According to Christopher Phillips, Disabilitiy Services Manager of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, approximately 1 in 5 people struggle with disabilities of one type or another. Some of these disabilities are quite apparent, such as blindness and deafness. Other disabilities may be less apparent but can still be a challenge for members to deal with. Many people with disabilities may feel they can’t use all of the services and products provided by the Church’s Family History Department.
At FamilySearch, we are aware that many of the disabilities our users are confronted with can mean the difference between having a successful family history experience, or being frustrated, discouraged, and giving up on their effort to redeem their dead.
How we design our products has a very real effect on our users. For example, many of them are senior citizens who may find it difficult to use a mouse to click on small buttons, icons, and pull down menus. Some users are color blind (anywhere from 8 to 10% of web users have some form of color blindness) which requires that we be evaluate each of the color schemes we use as we create visually engaging and instructive landing pages and search features. Telling someone to click on a red button when they can’t see red can be a very confusing and frustrating experience.
Users with more limiting disabilities, such as hearing and sight loss, can sometimes pose a bigger challenge for our developers. A good understanding of all the issues that our users with disabilities have to deal with is critical. Equally important is an awareness of the technology and services that are available to users with disabilities. In many cases, state and federal services and programs provide tools that we can design our products around.
One example of a service we were able to take advantage of involves a young man named Kirt Manwaring, who has been blind since birth. The FamilySearch staff was able to arrange an 8 week internship program in which Brother Manwaring is working with developers to identify areas of the FamilySearch program that are difficult for the seeing impaired to access and to use. His comments and recommendations will help make FamilySearch more useable to the sight impaired, allowing them to more easily use FamilySearch to find their ancestors.
For anyone intested in learning what the Church is doing to meet the needs of members with disabilties, visit their Disabilities Resources website.