Empathy in Action: Puneet Singh’s Quest for Inclusive Digital Spaces

Empathy in Action: Puneet Singh’s Quest for Inclusive Digital Spaces

Designwhine Interviews Puneet Singh Social Worker Advocate Digital Accessibility

Meet Puneet Singh, a passionate Social Changemaker, on a global mission to transform Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility (IDEA) initiatives. Puneet’s journey, shaped by overcoming personal challenges such as poverty, domestic violence, stammering, and an undiagnosed learning disability, fuels a profound desire to advocate for marginalized individuals. Their commitment lies in breaking down barriers faced by those dealing with ableism, Body Shaming, Ageism, and more, with a strong focus on enhancing Accessibility in UX Design and advocating for equal opportunities.

As the co-founder of Beyond Acceptance, Puneet recognizes the critical need for a comprehensive IDEA approach, emphasizing equal representation across all diversity facets, especially in the realm of Accessibility in UX Design. Puneet has developed tailored solutions yielding measurable outcomes, fostering balanced representation within international organizations. With a robust background spanning five years in the Social Impact and Development sectors, Puneet’s expertise includes Global IDEA Program Development & Management, Cross-Cultural Training & Workshop Facilitation, Inclusive Advocacy & Policy Development, International Community Outreach & Engagement, Organizational Change & Culture Transformation, Accessible Social Media & Marketing Strategies, Capacity Building & Talent Development, Stakeholder Communication & Networking, Design Thinking & Problem-Solving, as well as Project Coordination & Execution, all geared towards enhancing Accessibility in UX Design.

Notable achievements include conducting 20+ IDEA workshops impacting over 500 individuals, collaborating with 10+ international organizations to craft tailored IDEA strategies, and enhancing representation metrics by an average of 25% in client organizations, specifically focusing on Accessibility in UX Design. Puneet has also authored influential articles on Global DEI best practices, reaching a wide audience of 19,500+ LinkedIn followers, discussing topics ranging from Accessibility in UX Design to inclusive digital experiences.

As a passionate ally of BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and disability communities, Puneet actively listens to and amplifies diverse voices, fostering unity among marginalized groups to collaborate on pressing global issues such as climate change, always emphasizing the importance of Accessibility in UX Design. Rooted in empathy, patience, and attentive listening, Puneet is dedicated to driving innovative IDEA solutions tailored for modern workplaces with a strong focus on Accessibility in UX Design. With a proven track record of collaborating with senior leadership teams and effecting change in international organizations, Puneet is well-positioned to contribute to the creation of a more inclusive and accessible world for all, ensuring Accessibility in UX Design is at the forefront of these efforts. Join Puneet in the endeavor to nurture balanced representation and ensure accessibility for everyone, as they redefine IDEA and work towards building a truly inclusive future worldwide, with a specific emphasis on Accessibility in UX Design.

Could you please introduce yourself and share some background about your disability?

My name is Puneet Singh. I am from New Delhi, India. I am a person with Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, and Stammering. 

In what ways does your disability influence your daily life, particularly when it comes to using digital products or services?

Living with dyslexia, dyspraxia, and stammering has presented me with unique challenges in a digital landscape that often assumes ‘normal’ cognitive and physical abilities. Dyslexia affects my reading speed and comprehension, so cluttered UIs with overwhelming text can be exhausting for me. It’s not just a matter of readability; it’s about mental fatigue and the additional time it takes to process information.

Dyspraxia has its own set of hurdles. Fine motor skills are a constant challenge. Complex gestures or tiny touch targets on a screen can make the simple act of navigation frustrating and tiring.

Stammering may not directly affect my interaction with digital platforms, but it does influence how I choose to communicate online. I often prefer text-based channels over voice commands or video calls, but that’s where my dyslexia kicks in—making it a double-edged sword. Autocorrect and voice-to-text services often don’t understand me, making them more of a hindrance than a help.

Overall, my experience with digital products often feels like a series of small battles. The lack of true inclusivity in UX design isn’t just an oversight; it’s a daily reminder of how many obstacles people with disabilities have to overcome to participate in a world that’s increasingly digital.

Which digital devices, platforms, applications, or websites do you use regularly, and have they been helpful in addressing accessibility challenges?

I rely on a variety of digital tools to navigate my daily life, given my conditions. For dyslexia, I frequently use applications like Grammarly and Audible. Grammarly aids me in writing with its real-time grammar and spell-check features. It’s more adaptive than a regular spell-checker and helps me put together text that I might otherwise find challenging. Audible, on the other hand, allows me to consume content aurally, circumventing the difficulties I have with reading.

For dyspraxia, I find touch-screen devices easier to use than a traditional mouse and keyboard setup. I also use voice-command platforms like Apple’s Siri or Google Assistant, which can simplify tasks that would otherwise require complex touch gestures.

