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One Year Anniversary Review: Accessibility and Usability

In “Usability Isn’t Expensive. It’s Practical. Usability is Useful.”, I explained the differences, and similarities between accessibility and usability:

Accessibility is the development of a website or blog to be accessible to everyone. This means that the design must meet web standards and pass a range of validation tests in order to be compliant with many countries accessibility and equal opportunity laws. It also helps the website owner/administrator to have a website that can be viewed and used by the disabled, blind or visually impaired, those using cell phones, handheld computers, web-TV, and older and newer browsers. In other words, accessibility means designing a website that can be seen and used by everyone and anyone.

Usability is the ability to use the website. Yes, designing for accessibility lets the disabled and those using non-traditional methods of viewing websites use your website better. Usability is actually more than that. It looks at how users use your site.

As Johansson explains, good tests for website usability comes from real life situations. What are people looking for? How are they looking for the information? Where will they look on your website for that information? Have you made it easy to find? Can they move around on your site to find what they need, or even more information than they thought they were looking for?

The web standards for accessibility is the law in most countries around the world. While usability isn’t the law, it is a part of accessibility standards. In order for a website to be “legal”, it must be usable. Accessibility covers use by everyone.

In “Website Accessibility is Now Getting Serious in the USA”, examining law suits and legal actions being taken to force website administrators and owners to comply with accessibility laws, I wrote:

An accessible website has another major benefit. Search engines “read” your site like the blind and visually impaired, looking for text in links, images, and content. Well-designed accessible sites help search engines visit your site and gather the information they need to rank the page in search results. You want good SEO (Search Engine Optimization), then meet the standards for website accessibility.

Accessible web pages are designed and coded to allow web page readers (verbal) to read the content with ease. Every graphic and photograph should have a description to help those who can’t see the picture to “hear” the picture. Font sizes need to be relative font sizes so the fonts can be larger or smaller, meeting the needs of the user and not be forced upon the user by the designer. This isn’t just for the disabled but for the growing population of older adults whose eyes need the larger font sizes. Colors should be chosen to help the large percentage of men who are color blind as well as for those suffering from other color-associative problems.

Being “blind” doesn’t mean the “absence of sight”. The majority of people classified as “legally blind” have some form of vision. They can see light and/or see with magnification, close up, from a distance, through a pinhole in the darkness, or only around the edges, and every variation in between. There are also many methods available for accessing the Internet, including text magnification, audible reading programs, braille readers, and browsers that overwrite colors and fonts to enable better viewing. Designing a web page for accessibility means taking the simple steps that allow these other programs to function better. No different from testing your web page design on Firefox, Internet Explorer, or Safari.

Estimates vary, but approximately 25% of Internet and web users are visually impaired or disabled. They are not your only audience. Today, people view web pages on cell phones, handheld computers, projectors, Web TV, and miniature laptops, among the many new technologies available. Meeting accessibility and web standards means helping make your website viewable by all, not just those sitting behind a computer using a traditional browser.

The Internet is not just for the seeing. It is not just for those with the hottest and latest in computers. It’s not for college educated. It is not for the rich. It is not for the United States only, and it is not for geeks. It’s for everyone, of every age, intellect, and ability.

Part of the work I do is helping people learn how to use the Internet and the web. I’ve taught workshops and programs in several countries, to people of all ages and abilities. It is amazing to watch people overcome their fears and find a whole world beyond their imagination worth exploring.

I wrote an article called “Blogging About Disabilities”, highlighting bloggers with disabilities blogging about their disabilities, sharing with the world what it is like to see, hear, feel, and exist in their bodies where “normal” for them is different than “normal” for most.

As I continue examining how people blog, I stumbled upon a large number of bloggers who focus on disabilities. While these subjects were once rarely discussed in “proper society”, the subject of the disabled, mentally and physically challenged, mentally ill, and other disabilities are now out in the open. There are tons of people talking about what it is to be disabled, living with disabilities, facing disabilities, and living with people who are disabled.

Did you know that more than 56 million Americans are disabled? According conservative estimates, approximately 6% of India’s population is disabled. The disabled make up a good minority of many countries around the world, and only in the past couple decades have they had a voice and access.

A new talk show focusing on disabilities is seriously impacting much of the new “face” of disabilities. DisAbility News & Views Radio is heard every Tuesday and Sunday and hosted by Monica Moshenko on WXRL in New York as well as on the web. She says she couldn’t believe that there wasn’t a radio program solely focusing on the needs of people with disabilities locally or nationally. “There was a huge void in talk radio for people with disabilities and their families. I am just filling it.”

…A lot of people are using blogs to open the doors to their very private world, helping others to know what is going on inside of them and around them as they live with their disability, and in some cases, the blog is their only voice when their ability to speak is limited or gone.

The amazing revelation in reading these blogs was that these people really worked hard trying to see and experience the world through your eyes to interpret their experience. It isn’t just about telling us about how they live their lives incorporating their disability or making it a positive, it’s about helping the non-disabled understand the disabled from the non-disabled perspective. That’s how hard they want the rest of the world to understand them.

I’ve worked with the blind and visually impaired to help them “view” and access the web. Even helping an older person change the settings on their computer so the fonts are larger and easier to read brings smiles and hugs of joy. I’ve worked with the deaf to add visual clues as to when something is happening on their computer that would normally be an audible hint. I’ve worked with the young to teach them how to research and search, and with the old so they can do their own research as well as communicate with family and grandchildren more computer savvy.

Over ten years ago, I introduced an 80 year old to the computer and she promptly went out and bought a new one, along with one of the early digital video recorders and scanners. She started making copies of all her family photographs and putting together photo albums for her family, then made videos of herself, telling stories of her past, which she edited and burned onto CDs and distributed to her family. From there, she started making educational videos, showing others how to weave and do other hand work, so her decades of experiences and knowledge in the crafts would be preserved. She’s just turned 91 and last I heard she was working on local historical documentaries. Amazing!

Another friend of mine has been going blind due to diabetes. Cut off from her active life, she found a new social life with chat groups and instant messaging, made possible with special audio reading and dictation software.

The stories of how designing accessible web pages and software helps so many has no limits, just as how we design and develop our web pages should also have no limits or restrictions on how they can be read and interpreted by everyone.

Accessibility isn’t hard. Understanding usability, how users use web pages, takes a little more effort, but in the long run, you increase your audience and it benefits everyone, especially you. For when your web page’s code is streamlined and meets accessibility standards, with no errors, search engines adore you and dance through your pages and links with glee.

I’m very passionate about accessibility and usability issues and the wide range of articles I’ve written on the subject over the past year are fairly representative of that passion.

Articles about Accessibility and Usability

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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen, member of the 9Rules Network

Member of the 9Rules Blogging Network

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