Parenting presents all kinds of challenges, even technical ones. In this post, Melanie Jones shares how vital her mobile device became once she had a baby, and how inclusive design makes all the difference.
I had a baby five months ago. It changed pretty much every aspect of my life, including how I interact with the web. I used to spend all day luxuriating on my laptop, feet up, tabs open all over the place, a cup of actually hot tea in my hand.
Now? My tea is lukewarm on a good day and my smartphone is my everything.
Often my only connection to the world outside my apartment, I use mobile for all my online interactions. I Google weird baby behaviour seventeen times per day. I stay in touch with my friends, send adorable baby pics to grandparents, and organize walks with other mamas. I shop for groceries and baby gear. I transfer funds and make doctor appointments. I sign petitions and email congresspeople. My social life, work, research, commerce, and activism all happen on my mobile device.
I got us a new apartment via my phone. I looked at floor plans, negotiated the lease, signed documents, and scheduled our move-in, all from my phone. Same with a lactation consultant session; I booked the appointment by text message, did the session via FaceTime, and paid her from a mobile app. (I did most of that topless, too.)
I’m typing this article with one finger as my kid naps next to me.
This new dependency on my mobile device has shed a whole new light on what accessibility means to me. Here’s what I’ve learned:
1. Usability is everything: A spectacularly simple and usable mobile site or app is critical for me. I don’t have time to go get my laptop, open it up, and use a site. I need the site to come to me, and I need it to know my next interaction before I do. My phone is always with me and I’m always with the baby. I need websites and apps to be actual no-brainers to use because my mind isn’t on them—it’s on the seven-limbed creature flailing in my lap.
2. One-finger and within-thumbs-reach computing: I’m usually using one hand, frequently my non-dominant one. I need interactions to be dead simple and easy for me to complete—especially because my device is slightly too big for my hand. I’m not sure whose hand this thing was designed for, but my thumb is exhausted from reaching for that ‘a’ key way over there and trying to get the right combination of emojis to express my complex experience. (It’s heart eyes/sob/smiling pile of poop.) I’d love if you could tell me how to get an infant to nap longer than 45 minutes, but honestly, I’ll settle for a hamburger menu I can reach.
3. Forms need to be wildly easy to complete: I rely hugely on autocorrect, sites that remember my shipping or billing details, and auto-filled email addresses. My heart swells with joy when a site defaults to a number menu for a zip code or a phone number. I need workflows to be intuitive and efficient—anticipating my needs and helping me reach my goals quickly. Every step of the process needs to move me forward, not get in my way, and I need it to be really easy for me to fix my bleary-eyed mistakes. A clear, usable form literally makes my day.
Here’s what I bring to the table: a valid credit card, 90 seconds of my time, and my right thumb. The rest is up to you.
4. Make your content awesome, so I don’t have to be: I’m nearsighted and I just turned 40, so the other end of my vision is starting to go, too. I could jack up my font, but I literally don’t have time to wade through the settings menu. I’m probably squinting at a site at 4 am, hoping the headings and navigation are crystal clear, and that the first paragraph of text tells me no poop in five days is perfectly normal and I’m doing a great job.
5. Deliver on your promises: If you’re an app that lets me order groceries and you tell me I can interact with the shopper, I need to be able to interact with the shopper. My meals have become masterpieces of efficiency…if I get exactly what I need. One app I used had a field where I could message the shopper, but no one ever got back to me. The shopper was also supposed to text me with any substitutions they made in the store, but it never happened. I’d just have to hope for the best and ask for refunds on mistakes. It was a pain for me (once I ended up with two litres of maple syrup!) and costly for the folks who run the business. I need to trust sites and apps and rely on them to hold up their end of the deal.
6. God help you if that video autoplays and wakes up my kid: I will find you.
7. Create a predictable user experience: I use a white noise app to help the baby fall asleep, but I usually need to do other stuff on my phone while I wait for her to doze off. Whenever I leave the app, the waves stop and the sudden silence often wakes the wee one up—the opposite of the app’s intention. Most audio-centric apps I use (phone, music, Spotify, etc.) play their audio in the background while I use other apps on my device. I’ve come to expect audio to continue playing when I switch to other apps, so it’s frustrating when this one hijacks my phone.
8. Clear before clever: I have this app that tracks my baby’s developmental leaps. It has a calendar function to tell me when a leap is coming and lots of rich content to teach me how to support these often tumultuous periods of growth. Only trouble is, I can’t decipher the calendar to save my life and each section of content uses an “adorable” icon that baffles me. The app also has a leap alert that’s supposed to send me an email when a leap is about to start, but it doesn’t seem to work at all, in spite of its very attractive toggle switch. The graphic design keeps me from getting crucial information. I’m all full up on cute in my life—clarity’s what I need.
While parenting isn’t a disability, it has definitely upped the stakes on my mobile computing. I have a lot riding on that 4” screen. Even though I’ve been on the Simply Accessible team for more than two years, the last few months have brought home the importance of what we’re doing here.
Inclusive design and a great user experience used to be luxuries for me—now I understand how essential they are, especially for folks whose abilities and capacity are different from mine. Users really are relying on you and your team to create sites and apps that make their lives easier.
Check out Devon’s article and tutorial on keyboard support for mobile to dig into the nitty gritty of making your sites and apps easier to use—and please tell us about your favourite, usable mobile apps in the comments below!