Let me begin by stating that when I’m wearing my glasses, my visual acuity is 20 percent of normal. I have been visually impaired since birth, and my visual perception of the world has not changed since I was a child.
Because I’m not permitted to get a driver’s license, I often travel via local public transportation. Naturally I’m glad that Daimler is a leader in the development of automated driving and is investing a great deal in this area of research. I’m confident that one day this research will also make mobility easier for people like me.
In spite of my handicap, I’m a very visual person. My sense of hearing is probably somewhat better trained than that of many other people, but my eyesight has always been very important for me — during my leisure time and also at work.
As an IT expert at Daimler, I spend a lot of time sitting in front of a computer display. I have worked for 30 years in the areas of software development, data architecture, and data analysis. I’m currently focusing on the topic of data analysis, generally in the area of traditional reporting. I can work at a normal monitor without any problems. Of course, I always set the display to a large font size, and in most cases that’s sufficient. For other people with a visual impairment, things are not so easy. People whose eyesight is worse than mine generally need technical aids such as a refreshable braille display in order to do computer work. Incidentally, the refreshable braille display for computers was invented in 1975 — not so very long ago.
Nobody may be discriminated against because of his or her disability
according to the German constitution, the Grundgesetz. To date, only public authorities, especially administrative bodies, have been obligated to create universally accessible websites.
Commercial companies have not caught up yet. But that’s about to change! And here too, my employer aims to play a pioneering role.
Here’s a current example: New functions for the Daimler 4You+ app
Smartphones have revolutionized people’s daily lives and that also applies where accessibility is concerned. People who are blind or visually impaired often take advantage of the opportunity to develop apps themselves — for instance, small apps that make daily life easier.
Here’s one example: I was recently given the opportunity to help revise the employee app Daimler 4You+. The team of developers asked me to give them advice. I was able to test the new features at an early stage, and I was permitted to contribute my own ideas. Ever since its last update, the app has had three new functions that make it easier for people who are blind or visually impaired to use it.
- Voice Over (iOS) and Talk Back (Android): Users can ask this function to read content aloud to them. It also helps users orient themselves within the content. For example, it can tell the user whether his or her finger is on a title, a section of text, or a picture.
- Inverted colors (from dark on a light background to light on a dark background), individual contrasts: A new function makes it possible to use the app with inverted colors and individual contrasts. That makes it easier for people with a visual impairment to recognize colors and contours.
- Font size: The app now accepts the default settings of the smartphone. Users who have chosen a large font in the system settings will now also have this font in Daimler 4You+.
For me personally, the most important improvement is the automatic adaptation of the font size. Now I can finally use the Daimler 4You+ app just as comfortably as my colleagues do.
The app is one important step out of many in the area of digital accessibility. At Daimler, we want to advance this topic at several levels, and that’s why we’ve founded a Group-wide working group of the same name. In this group we deal with questions such as: Where can the developers of new software projects take important functions into account from the very start?
Real and digital: Barrier-free facilities in both worlds
Wheelchair users need ramps, and blind people depend on visual aids. Barriers have to be overcome both in the real world and in the digital one. In both realms, there are many areas that are still under construction — but I’m always trying to approach this topic in a less dogmatic way. Not every slide of a presentation has to be digitally accessible to all — for example, if no colleagues with a handicap are involved in the project in question. Here we just have to use common sense.
The buzzword is sensitizing people to this topic. That’s because people who have never had to deal with handicaps and accessibility themselves don’t think about them. The first step is to draw people’s attention to barriers. When people are aware of the problems, ideas for improvement are generated almost automatically. That way it’s easier to manage the extra time and effort that technical solutions require.
We believe very deeply that accessibility is a human right. We don’t look at this thing for a return on investment. We don’t care about that.
Apple CEO Tim Cook said that. And he’s right. Ensuring universal accessibility in the digital world is also much easier and less expensive than it is in the real world. After all, it doesn’t require any of the architectural changes that are necessary in many public buildings, for example. Of course that’s an advantage, and I always try to use my own store of experience and to promote simple adaptations of this kind. Most of the time people are very willing to listen to my concerns. That motivates me to continue my efforts.
Our goal is to share as much barrier-free content as possible – like this barrier-free video from our Daimler Pride Tour with subtitles, voice over and sign language
Improvements for everyone!
For example, I ask people to make sure that the input fields in software are already correctly “tagged” during the development process. Later on, this helps visually impaired and blind people to use a screen reader, and it also helps developers with data modeling and subsequent software documentation. Clean programming leads to real win-win situations for both sides.
Here’s a final example from my daily work: the clean formatting of the titles and paragraphs of office documents. That makes it easier for users of screen readers to click through a long document — but in fact everyone ultimately benefits from a well-structured and uncluttered presentation of information. It goes without saying that there’s still a lot to do in this area. But at Daimler we’re not only aware of this topic — it has been accepted by people both with and without handicaps. I think that’s really fantastic!