Web accessibility – that goes for you too!

When I tell people about what I do, I often get the same reaction ”Oh, internet for blind people!” Patiently I explain that my profession is about us all, including the person in front of me - probably already now, and most certainly in the future.

At Funka we have executed an infinite number of user tests in varied situations and with different types of users. What we have learned, among other things, is that the reasons for user difficulties differ a lot. If you are stressed, tired or trying to do several things at the same time it will take longer to accomplish a task. But the reason why it is taking more time can just as well be because of a cognitive impairment or a diagnose that implicate concentration problems. Or because of something completely different.

It is just not possible to play Jeopardy! as an accessibility expert, because knowing the answer (the result of the test) does not mean that you understand the question (why it is difficult).

An ordinary week

Pick any week of the year, and I promise that I’ve been tired and well rested, distracted and focused, stressed and calm. I’ve had an urge to pee, and I’ve been dehydrated. I’ve surfed on my smartphone and I’ve been sitting in front of two big screens. I’ve had the sun in my eyes and I’ve forgotten to turn on the light at my desk. And most probably, I’ve had caffeine abstinence. Yes, I know I drink to much coffee.

All this affects my mental capacity, my motoric precision, what content and functionality that is presented to me, and how well I understand what is in front of me. Nothing of the different moods mentioned qualifies as a disability, but they still affect how I address an interface. For example, it is extremely frustrating when the word prediction in the search field works great on a PC but demands a ridiculously perfect timing on my smartphone; if I write to fast the letter is not registered, and if I write to slowly it all disappears. And the suggestions do not show up until the third letter. Seriously, I cannot understand how it is possible to develop something that is working so poorly.

It is not “we and them” – it is “us”!

Accessibility is not about adapting for a certain group, it is about simplifying for all of us. When you get older it becomes even more important since most of us sooner or later will be affected by age-related vision and hearing loss and motor impairments.

In our projects we often see examples of overlaps between user experience and accessibility. Prior to the experiment with e-elections in the Norwegian election, Funka tested the system from an accessibility point of view, while one of our colleagues in the industry tested it from a user experience point of view. The results were similar, although Funka found some specific parts that the user experience - people did not. Since they had “normal” users as test subjects they failed in finding some of the problems that we found. Normal users, by the way, are just as rare as unicorns, but apart from that it is interesting that almost 90 % of what we found were the same.

So, the next time you hear about people working with web accessibility, you may feel happy about the fact that someone is trying to make your digital life easier! And maybe you can send us a thought when you discover that your internet bank actually also works in your smartphone.

Torbjørn Helland Solhaug