What good is a website if you can’t see it or use it properly? Food for thought . . .
I spent the past week in Houston facilitating a three-day conference / training workshop entitled “Managing a Website Redesign Project.” This was a program that I had designed about eight months ago for higher education marketing, communication and web professionals. While its main focus was on project management, we—the 50+ of us in the room— discussed a number of related topics, including usability and accessibility.
During this particular discussion, the participants were asked to identify each of their site’s target audiences and their corresponding needs / requirements. Keep in mind that these were the people who manage their institutions’ main websites and were experienced, dedicated higher education administrators. Yet, it was interesting that one group of individuals was consistently overlooked during this exercise: individuals with disabilities—be they prospective students, donors, current students, or just members of the general public.
According to Usability First, “1 in 5 people in the United States has some kind of disability and an estimated 30 million people are impacted by inaccessible computer and software design. The number of people with disabilities is only increasing, as it has increased 25% in the last decade, especially among those 50 years old and above. And among the 31 million seniors aged 65 and above, 16 million reported some level of disability (Census Brief 97-5). But accessibility actually affects a much larger percentage of the population, as many people who do not have permanent disabilities have temporary conditions that can affect the way they operate for a period of time.”
Those of you who have read my other posts may recall that I had eye surgery a few weeks ago. While I’ve been steadily improving, there was a week where I had significant difficulty reading anything on a computer screen, especially on our eCollege course shell. That, in turn, made completing my assignments on time a significant challenge. It certainly opened my eyes—pardon the pun—to the difficulties faced by students who have permanent eye conditions.
As we continue to design online learning environments, I want to challenge both myself and my classmates to consider our prospective learners in greater depth. This includes their strengths, weaknesses and challenges.
In the meantime, I’d like to provide a few more helpful resources on accessibility and usability:
Usability & Accessibility Center, Michigan State University
HTML Center’s Usability & Accessiblity Forum. This forum includes links to helpful tutorials.
Thanks for reading my accessibility and usability rant. I promise to now get off my soapbox, at least for a little while . . .