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Designing a Universally Accessible Electronic Work Station and Kiosk

The following information is excerpted from a report by the Electronic One-Stop Steering Committee to Californias One-Stop Career Center Task Force. One-Stop Centers may find these guidelines helpful in designing electronic work stations and kiosks that are as accessible as possible for people with disabilities.


Presented by:
Electronic One-Stop Steering Committee
California One-Stop Career Center System
Office of Workforce Policy
P.O. Box 826880, MIC 77
Sacramento, CA 94280-0001
(916) 654-9995 FAX (916) 654-9863

Performance Goals For Universally Accessible Workstations

Universal design yields products that are usable by, and useful to, the widest possible range of people. The cost to create an accessible workstation/kiosk is not generally higher than to design an inaccessible workstation/kiosk. It is recognized that it is not possible to create a product that is usable by all people under all circumstances. The objective is to design a computer workstation/kiosk that:

  • can be used by individuals with the widest possible range of abilities and/or circumstances
  • can be used effectively by as many people as possible without special assistive technologies
  • is compatible with assistive technologies that might be used by people for whom we currently cannot provide direct access
  • is commercially feasible using currently available technologies, materials, and skills

Accessibility Guidelines

When readily achievable, the workstation/kiosk must provide the following types of access for individuals with special needs:

  1. Non-Visual Access

    • All important information is presented in an auditory fashion. This includes all directories, labels for all controls, and feedback from controls that are necessary to operate the workstations/kiosk.
  2. Non-Auditory Access

    • All essential information is presented in a visual fashion. This includes all Help functions and auditory information used to indicate the status of an operation (such as beeps).
  3. Non-Time Dependent Access

    • The workstation/kiosk allows operations to be done at any rate. Response times can be adjusted over a whole range from very slow to very fast.
  4. Minimal Physical Ability Access

    • The workstation/kiosk can be operated through the use of a single button or activation area.
    • The workstation/kiosk is compatible with assistive devices. The workstation/kiosk provides a standard port and standard data format that are compatible with assistive control and assistive display devices that may be used by individuals with disabilities.
    • The physical design of the workstation/kiosk accommodates the use of prosthetic or assistive devices.
    • The workstation/kiosk allows the user to reverse all choices or to confirm them before they take effect.
  5. Limited Reach or Strength Access

    • The workstation/kiosk can be used by individuals who are sitting, standing, and/or have limited strength.
  6. No-Color Perception Access

    • The workstation/kiosk has at least one mode that does not require color perception.
  7. No-Speech Capability Access

    • The workstation/kiosk has at least one mode that does not require the user to speak.
  8. Documentation Access

    • All documentation for the workstation/kiosk is available in electronic text form.
  9. Non-Allergenic Access

    • The workstation/kiosk is made of non-allergenic materials and will not trigger photo-sensitive or audio-sensitive epilepsy.
  10. Novice User Access

    • The workstation/kiosk provides context-sensitive help information
    • The workstation/kiosk provides a way for a novice user to learn about the system without outside help

Standard Features

These features make the workstation/kiosk more user-friendly:

  1. Adjustable font size and monitor contrast settings [helpful for persons with visual problems]
  2. The ability to adjust volume and pitch [for persons with hearing loss]
  3. Sufficient physical stability to permit a user to lean on or grab parts of the kiosk for support
  4. A universal Help button that activates on-screen user support
  5. The ability to turn off unwanted output modes (sound and visual display) to ensure privacy
  6. Operable by persons who have limited reading and/or language skills
  7. Operable by persons who have memory, cognitive, or learning impairments
  8. The capability for a repeat user to enter the system where he/she left off in a prior visit
  9. At least one way to search and locate information that is usable by people who read and write at no higher than a 6th grade level
  10. A secure identifier (such as a PIN) for each customer to ensure client confidentiality
  11. Information that is provided in more than one language (Spanish or other relevant languages) in areas where many residents dont speak English

These standards for performance goals are derived, in part, from the Trace Center, the Congressional Telecommunications Access Advisory Committee, and other state sources.

Techniques For Increasing Accessibility

The following examples describe techniques that allow individuals with a wide range of disabilities to access and use One-Stop workstations/kiosks. These techniques also work for individuals who have reading problems or cannot read English at all.

