Tech Inclusion Melbourne Presentation Notes by Tim Noonan

Title: “I Participate therefore I am”:

explorations around Voice, Technology, Sexuality and Disability

In this eclectic talk Tim weaves together themes ranging from Inclusive design considerations for Voice-based technologies; the sometimes unanticipated benefits of engaging people with disabilities for each stage of your project; through to sexuality and LGBTI tech inclusion.

Conference Held on Tuesday, 13 February 2017


This is a slides-free presentation

You can Rest your eyes, and free-up your ears

If you’re an interpreter or have a hearing impairment, then of course keep your eyes active 🙂

Twitter handle: @TimNoonan


Back in 2008 I posted a tweet which I felt represented Web 2.0 or what was termed by many at the time as the ‘participatory web’

Modern-day Descartes: “I participate therefore I am” and its corolery: “I can’t participate therefore I am less”

When we can Part-icipate, we become part of the plan, the process and the product.

I often describe myself as an inclusive Service designer. I’m interested in creating intuitive, efficient and enjoyable services and user experiences for all users. A service is more than a product, it is messaging, marketing, launching and supporting, on top of the conceptualisation, design and development of the product or service.

As we move further into multi-modal means of computer interactions – screens, keyboards, pointing devices and voice/natural language input and output, brain interfaces, thoughts to words – everyone has the possibility of engaging with technology and society in the ways best suited to their abilities and current situation.

But we have a long long way to go before the idea of accessibility is meaningless.

We’re going to explore emerging and future tech here, in addition to the stuff most of us are familiar with.

“For people without disabilities, tech makes things easier; for people with disabilities, tech makes things possible.”

Inclusive Design is more than accessibility compliance, it is Usability in the context of disability, or the current situation any of us might find ourself in.

Inclusive design considerations for Voice-based technologies;

This year, 2018, is the year of Voice and Sound. After a decade of highly visually-focused tech and computer development, voice and sound are really gaining inertia and traction. Voice assistants are popping up everywhere and the notion of quality audio is finally in the forefront of many people’s minds. That said, though, its very early days for this nascent voice assistant field.

Amongst other things I’m a voice experience designer.

I’ve designed fully automated voice systems that enable people to select and read newspaper articles over the phone, search and order books from the Vision Australia library, and cast a private and independent vote over the telephone – just using their telephone keypad.

Voice Accent, Tone, Gender, Pausing and level of casual/formality all invite or exclude users in one way or another.

With the limited time for today’s talk, I will primarily discuss how voice characteristics can include or exclude users; of voice assistants and related technologies. The important and complex topic of more accessible voice interaction design I’ll need to leave for another day.S

  • Speech recognition biases have been found to be skewed towards anglo adults.

  • Voice models for computer generated text to speech are biased to US and UK white speakers;

  • African Americans have no easy way to use their screen readers with a voice that matches their linguistic community. Apparrntly, there are no African American speakers in Nuances voice portfolio

  • The Mozilla speech recognition corpus project should be an opportunity to include folks with different speech profiles, speech impediments halting speech stammers etc.

Voice reflects our class, our values, our community.

Human Voices are intrinsically linked with issues of identity and personality. Persona is a translation of Through Sound.

Humans listen to more than words spoken, they hear tone, pauses, volume and tambre too.

Those come from actually understanding meaning and how it can be expressed through spoken word.

This means that automated speech can trigger conscious (or unconscious) cognitive dissonance when the words sound human but are devoid of or appear to contain contrary vocal meaning.

What are the unconscious messages given to your users by the voice and the choice of words in your app or service?

Understanding and responding to colloquial informal terms and phrases from your users also has a bearing on how comfortable and accepted your users feel.

Can you speed up or slow down speech?

long enough pause timeout delays for listening to a person’s request/response

how do you make Corrections

Current State of Play for Voice Services

very artificial and – not very intelligent.

Voice & Language AI is still a baby.

  • Currently single-turn Call and response

  • You Need to articulate your message clearly and unambiguously

  • Kind of like a MSDos os or Unix command line for voice.

Ironic Accessibility

Alexa has some clever capabilities, but the iOS app leaves a great deal to be desired for blind users.

This weekend I spent 1 minute setting up my HomePod – have you tried setting up and tailoring an Echo product or a Google Home? Its slow, tedious and kind of compext/technical.

