Sunday, September 30, 2007

More on Accessibility & Usability

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 First

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 . . .


Debra said...

Betsy, thank you for an insightful discussion on how important accessibility is on the internet. A good friend of mine is the Executive Director of a non-profit for the visually impaired. She has struggle with the problem of accessibility even with her own webmaster. She had trusted him to make sure the site was accessible, but after many complaints, doing her own research, and talking to others in the national organization realized that her own site did not promote accessibility. She is currently reworking her site to accommodate her target population which is large visually impaired.

Thanks for the references. I'm always looking for sites that address usability and accommodating disabilities.

James Blake Worley said...

This is something that I've had to deal with in new hire training classes. You have to re-think the same material you've taught over and again. When your main examples are overhead projections and you have two people who are legally blind they have to switch off between who is running the projection computer. These things need to always be considered on-line and in class.

CRodrigo said...

This is an important issue that we all need to consider when designing learning material. I have been developing a video for the March of Dimes that will eventually become a podcast as well. One consideration was closed captioning and what regulations exist from the Federal Communications Commission. I've listed a website that talks more about those regulations regarding video.
The reason why I thought about this issue was because my instructor from my IT 5600 Multimedia Authoring course mentioned it and it was something I thought was important. Closed captioning or subtitles can also be used for different languages.

Lynne said...

Hi Betsy,
Remember our class with Jackie Dobrolvsky... how she pushed us to use a lighter yellow, cream background vs. white? I have remembered that as very helpful in creating a contrast necessary for those who have seeing disabilities.

I also remember reading an Eyetrack (stanford U) study a long time ago and they suggested that black on yellow is far easier to see than black on white.


Collin said...

Great discussion on usability, one of my favorite subjects. The one in five web user has a disability is quite a statistic.
I wonder if the weblog software that we use is accessible? I imagine that if it were thrown into a web reader it would sound pretty awful. It seems that the focus is more on connectivity rather than accessibility.

Thanks for the great resources!

Collin said...

Check out the this article
Suit Against Target Over Access By Blind Gets Class-Action Status

I would bet that Accessibility and Usability will start getting the attention of web designers with this lawsuit.

Betsy said...


Thanks for your input and the link. Now I'm wondering if my blog is actually accessible. Maybe a little research is in order!