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Designing for All Users = Good Design

I thoroughly enjoyed this week’s readings, although the article from the University of Wisconsin-Madison was a bit technical. The concept of web accessibility is relatively new to me. However, I can relate it to the concept of Universal Design. According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison (2003), web accessibility tries to free any barriers associated with websites so that anyone can use them (1). Universal Design is where designers (mainly interior designers and architects) design keeping all users in mind. For example, where a 2’6’’ door is wide enough for most people, a 3’0’’ door takes into account all users of the space, such as those in wheelchairs. Other examples include having countertop at certain lengths, a 5’ radius in the bathroom for wheelchair accessibility and railings on all stairs. Web accessibility then is similar; it employs various techniques to ensure that the color blind, hard of hearing and people with cognitive abilities, as well as all people can access the information provided on a web page and understand it. In the UW-Madison article, web accessibility techniques include using text to describe graphics, including a textual transcription of multimedia and being clear in giving directions (1). I think these ideas should be applied to our site. We can include textual descriptions of the media we put up on our pages and keep things simple and easy to understand. By doing this, we are not only making our site accessible to those with disabilities but making it easier for anyone to use as well.

Hand in hand with web accessibility is usability. If someone does not understand a website or can not use it, they will leave it and go to a different one. This is where usability testing comes in. According to Nielsen, to conduct usability testing you first need to gather a representative sample of users to conduct tasks on the website while testers record each person’s actions (1). It is important to record what each person does, not just what he or she says. Additionally, it is crucial to not interfere. If there is a question, the tester should refrain from answering it because it can alter the effect. In thinking about usability in regard to our website, we could ask a group of students or researchers to come in and test out our site. I don’t know how this would work in terms of coordinating a time and place to conduct this, but in theory it would be a good idea because then we could see how well people understand our site. I think we should do some form of usability testing; maybe there is another way we could do it that is web based?

I understand why web accessibility isn’t frequently used. According to Everett (2006), there is a lack of awareness in regard to the concept. Not many have heard about it and if your company hasn’t been in a lawsuit, you may not know about it. The word needs to be spread about it until all websites employ the concepts of web accessibility. Good design keeps all users in mind and it only makes sense that websites should employ these principles.

Comments

I was about where you are a couple of years ago - learning about accessibility and why it is so important. It seems like something that can be so easily overlooked and nothing incredibly important. However, large scale sites especially for big companies will not succeed if they are inaccessible to a decent portion of their audience.