How will older people and people with mild cognitive issues ever do it?

the sometimes unanticipated benefits of engaging people with disabilities for each stage of your project;

Sadly, the best way I feel I can cover this topic is by giving examples of where the absence of diverse users in design and development has resulted in inaccessible or hard-to-use services.

Developer Tools and Content Creation

We know that a lot of effort goes into designing accessible websites, but what about tools for developers – and testers – with disabilities?

Some positive Web developer and testing news is on the way

You might be a coder, can you imagine what it is like trying to code when you can’t use your hands?

Or, can you imagine what it is like to write and debug software when you can’t see the screen, no syntax shown through colour and verbose or no indenting information.?

If it takes you three times as long to do a task, is that accessibility – or is it longer hours and more cognitive load just to do the same as your work colleagues?

Its Just Common Sense, Isn’t It?

Audible works in the domain of sound, and yet their website is one of the most inaccessible sites out there for browsing and buying audio books!

CAPTCHAs are regularly use on their website and even in the iOS app.

Hearing aid companies often forget that many deaf people also have a vision impairment too.

Of course, there is a high incidence of dual sensory loss, and as blind people age, their hearing is as likely to decline as for the rest of the population.

    Added to that, residual hearing is even more essential a sense if a person is blind.

Innovation in Accessibility

Innovation, means doing things differently, often in non-standard ways, Unfortunately, if no inclusion by pwd, with a greater likelihood of inaccessibility as a by product

Especially with modalities outside traditional web sites, there are less standards and techgniques published for how to design for inclusion.

We need to experiment, try out ideas, and we can’t do that without including people in the design and testing process.

In my 30 year history in the inclusive design field, I’ve often been the go-to person for considering possible accessibility approaches for new and emerging technologies.

Augmented and Virtual Reality

Augmented and Virtual reality are hot topics of development.

How many pwd are involved in those teams?

How many groups of people outside the norm will be locked out of these systems and technologies?

Workplace training by AR or VR, if you can’t skill up, you may not be able to get the job or do the job.

VR is seen as a way to bring isolated people together virtually – and we know that pwd in particular can experience high levels of isolation and solitary living.

Imagine a VR system that even if you can join, doesn’t allow you to engage – telling a blind or physically disabled user to reach out and turn their microphone to on, just for example.

sexuality and LGBTI tech inclusion.

Dating app accessibility is very poor – “Here is my pic” Yes, very helpful to a blind person, I can’t even tell if it is your face or some other attribute you prefer to introduce yourself by 😛

I recall a situation where I was chatting with a guy online for a week or so and I asked him “what music do you like?” He responded with “Hmm, I’m more into films myself!”.

I then told him I was blind at the same time he was telling me that he was Deaf.

Being blind and also being Gay, I’ve had a lot of experiences and thoughts about inclusion and exclusion.

  • Where are the Role models,
  • shame and guilt,
  • over-achieving,
  • sometimes just giving up,
  • alternately hiding and broadcasting your identity .

    I remember when, as a teenager, the only information I could get was from radio about Gay issues and events.

the Mardi Gras website and calendar used to be completely inaccessible but now it and Star Observer are designed in a more accessible way.

As a blind guy turning up to social groups I felt very isolated and disconnected from the group – due to a very visual focus.

I guess I demonstrated diversity in the group, but I didn’t feel included.

As a young gay man I called up the Gay Counselling service a few times to explore how I could participate in social groups etc. I was very open about my situation with the counsellors.

A year or two later I was dating a guy who did volunteer orientation training for the counselling service. He told me I was (not very annonomously) featured in the training.

Good that inclusion was covered, Bad that as a client I was identifiable!

For an earlier and much fuller coverage of this topic, see


I believe that being of service is one of the greatest contributions we can make to our society. So lets ensure we are serving everyone, not just those who already have the privilege of convenient and easy access to all services.

About Tim:

An inspirational professional speaker, Tim Noonan is a voice experience designer, inclusive design consultant and an expert in voice & spoken communication.

Tim has been a pioneer in the accessibility field for more than three decades. He particularly loves working with emerging and future technologies to come up with innovative ways to make them more inclusive and more comfortable to use.

Tim is the principle author of several standards relating to automated voice systems, telephone-based speech recognition and four industry standards on the accessibility of electronic banking channels and inclusive authentication solutions.

A career highlight for Tim was working as the lead Inclusive User Experience designer for iVote – a fully automated telephone-based and web-based voting system for the NSW Electoral Commission. iVote was issued with Vision Australia’s Making A Difference Award and was recommended as the ‘Gold Standard’ for accessible voting.

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