Michigan from living with me in Pennsylvania, in the midst of a destructive relationship from which I was desperately trying but couldn't seem to break free, I started questioning whether "42" was really enough of an answer, and whether it was enough of an answer for me to give my kids as they started asking inevitable questions. I felt alone, more alone than I had ever felt in my life - I felt alone in my soul. Reaching that point, the bottom of the pit of despair, is not always a sudden, shocking drop. Sometimes falling into despair is a slow descension, as bit by bit, every belief you have is challenged, everything you hold true is shown to be false. When I looked in the mirror, when I looked at my life, I didn't know who I was anymore and I didn't know how to find her again. 

What do you do when you realize that your life is not what you want? How do you move forward when you don’t know what will make you happy? I didn’t know where to start. It became difficult to face each day, to wake up to that loneliness, knowing that I didn’t want to be in this place of sadness, but not knowing what to do to change my life and move forward.

Religion seemed an unlikely answer to my despair. I had studied, researched, analyzed and tried on so many beliefs, but none of them fit. I was still asking the same question: what is the meaning of all this? What is the point of suffering through all of this loneliness, pain and sadness? I couldn't answer it for myself, and I couldn't answer it for my children. 

In a desperate conversation, I expressed all of this to a friend. She listened to everything I had to say, then simply said, "you sound like a Unitarian. You should check out your local congregation and see what you think." I was skeptical, but despair can drive you to try one more time.

The first service I attended was almost exactly two years ago today. I went alone, sat in the back of a converted Colonial house in West Chester, PA on a metal folding chair. The room had a Shaker feel - wood floors, white walls with quilts hung for decoration. I listened to Rev. Deborah Mero lead the sparsely attended summer service. It was the first time I had been to a church led by a woman. Not long into the service, she lit the chalice and invited anyone to come up and light a candle, and if they so chose, to share with the congregation the reason for lighting it. She called it "caring and sharing," and as I watched that week and each week after, members of the congregation would come up to light a candle, sometimes alone, sometimes as a family, and take the microphone to tell of the death of a loved one, or thank someone for an unexpected kindness, or to celebrate a birthday or birth. Sometimes candles would be lit for a political cause, or for someone none of us had ever met but had heard about through the news. Sometimes no one would come up to light a candle at all. The "caring and sharing" each week helped me get to know the congregation and, when I eventually found the courage to share myself, gave me the opportunity to let others get to know me, too. Sometimes funny, sometimes sad - lighting candles together was my favorite part of the service, because it was completely unpredictable and undeniably human. It was what showed me, more than anything else, that I am a Unitarian. It let me know that I belonged, I was not alone, and that sometimes, even when you think you've tried everything, you should give it one more try.

As this is my first service assisting as a Worship Associate, I'd like to share with all of you the experience of sharing together our Joys and Sorrows. Ken and I will be bringing the microphones down into the congregation. If there is a joy or sorrow you’d like to share, please let us know. In the interest of time, ten people will share with us today and John will light a candle for you as you share with all of us.

To begin, I’d like to light two candles today, first, for my first Unitarian family back in West Chester and for Rev Deb as she prepares for her retirement. Thank you for raising me up from despair, not through any special outreach, but just by sharing yourselves with me. And second, for my new Unitarian family here in Santa Barbara: thank you for welcoming me and my family so warmly, for giving me an opportunity to continue my seeking surrounded by support and enthusiasm and love. 

[congregation lights candles]

And now I light a candle for all of those joys and sorrows carried in our hearts which could not yet be spoken aloud. May this candle lift them out of the darkness and into the light.