I’ve just come back from a very interesting breakfast event at the local office of User Experience consultants User Vision. Led by accessibility consultant Mark Palmer, the session looked at issues around testing with disabled users, and presented some of the surprising results from such testing.
Some of the main points included:
- WCAG guidelines are a good start, but don’t cover everything. User testing is vital to fill in the gaps.
- Many of our assumptions about how people use Assistive Technologies can be very wrong.
- It can be hard to locate disabled users for testing – Mark reports that whilst they have plenty of blind users willing to participate, users with other conditions can be less easy to track down. Users with conditions such as autism and Asperger’s syndrome, for example.
- Colleges and universities can provide good links to willing participants. Charities also, although they won’t give you contact details – they usually just put out notices in their publications, which can slow the process significantly.
- Many users do not use Assistive Technologies, per se, but still do things to make content more accessible to themselves. Some dyslexic users, for example, will cut and paste text into word processing software in order to modify the size, font etc.
Of the various questions that arose during the session, perhaps the most contentious was in relation to accessibility statements. What are they for and what should they include? One clear message is that they should not be too technical – most disabled users are unfamiliar with WCAG conformance or other technical terms. There is a conflict here, though, with WCAG 2.0’s suggestion of a technical statement of conformance in the form of a Conformance Claim. There’s also a clear difference between accessibility statements and the wider purpose of a Help section. I’ll be looking at this issue in greater depth soon, so stay tuned.
Another issue related to customisation of websites – specifically, the inclusion of widgets to resize text, change colour contrast etc. I’m personally against these in principle, as there is a significant lack of convention in how such functions are provided across different websites. Also, anyone needing larger text, for example, would be far better off learning how to increase the size themselves, using their browser. A final point, which Mark had observed himself during user testing, was that many users will not activate these functions even when they might benefit from them, simply because they do not want to bring attention to their condition in a public environment or at work.
Thanks again to Mark, Marzena and everyone else at User Vision for a very enjoyable event, not to mention the greatly appreciated breakfast and coffee, making the early start well worth it!
Future breakfast events
User Vision hope to put on more breakfast events in future, so head over to their Events section for more info (there’s even a handy RSS feed available).