2006 Conference General Sessions

INCLUDING USERS WITH DISABILITIES IN THE DESIGN OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

Presenter(s)
Andi Snow-Weaver
IBM
11501 Burnet Rd
Austin TX 78758
Day Phone: 512-838-9903
Email: andisnow@us.ibm.com

Presenter #2
Ed Kunzinger
IBM
11501 Burnet Rd.
Austin TX 78758
Day Phone: 512-838-2813
Email: elk@us.ibm.com

Improving the usability of information technology for people with disabilities can only be achieved by including them in the user engineering activities of the product development process. This presentation explores some approaches, challenges, and lessons learned.

In early 1999, two years before Section 508 was finalized, IBM began an initiative to make all of our products, internal tools, Web sites, documentation, and services accessible to people with disabilities. We defined a set of accessibility requirements for all of our products to meet which are published on our Web site at http://www-306.ibm.com/able/guidelines/index.html. We developed internal education and resources for our developers and integrated accessibility activities into our development processes.

For a company the size of IBM with thousands of products and millions of pages on our Internet and intranet Web sites, achieving this goal is a very long journey. We have made a lot of progress in the past seven years, with over 500 of our products and services now meeting these requirements. We still have a long way to go but we have learned a lot.

Enforcing a set of mandatory accessibility requirements on all of our products is a necessary step in the process of creating information technology products and services that can be used by people with disabilities. A set of accessibility requirements such as the ones we employ at IBM enables basic access to the products and services.

But it is only the first step. The ultimate goal is for users who have disabilities to have easy to use accessible products and services. We do not believe, however, that this can be achieved by imposing additional mandatory accessibility requirements on all of our products and services. We need to change our whole approach.  

We acknowledge that we cannot create a great experience for users of our products and services simply by following instructions in a book. We have to employ development processes that focus on potential users from the very beginning of a product concept. IBM does this with our User Centered Design and User Experience processes. (See http://www-306.ibm.com/ibm/easy/eou_ext.nsf/publish/558 for more information.) These processes focus on understanding users, including them in the design process, and evaluating early versions of the product with them at each step in the development cycle. Likewise, we cannot create a great experience for our users who have disabilities by following instructions. We must include them in the User Centered Design and User Experience processes we employ when developing our products and services.

At CSUN 2004, the presenters provided an introductory look at IBM initiatives in going beyond achieving basic access, towards improving usability for our users who have disabilities. The accessibility and usability communities in IBM came together in a joint project to explore best practices in the following areas:
• Including users with disabilities in user studies
• Developing personas for people with disabilities
• Making Web sites and software more usable for people with disabilities
• Making complex visual editors more usable for people with disabilities

We are now starting to deploy these best practices in pilot projects throughout IBM. This year’s presentation will provide an update on these activities including progress, case studies, challenges and issues, lessons learned, and areas where more research.


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