Use without vision

Individuals who have low vision or blindness cannot accurately use types of controls that require vision for use. These include

  • mice
  • track balls
  • dials without markings or stops
  • push-button controls where the only indication of the controls position or setting is visual

Keys and buttons: If the workstation includes buttons, make them discrete buttons that can be located tactually (by touch). If the workstation uses a flat membrane keyboard, putting a raised edge around the control areas or buttons makes it possible to tactually locate the keys. Once an individual locates the different controls, they need to identify what they are.

  • On a standard number pad arrangement, a nib on the 5 key may be all that is necessary
  • On a QWERTY keyboard, put a tactile nib on the F and J keys
  • Providing distinct shapes for keys either indicates their function or makes it easy to tell them apart
  • If using keys, provide some type of audio and tactile feedback so that the individual knows when the key has been activated. If the key is a two-state key (on/off), use a key that is physically different in each state (a toggle switch or a push-in/pop-out switch), so the person can tell what state it is in by feeling it
  • Providing Braille labels for keys and controls allows individuals who know Braille to figure out what the controls are for. Large raised letters can work for short labels on large objects. If raised large letters are not possible, incorporate a voice mode that announces keys when they are pressed, but does not activate them.
  • The workstation should provide speech output of all information (text and non-decorative graphics) on the display.
  • A headphone jack, combined with a way to turn off the screen, provides confidential access to information by individuals who are blind.

Use without hearing

  • To alert the user to a message, or to warn the user, use a prominent visual indication in the field of vision (e.g. a screen flash) or a tactile signal that will attract the persons attention.
  • If the equipment uses voice or speech messages to which the user must respond, a teletypewriter (TTY) accessible method for using the system could be provided.
  • To allow the workstation/kiosk to be used by individuals with hearing impairments (and in noisy environments), a Show Sounds/Caption feature could be provided that would cause all important sounds to be represented visually.
  • Provide written electronic text versions of all spoken graphic or movie information.
  • A headphone jack allows individuals with hearing impairments to use earphones, audio jacks on their hearing aids, or inductive loops such as a Silhouette to tie their hearing aid directly into the audio so that they can hear more clearly.
  • Vibrating alphanumerical pagers and other wireless paging systems to alert individuals

Examples of use with adjustable response times

  • Running out of time is a common problem for people both with and without disabilities. The easiest solution is to avoid any time-out situations or places where the user must respond to a question or moving display in a set amount of time or at a specific time. Where timed responses are required or appropriate, allow the user to adjust them or set them to very high values.

Operation with restricted physical abilities

  • If you avoid buttons that are activated when touched, an individual will be able to explore the controls in order to find the desired button. If touch-activated controls are unavoidable (for example, on a touch screen), provide an alternate mode where a confirm button is used to confirm selections (items are read when touched, and activated when the confirm button is pressed). It is also a good idea to make all actions reversible, or to require confirmation before executing non-reversible actions.
  • Avoid controls that require simultaneous activation of two or more buttons. Controls which have non-slip surfaces and those that can be operated with the side of the hand, elbow, or a pencil minimize the physical activity required. Concave-top on buttons are easier to use with head sticks, mouse sticks, and artificial or trembling hands. Rotary controls can be used if they can be operated without grasping and twisting.
  • Strategies for making it easier to insert cards or connectors include providing a bevel around the slot or connector, using cards or connectors that can be inserted in any orientation or which self-center or self-align. Locating the slot or connector on the front and near a ledge or open space allows the user to brace their hand or arm.
  • In a scanning mode, individual items on the screen can be highlighted (and optionally announced). When a desired item is reached, the individual can press a switch below the screen to select that item. Although this technique is quite slow, it does provide additional access options for individuals with physical disabilities.

