Last year, I spent a fair amount of my presentation time talking about ideas behind Inclusive Design, and how the both enhance and help contribute to performing Accessibility testing. One of the resources I suggested was the Inclusive Design Toolkit developed and used by the University of Cambridge. In addition to a wealth of information on their site, their methods go beyond software. Since they test numerous physical items, they do not rely on software tools only but have actual physical tools that you can use.

One of those is their Cambridge Simulator Gloves. These are rigid pieces of flexible plastic that can be adjusted to simulate a variety of physical issues with hands (e.g. rheumatism, arthritis). These are seriously cool pieces of kit, but they are pricey (£155 per pair, which is at this writing close to $200). Less expensive but also seriously cool are the Cambridge Simulation Glasses. These are considerably less expensive (£30 for a set of five glasses, which is less than $40 as of this writing), and therefore are easier for individuals looking to dabble in Inclusive Design to do so. The University of Cambridge is quick with orders and I received mine within a week of placing it. For shipments coming from the UK to the USA, really, that’s pretty good.

Here’s the single user Cambridge Simulation Glasses pack.

OK,  so what in the world is this?

The idea behind the simulation glasses is that you as an individual can experience progressive vision loss. Personally, I can already empathize because I have developed classic middle-aged person near-sightedness; I need readers to type this blog post, for example:

Not a fashion accessory, but also not a permanent fixture on my face (yet).
I do need them anytime I try to read or type anything.

If you are not already wearing prescription glasses, contacts, or need readers just yet, you may be wondering how you might be able to simulate mild vision loss. The simulation glasses do exactly that. Just put a pair on, and you will experience a little bit of fuzziness to your vision. If you want to intensify the effect, put on another pair of glasses over the top of the ones you are currently wearing. The kit comes with five pairs of glasses, and believe me, by the time you have put on all five, you will find it challenging trying to read much of anything.

If you wear glasses, you wear these over the tops of the ones you are wearing to give you a graduated simulation.

The loss of visual quality as you stack glasses.

The image above gives you an idea as to how fuzzy your vision gets with these, but it is even more jarring as you actually wear them. aAt the maximum level, you can really see how frustrating it is when you try to look at a screen or an object that has low contrast. Trying to determine what it is, much less how to use it, can be a real struggle. Again, there are software tools that simulate this, but there’s something very interesting about being able to put on these graduated “fuzz” devices and try to do everyday tasks I take for granted.

For those who are interested in experiencing your apps, or your everyday products in a new way, and to develop a bit of empathy for your less visually normative friends (and those who live long enough will most likely get to join our ranks), then I do encourage getting these simulation glasses. They are worth the expense, and they do help reshape and reframe the way you see the world… or don’t see it, in this case.