Thursday, February 26, 2009

Usable Accessibility: Making Web Sites Work Well for People with Disabilities

Usability helps accessibility ...

"When people talk about both usability and accessibility, it is often to point out how they differ. Accessibility often gets pigeon-holed as simply making sure there are no barriers to access for screen readers or other assistive technology, without regard to usability, while usability usually targets everyone who uses a site or product, without considering people who have disabilities. In fact, the concept of usability often seems to exclude people with disabilities, as though just access is all they are entitled to. What about creating a good user experience for people with disabilities—going beyond making a Web site merely accessible to make it truly usable for them?

In the spirit of the column Ask UXmatters, I spoke to a number of leading advocates for accessibility to find out what they think about usable accessibility.

I started with Mike Paciello of The Paciello Group. He was a co-chair for the Access Board’s committee making recommendations for how to update the US “Section 508” accessibility regulations. I had thought he might focus on standards that ensure sites meet basic requirements. However, what he said was that, although good standards are important, “It’s really about the user experience. That means more than just removing barriers. We have to think about the personas for different types of disabilities and how to give them as good an experience as anyone else.”

When I talked to Shawn Henry, the Outreach Coordinator for the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), she agreed. She pointed me to her presentation at UPA 2002 Another -ability: Accessibility Primer for Usability Specialists, in which she said:

“Many times focusing on standards and guidelines puts the focus on the technical aspects of accessibility, and the human interaction aspect is lost. This problem can be avoided by adopting the broader definition of accessibility as a guiding principle. Instead of focusing only on the technical aspects of accessibility, it is important to recognize that usability is also an important aspect of accessibility. Consciously addressing ‘usable accessibility’ helps clarify the difference between what meets minimum accessibility standards and what is usable by people with disabilities.”

Mary Theofanos and Ginny Redish make a similar point in two articles about their work on the user experience of blind and low-vision users. They raised questions about how we can create “experience equity” for people with disabilities by making a site flexible. But, they went further, claiming, “Improving accessibility improves usability for all users.” Clayton Lewis made much the same point at a presentation to the Access Board advisory committee. He pointed out that many features that make Web sites accessible to people with cognitive disabilities also improve the general usability of sites, because such disabilities can amplify mild annoyances into absolute barriers."    (Continued via UXmatters, Whitney Quesenbery)    [Usability Resources]

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