Use with restricted reaching or limited strength

  • Basic strategies involve reducing the force needed to operate controls, latches, etc., and avoiding the need for sustained pressure or activity. Other strategies involve providing arm or wrist rests, providing shortcuts to reduce the number of actions needed, and eliminating the need to operate controls wherever possible by having automatic adjustments.
  • Place the controls where they can be easily reached with minimal changes to body position. Many products that have controls located on different parts of the product also allow the functions to be controlled from the keyboard. Voice recognition provides flexibility of input, but it should never be the only way to adjust a function. A remote control option allows the individual to operate the device without having to move to it.
  • To allow individuals who have artificial hands or prosthetic hooks or who use headsticks or mouthsticks to use the screen, it is important that the touchscreen not require that it be touched by a human body.
  • A problem exists in trying to accommodate both individuals who are very short and individuals who are very tall. Three strategies for addressing this are:
    • Screens with adjustable height
    • Screens that rotate to present themselves downward or upward
    • Dual screen systems

Examples of compatibility with Assistive Devices

  • The infrared link consists of an industry standard IrDA infrared link coupled to a Universal Disability Infrared Access Protocol. This protocol allows individuals to access and use the workstation/kiosk via the IrDA infrared link. All buttons and actions are controllable via the infrared link. Also, any information presented on the screen can be accessed via the IR link as well.
  • The infrared link allows individuals to access and use the workstation/kiosk who are unable to reach and touch the standard screen. It also allows individuals who are unable to see the screen or hear any auditory output clearly enough (due to simultaneous visual and hearing difficulties) to access and use it with a separate assistive technology they would bring with them. This technique allows access by individuals with severe physical disabilities, as well as individuals who have simultaneous visual and hearing disabilities or are deaf-blind by allowing them to use personal assistive technologies.
  • Almost all stationary and portable multimedia computers now include the IrDA link as a standard part of the computer. Support for this link is also built directly into Windows 95.

Use without color perception

  • Strategies for addressing this guideline revolve around eliminating the requirement that a person see color to operate the device. This does not eliminate the use of color in any way as long as the information conveyed by the color is also conveyed in some other fashion. Avoid:
    • a number of common pairs of colors that are indistinguishable by people with color perception anomalies
    • colors with a low luminance
    • As long as the colors have different hues and intensity, differently colored objects can be distinguished even on a black and white screen by their different appearance.

Use without requiring speech

  • Provide an alternate mechanism for achieving all of the functions that are controlled by speech, including speech identification or verification.
  • Make speech messages accessible by presenting them simultaneously in text form where they can be easily seen by the user. Such captions should be verbatim and displayed long enough to be easily read.
  • If the system provides interactive communication using speech and video, it would be helpful to provide a method for allowing non-speech communication (e.g. text conversation) in parallel with the video.

Use that does not trigger motor/sensory seizures

  • Reduce or eliminate screen flicker or image flashing. Avoid:
    • the sensitive 10-30 hertz frequency range
    • very bright flashes that occupy a large part of the visual field (particularly the center of the visual field)

Use with limited literacy

  • Use graphics and illustrations to supplement and support written information
  • Use words that readers can easily understand. Most word processing programs have readability formulas that staff can use to check the vocabulary level of One-Stop materials
  • Use sentences that readers can easily comprehend
  • Use descriptions, settings, symbols, and background examples that are understandable to most users
  • Incorporate built-in memory aids, have default settings that anticipate needs, and provide immediate feedback

Use with restricted cognitive/memory abilities

  • Allow users to create a personal profile that the system can recall during subsequent use of the workstation so users dont have to retrace steps theyve already completed. Whenever possible, make on-site and/or off-site help available.
  • Where a complex series of steps is required, some type of cueing can be provided to help lead the person through the process. It is also helpful to provide an undo or back-up function, so that mistakes can be easily corrected. Where systems are not reversible, request confirmation of actions.
  • Use short and simple phrases or sentences on labels and instructions. Avoid abbreviations.
  • Allow users to freeze moving text, or provide the same information in another type of display that does not move.

These examples and techniques are derived, in part, from the Trace Center, the Congressional Telecommunications Access Advisory Committee, San Diego State University Center for Learning, Instruction, and Performance Technologies, and other sources. For a listing of all of the published strategies in addressing the performance guidelines, as well as for further information and links to ongoing discussions, see the Access Boards web page at: and the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Researchs Rehabilitation Engineering Center on Access to Telecommunications Systems strategies web page at: