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I work with usability as it applies to web sites and interactive pieces. We sometimes discuss accessibility with our clients, which has brought up some interesting questions. (Depending on the client, accessibility may be a requirement for the design we create.)

Glove for use with touch screen device

The first step is to understand how accessibility and usability work together. Accessibility addresses the needs of people with differing physical abilities. Usability considers the needs of all people. Typically, anything that makes a site or product more accessible will also make it more usable, but not always.

It’s also interesting to note that we are all in need of accessibility aids at some point. For example, we may be wearing gloves or may be using a mobile device—both will reduce our ability to manipulate smaller objects or click small text.

Here is one story that shows how everyday activities can become a little strange when you are no longer part of the target audience: I sometimes ride a scooter. When I do this, I wear gloves, a full helmet, a jacket with “armor,” and protective glasses. This makes sense in case of a scooter accident. It doesn’t make sense when I go to an ATM to make a deposit: I can’t use a touch screen, my face is covered (I’m not able to lick an envelope), and I prefer not to carry anything extra.

If I need to stop at a Chase ATM to make a deposit, it’s fairly easy—remove one glove so I can access a pocket and the touch screen. In the pocket, I’ve placed the endorsed check that I want to deposit and my Chase card. Because they’ve updated their ATM hardware, I don’t need anything more—I simply insert and immediately remove the card, touch the screen to make my selections, and insert the check directly into the ATM.

But I also bank at a community bank that only has 4 branches. Their ATM equipment is older. And that makes the transaction more interesting. They require an envelope—an envelope that is dispensed by the machine. (Nope, there isn’t a bin holding extra envelopes.)

And they request that you fill out the envelope, and that means that I need a pen. Plus I need to seal the envelope, which means I need to remove my helmet to lick the envelope’s flap (unless it’s raining or damp—then I can run the flap of the envelope over a nearby bike “staple” to moisten the glue).

Now, I’m not upset by this bank’s process. But I was puzzled for the longest time. I repeatedly forgot to bring a pen. I wondered how many people were actually filling out the envelope. I also wondered why I needed to write the name of the bank on the envelope. (Do they have a separate company service the machine?)

But then, one day, I accidentally discovered a way to solve the challenges I was facing. I was making a deposit. The machine had given me the required envelope (remember: there isn’t a bin of them), I had remembered to bring a pen, and I was filling the envelope out. Then the machine beeped and asked “Would you like more time?” Startled, I glanced at the envelope, which was ready to insert, and pushed the button next to “No”—as in, “No, I don’t need more time.” The screen then said “Transaction canceled” and ejected my card.

No, I don’t need more time? Transaction canceled? That didn’t make sense. (It turns out that “Yes” is the correct answer to continue the transaction. I still haven’t figured out the ATM’s logic behind this.)

I put my card back in and started over, repeating my entries. The machine obligingly granted me a second envelope as part of the process. Eureka! A spare envelope to take home! I now fill out the envelope at home where there are plenty of pens. I then insert the deposit slip and endorsed check, lick the envelope, and then gear up and head for the bank. (Then I take the new envelope home for the next transaction.)

Fortunately, I don’t make too many deposits. But next time I select a bank, I may ask how their ATMs work.

What situations do you find yourself in where you aren’t the expected user? Have you developed coping strategies?