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PhET, at the University of Colorado, provides free, open interactive physics simulations (http://phet.colorado.edu/). While these simulations (or "sims") are effective and engaging for the student, some have barriers which some learners need to overcome in order to access and learn.
Many simulations require effective hand control, visual sightedness, or cognitive capacity to interact with simulations - so how do we re-design or adapt these physics simulations so they include the broad range of learners and their preferences? What does it mean for a PhET sim to be inclusive?
To improve the inclusiveness of PhET simulations, keyboard interaction and non-visual interaction were identified as areas to pursue. Initially these two ways of interacting with a simulation were thought to be wholly different modes and therefore distinct design considerations for each. But as we discovered through the Forces & Motion: Basics use case, these two interactions were very much related and required a single unified design.
The term "keyboard interaction" is used broadly in this case to describe any input method that uses buttons as the primary mode of interaction, whether it be a traditional QWERTY keyboard, a single-switch input, a sip-and-puff controller, or an on-screen keyboard. These devices require a different method of navigating and interacting than a "point-and-click" style interaction like a mouse or gesture input.
In general when dealing with keyboard accessibility:
Additionally for PhET sims:
A non-visual interaction needed to be created from scratch for the Forces and Motion Basics simulation. An initial attempt was made to create a 1-to-1 translation of the mouse interaction for screen-reader use, but it became obvious that there needed to be more contextualization and scene setting.
To accomplish this:
We did not segregate visual and non-visual into separate interactions since non-sighted users may want visuals (low vision) and sighted users may want additional descriptiveness offered by text-descriptions.
Slideshow of keyboard and non-visual interaction mockup:
Note: the above slideshow may not render the PDF properly. Download the original PDF for a more accurate rendition.
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