Given my stammer, I often rely on text-based communication apps like WhatsApp and Slack for professional correspondence. I also appreciate the captioning service on YouTube, which can help in understanding spoken content when I choose to avoid audio.

However, even these platforms are not perfect. Autocorrect features often misinterpret my inputs, and voice-to-text services can be especially troublesome given my speech difficulties.

Overall, while these digital tools have made my life easier to an extent, there is a long way to go in terms of universal accessibility. Many platforms still feel like they are playing catch-up when it comes to being fully inclusive.

What specific design features do you find most beneficial in digital interfaces considering your disability?

Considering my dyslexia, I find that clean, clutter-free interfaces with ample white space and high contrast between text and background are incredibly helpful. Sans-serif fonts, which are generally easier to read, are also a plus. Features that allow me to change text size or even the typeface can be beneficial for enhancing readability.

For my dyspraxia, simple and intuitive navigation is key. I appreciate large, clearly labeled buttons and straightforward menus. I often struggle with too many options or unnecessarily complex user interfaces, so less is more for me. Gestures like ‘swipe’ or ‘tap’ that can be performed without a high level of precision are also a lifesaver.

Due to my stammering, text-based or visual communication features are a boon. The ability to communicate without having to rely on voice is crucial, so I value platforms that offer robust chat or messaging capabilities. Also, voice-command platforms that allow me to take my time with my speech or correct myself without ‘timing me out’ are beneficial.

Lastly, the option for real-time captions or transcriptions in video or audio content is a significant help. This not only aids my understanding but also gives me the freedom to participate in the digital world more fully.

So, design features that allow customization and flexibility in how I interact with a digital interface make a huge difference in my user experience.

What advice would you give to product designers, who often struggle to understand the needs of users with disabilities, on enhancing the accessibility of digital products?

My advice to product designers would be to start by acknowledging that accessibility isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution; it’s about offering flexibility and customization to meet diverse needs.

User Research: Do your homework. Conduct interviews or surveys involving users with disabilities to gain first-hand insights. Sometimes, what seems intuitive to an able-bodied designer may be problematic for someone with a disability.

Co-Design: Whenever possible, include users with disabilities in the design and testing processes. Their lived experiences will provide invaluable insights that can guide you to create truly inclusive products.

Understand Different Disabilities: Remember that disabilities vary greatly. What works for a visually impaired user may not work for someone with dyslexia, dyspraxia, or stammering like me. Understand the unique requirements of different conditions.

Simplicity and Clarity: Keep the interface as clean and simple as possible. Avoid visual clutter, which can be particularly challenging for users with cognitive or neurological conditions.

Offer Customization: Allow users to customize features like text size, color contrast, and even the layout when possible. This can make a digital product far more accessible for many.

Multimodal Interaction: Provide multiple ways to interact with the product. For instance, voice commands can be a boon for someone with mobility issues but a hindrance for someone with a speech disorder. Offering alternatives like typing or swiping can make your product more universally accessible.

Test Thoroughly: Testing should be comprehensive, covering different scenarios, devices, and disability types. Real-world testing is much more valuable than ticking off a checklist.

Ongoing Updates: Accessibility isn’t a one-and-done job. It requires ongoing efforts and updates based on real user feedback and evolving standards.

Accessibility Guidelines: Familiarize yourself with existing guidelines and standards like WCAG. These can provide a solid foundation, but remember, they’re just the start.

Empathy, Not Sympathy: Aim for a design that empowers users, instead of making them feel that the accessibility features are a ‘concession.’

Inclusivity should be a core design principle, not an afterthought. By deeply integrating accessibility into your design philosophy, you not only broaden your user base but also improve the product for everyone.

Is there anything else you would like to share with us or any additional insights you’d like to offer? 

Absolutely, I’d like to emphasize that making digital products accessible is not just a ‘nice-to-have,’ but a ‘must-have’ in today’s world. It’s not merely a checkbox to tick off for compliance but a crucial part of ethical design. Ignoring accessibility means shutting out a significant portion of your potential user base.

Beyond that, an inclusive design often results in a better experience for everyone, not just those with disabilities. For instance, captioning benefits not just the deaf and hard-of-hearing community but also anyone watching a video in a noisy environment.

Also, accessibility shouldn’t just be the responsibility of designers; it’s something that organizations as a whole should commit to. A culture of accessibility should permeate through every department, from the boardroom to customer support.

Lastly, remember that the disability community is incredibly diverse. There’s a saying: ‘If you’ve met one person with a disability, you’ve met one person with a disability.’ Each individual’s needs and challenges are unique, and it’s vital to resist making assumptions based on a one-size-fits-all understanding of what disability is.

By taking the time to understand and design for this diversity, we can create digital products that are truly for everyone. That, in my opinion, is the epitome of good design.

This article was last updated on December 19, 2023; Originally published on December 11, 2023

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