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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.

[Edit] The presentation is now available on Slideshare.

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).

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3 Responses to Event review – Accessibility breakfast @ User Vision Edinburgh, 15th June 2009

  1. Gary Miller says:

    Fascinating stuff, wish I’d been there! The Accessibility page on my present site falls in the mentioned trap of too much technical jargon – W3C, WAI, WCAG 2.0, etc.

    For my new site, I’d already decided that the Accessibility page would contain only information about how the site was accessible. e.g. Font size is relative to aid zooming and re-sizing, all images – where required – have appropriate alt text; well, you get the picture.

    For those interested, I’m also going to include a link to a separate page containing a full-blown conformance claim as recommended by WCAG 2.0. I think this approach is a useful compromise which satisfies all concerned…although, I’m always ready to be proved wrong!

    • James says:

      I think that sounds like a good approach Gary. It’s definitely good to get the technical conformance claim in there somewhere, just maybe not the first thing you see. Linking to it seems logical.

      The issue of what information you give on customising your browser is another contentious point, though. Some site owners I have spoken to don’t see it as their job, nor do they have confidence in offering the best advice. A compromise here might be to link to another site for additional information. Something like the BBC’s My Web My Way accessibility help section, for example.

      I’ll be reviewing my own statement soon, hopefully backed up by some research, so I’ll blog about that when complete.

  2. Gary Miller says:

    I wholeheartedly agree that linking to the My Web My Way section is a good idea. After all, why clutter up your own or a client’s pages with all that information when it’s already provided elsewhere? To me it’s a case of ‘why re-invent the wheel?’.

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