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Why This is Important
Allowing users to switch between multiple types of input (keyboard, voice, touch, mouse, etc.) is accessible to people with a diversity of different disabilities.
Blind and visually impaired people use screen readers to interact with websites and apps. A screen reader is a type of assistive tech that converts things on screen to audio and/or braille. It's important that things are understandable and interactive to screen readers.
Keyboard accessibility is essential for people who do not use a computer mouse (which might be because they have unpredictable or very specific movement due to a motor disability). Many Blind and visually impaired people also use keyboard interactions in order to use their screen reader.
Error support is accessible to people with a diversity of disabilities. A cognitive disability might affect how a person perceives and understands things. A physical disability might lead to unpredictable movement. Other factors such as environment, stress, and multi-tasking may also lead to errors.
In order to be accessible, gestures and interactions must account for people with physical and motor disabilities, who might have unpredictable or very specific movement.
People might need or prefer a type of input depending on their disability. The needs for the same person might change from one situation or another. Therefore, it’s important that they are able to change the input they are using.
For example, people who experience difficulty typing might prefer voice input instead. This might be because they have a motor disability, or because they have a cognitive or learning disability that makes talking easier than typing. This is also accessible to people who are multi-tasking or running low on spoons (a neurodivergent metaphor for the mental load that tasks require).
This references WCAG criterion 2.5.6 Concurrent Input Mechanisms (Level AAA).
Level AAA compliance is considered more difficult to meet because it requires more resources to fulfill. It also might encompass conflicting access needs (meaning what is accessible to some might be inaccessible to others). Use your best judgment of your target audience and your team's capabilities to determine if this is a pragmatic goal to reach.
How to Implement This
According to Knowbility, it’s important that interactions do not rely only on touch events or only on mouse events. Do not turn off one or the other, allow both.
According to WCAG, the exception is if a certain type of interaction is essential (for example, a digital piano keyboard interface that teaches the user how to play piano). That means that while certain types of input won't work with the piano interface (such as voice input) that is alright because the interface requires some sort of touch or pointer input.
Some further reading:
How to Test This
- Start using the website/app with one type of input (computer mouse, touch screen, keyboard, voice input).
- Then switch to another type of input (e.g. connect and disconnect a keyboard to a tablet or smartphone)
- Make note of any difficulties in the different kinds of input.
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