2006 Conference General Sessions




Sarah J. Swierenga
Usability & Accessibility Center
, Michigan
State University
Kellogg Center, Garden Level
East Lansing MI 48824-1022
Day Phone: 517-353-8977
Fax: 517-432-9541
Email: uac@msu.edu

Presenter #2

Sarah J. Swierenga, Ph.D., C.P.E.
Amy Diehl
Ghada Georgis
Usability & Accessibility Center
Michigan State University
Kellogg Center
, Garden Level

East Lansing, MI 48824-1022
E-mail: uac@msu.edu
Phone: 517-353-8977
Fax: 517-432-9541

Presenter #3
Pat Gilbert
Capital Area Transportation Authority
4615 Tranter Avenue
Lansing, MI 48910

E-mail: pgilbert@cata.org
Phone: 517-394-1100
Fax: 517-394-3733

Research findings from a transportation authority website usability evaluation with blind users, college students, downtown commuters, youth, and seniors revealed common and unique experiences.

Public-oriented websites, such as transportation authorities, present interesting and complex design considerations because of wide range of potential users coming to the site to obtain route and detour information, bus schedules, and fare information. Middle school students who ride the city bus to school may check the site on school mornings for route changes due to construction or traffic accidents, while senior citizens and blind users may use the website to find route information to get to a doctorís appointment or a committee meeting across town. Clearly, the site design must support these types of daily needs for a diverse audience.

Public transportation organizations have long been concerned with the need for guidelines and research on websites concerned with Public Transportation Information (PTI). The guidelines highlight the need for designing these public sites from the end userís perspective to help ensure that the site content and presentation is usable and useful for a variety of user groups (Kenyon, Lyons, & Austin, 2001). The present study contributes to the research literature because we were afforded the opportunity to collect both performance and satisfaction data from several different kinds of users.  

Description of Study
User experiences with a public transportation authority website were evaluated in fifteen one-on-one sessions with downtown commuters, youth, undergraduate college students, seniors, and screen reader users who are blind. The purpose of the usability evaluation was two-fold: 1) to identify usability and accessibility issues with the current website using a systematic performance-based approach; and 2) to establish a baseline for assessing the increased usability and accessibility of the redesigned site when it is produced.

Participants performed several task scenarios using the transportation authority website, finding general and specific information on the website. We instructed participants to verbalize any confusion while performing tasks, in order to identify areas of difficulty, as well as patterns and types of participant errors when performing typical search tasks. Task scenarios included looking up route information and times, buying passes online, and finding the phone number for customer service. We also administered a post-study questionnaire to address specific aspects of the task scenarios and to obtain satisfaction ratings. Participants provided additional feedback regarding suggestions for improving the site. Blind participants using the JAWS for Windows screen reader also gave feedback about the usability of the website from an accessibility perspective. The 15 sessions were videotaped, allowing for a robust video catalog of the user experience study.

Description of Presentation
In the presentation we will discuss several task scenarios and show brief video clips that illustrate similarities and differences in how the different types of users interacted with the transportation authority website. In general, users were quite successful in locating certain information within the transportation authority website, such as finding the price for a bus pass or the Customer Service phone number. However, users had more difficulty understanding the siteís presentation of information pertaining to routes and times. For example, in one task scenario participants were asked to find a route from the local mall to the main downtown stop (no transfers required), and also figure out what time the last bus was leaving the mall on Sunday night. Most of the downtown commuters, youth, and college students were able to complete both parts of this task; however, most of the seniors and screen reader users were unable to complete both parts of the task successfully. They were able to find the correct route with some effort, but really struggled with understanding and interacting with the time tables on the bus schedule.

In addition to describing and discussing particular usability and accessibility concerns with the current transportation authority website, we will also give examples of potentially appropriate high-level design recommendations for large-scale public websites, as well as some topics for further research.

Kenyon, S, Lyons, G., & Austin, J. (2001).
Public transport information Web sites: How to get it right: A best practice guide. Institute of Logistics and Transport, pgs V-VII.  http://www.trg.soton.ac.uk/bpg

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