2006 Conference General Sessions

INCLUSIVE USER CENTERED DESIGN: PICKING UP WHERE STANDARDS-BASED ACCESSIBILITY LEAVES OFF

 

 

Presenter(s)
Jennifer Bilotta
User Insight [www.userinsight.com]
115 Perimeter Center Place Suite 440
Atlanta GA 30346

Day Phone: (770) 391-1099
Fax: (770) 391-1096
Email: jbilotta@userinsight.com

Presenter #2
John Morgan
User Insight [www.userinsight.com]
115 Perimeter Center Place
Atlanta GA 30346

Day Phone: (770) 391-1096
Fax: (770) 391-1096
Email: jmorgan@userinsight.com

This timely presentation proposes "Case-Study" based approaches to best practices for identifying the gaps left by standards-based development through Inclusive User Centered Design (IUCD).

A Good Idea
Since the conceptual introduction of access to technology by people with disabilities, many laws, guidelines, books, manuals and online resources have been dedicated to a common goal of creating a basic and consistent standard of access. In the US, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act has been the key player among these, identifying development requirements supported by a Federal Law.

Lost in Translation
Those parties seeking 508 compliance, whether mandated by law, completely voluntary, or instigated through judicial action, are often equipped with very few tools and even less guidance at the product level on how to specifically comply with Section 508. Even in the rare instance when developers, presented with this challenge, proactively address the concept of access for all, the implementation techniques that result from the Section 508 law vary widely from product to product. Over implementation of the Law often becomes a problem within development teams, actually increasing the number of access barriers within the product. The existence of web accessibility subject matter experts eases the translation burdens on product teams and improves the overall end result. These individuals, however are few and far between, prohibitively expensive for smaller companies and difficult for teams with no prior exposure to accessibility to verify the quality of each individual consultant.

Paying for the Invisible
Hiring an expensive consultant to translate the guidelines into practical HTML and JavaScript techniques that can be used by developers is not the only cost issues raised when considering accessible technology. The fundamental issue becomes finding funding to address the needs of people with disabilities within the product’s lifecycle. Creating advocacy among the “check writers” for such an abstract concept as technology access for persons with disabilities is difficult to say the least, especially when there is little to no perceivable or measurable outcome. In other words, executives spend thousands toward accessibility efforts, but in the end cannot account for the results to others because many times the results show no visible change in the graphical user interface (GUI).

The First Step
Inclusive User Centered Design (IUCD) or the practice of including users with disabilities into standard usability testing within a company is also expensive and difficult to justify prior to the test. Though most User Centered Design efforts promote measurable increased usability for populations without disabilities, it still remains commonplace in industry to replace UCD practices for people with disabilities with “standards compliance.” The conclusion by most product teams is that replacing true IUCD with a cheaper standards-based review and code compliance assumes identical results. The person is ultimately replaced by a set of standards. In the rare case that products receive both a standards-based review and user testing with people with disabilities, user testing should follow a standards-based (or code) review. Unlike most “standard” usability assessments, standards-based testing and review should be the first step toward IUCD by removing major access barriers prior to user testing to allow the users to provide useful feedback on messaging, content and usability rather than fundamental access.

User Feedback is Key
Including end-user feedback in the accessibility effort is a critical, but often ignored, step in identifying usability and access barriers that standards-based review cannot identify. The key difference between the two methods is the audience. Standards-based review is general, giving little consideration to specific audience or goal-based information. It is, however, highly effective in removing fundamental access barriers within the product. Inclusive User Centered Design, on the other hand, emphasizes the identification of the end-user population, trying to understand not only who the users are, but any goals and desires of those users as they relate to the use of the product being evaluated. The results of the initial site or product analysis drive the recruit for the user sessions. Integrating real users with real goals and experience is the only way to generate true IUCD into your products. Feedback from actual users can go a long way to fine-tune the accessibility of a product, creating more usable, useful and accessible products for all.

Research Plan
In order to identify where the most common gaps between standards-based testing and IUCD might occur, User Insight researchers will identify several widely-used online products that claim some level of Section 508 or W3C accessibility compliance. Products for review can range from online banking applications to ordering books online, checking your email account or even renting movies online. Any product that could improve the quality of life for any individual can be considered for this study. After identifying several products that already claim a basic level of access, User Insight researchers will construct a thorough site analysis for each, identifying target audiences and goals, including people with disabilities. The researchers, in conjunction with possible respondents, will test the product’s using the primary tasks outlined in the site analysis. The tests will occur in a lab environment. By focusing on the experience of the product by people with disabilities, researchers will be able to identify gaps between standards compliance and IUCD.

Results Presentation
Upon the conclusion of all the tests, User Insight researchers will identify any patterns that may occur in the data, specifically focusing on major gaps between the two testing methods. The researchers will attempt to formulate practical, action-based practices that could be used at the design and development levels to supplement standards-based coding techniques. The desired outcome is to identify, generalize and disseminate supplemental experience-based practices that may assist developers, designers and all members of a product team to improve the overall end-user experience, creating a truly inclusive design.


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