March 11, 2009

Usability & Accessibility of Websites

As a web designer, I've dealt with issues of usability and accessibility for a while now. When I first started creating sites, I didn't think twice about these aspects. However, my current job as a web assistant required me to be very detailed and precise in regards to these requirements. Simple tags can make a big different in terms of accesibility - for example, alt tags on images that screen readers can present. In the web accessibility 101 reading I was surprised to find out that about 20% of the American population has some type of disability. Moreso because I never thought of disabilities as really impairing their use of the internet. However, it turns out accessibility is a major requirement for large scale sites and any site in general. There are countless people that are benefited by web accessibility such as the deaf, blind, or disabled somehow in their motor skills.

I think usability is a little more common of a goal and more obvious for web creators to focus on. It assessed how easily users can do what they want to when visiting your site. I know we've already talked a lot about the usability of our site - we have clear goals about what we want to accomplish and what we want users to be able to do. The wiki style of our site will definitely help with usability by allowing for selective reading and easy navigation and organization. As the usability reading mentioned this week, if a site is difficult to use, people leave. Obviously this makes sense and I'm sure we can all think of sites that we've been too and quickly left after deciding it was too complicated to use. We want our information presented to us quickly and to be able to accomplish our tasks in a timely manner when going to a site which is what makes usability such an important quality of websites.

March 10, 2009

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.