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Accessibility and Lawsuits

November 5th, 2014 by Steve | Comment on Accessibility and Lawsuits | Filed in Accessibility News

Statue of blindfolded woman holding scales, signifying justice is blindI just read an interesting article from The Wall Street Journal – Accessibility Claims Expected Over Websites.

It cites an agreement worked with with tax resource site H&R Block, the National Federation of the Blind, and the Justice Department.

The article also forecasts more accessibility claims coming out of increased enforcement of accessibility by the Justice Department.

Now, as I’ve vented about before, one must take the comments section of an online article with a giant grain of salt, since the vast majority of them are ill-informed, if not outright ignorant and offensive. Nonetheless, I found most of the comments on this article interesting.

There was a general sense from the posters that such enforcement is unreasonable to “average Joe” developers and will cost them lots of money and stretch their skills to make their web sites more accessible.

H&R Block logoDepending on the complexity of a web site, it certainly can be expensive to retroactively make a site accessible. But it’s also not an excuse to cry foul about accessibility enforcement and blame on “lawyers being lawyers.”

We’ll see what the months and years bring with this story, and what the Justice Department comes up with and enforces, but if it means greater seriousness about making web sites more usable for people with disabilities, then it sure feels like a potentially positive direction.

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Presentation Presented!

October 15th, 2014 by Steve | Comment on Presentation Presented! | Filed in Accessibility Thoughts, art of web accessibility update

As I’ve been mentioning, I got the opportunity to give a presentation on accessibility at work. I think it went well. I’m going to tweak it a bit to make it more generic and less specific to the company, and then I’ll share it.

The common themes:
1) Accessibility is a cornerstone of User Experience — while the focus is on people with disabilities, accessibility really is about opening pathways for every user.
2) There are far more disabilities to be mindful of than just, say, blindness (which many people only think of when they think of accessibility). There are disabilities related to vision, hearing, motor skills, cognitive capabilities.
3) And what about environmental limitations? Some people use technologies in poor lighting or too much lighting. Some have numerous, disparate displays screaming for their attention.
4) Do you really know your users, or do you paint them with a spread brush and make sweeping generalizations about how able-bodied they “have to be” to do certain jobs? Maybe you do have a type of user who does in fact have to be devoid of certain disabilities to do a job that involves your product. But be very careful making assumptions!

It was a fun little presentation to put together, and I’m optimistic it’s opening doors for me in raising awareness of accessibility. Stay tuned and I’ll share more.

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More about Accessibility and Personas

September 24th, 2014 by Steve | Comment on More about Accessibility and Personas | Filed in Accessibility Thoughts

Last year, I posted Personas in Accessibility, sharing some thoughts (as well as posing questions) about how personas should be used in the context of accessibility.

I’ve been giving this topic some more thought lately.

There are different schools of thought in User Experience about the merits and methods of creating personas.

There is definite value in representing users in such a way. The point is to keep your users in focus for UX people, developers, business decision-makers, and everyone else involved in the creation of products. Personas are a nice way to sum up key points and distinctions in a realistic, empathetic way.

Some personas are a fairly involved set of documents, covering every conceivable user and going into a lot of detail. Specifics include educational background, interests, concerns, typical workday, buying habits, ethnicity, etcetera.

Alternative formats roll up users into a minimal set of archetypes, and limit themselves to high-level summaries – just enough information to get the points and distinctions across.

I’ve worked with both kinds, and lately find myself more on the side of the latter. The main thing is to show distinction in types of users. The more of a novel you write (which pretty much goes for any UX artifact), the more likely people won’t bother reading them.

In the presentation I’m working on right now, I think I’ve found a nice way to incorporate accessibility concerns with personas/archetypes.

I’m anticipating that a sizable percentage of my audience think of their products’ users as just one type of person. That person, out of necessity, simply cannot have certain disabilities because they have to be able to do certain physical activities.

In our research, we’ve learned that there isn’t the one type of user — there are several, and they come from different walks of life, age brackets, etcetera. Not all of them have jobs that require physical labor. Many of them are desk-bound, in roles that certainly can be done with a wide range of disabilities.

I plan to first give an overview of the different kinds of disabilities. After that, I’ll list out a smattering of user types for our products. I’ll then go through them and highlight some disabilities that could be in play.

For example, the person who goes around turning wrenches and performing repairs on stuff probably can’t have motor disabilities or be blind. But an executive who runs reports and wants to stay abreast of how much money his organization is making (or losing) could be wheelchair-bound, blind, deaf…really just about any disability is possible.

We’ll see how the conversation goes!

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Another Presentation in the Works

August 27th, 2014 by Steve | Comment on Another Presentation in the Works | Filed in art of web accessibility update, Personal

I’m excited that I’ve been asked to do an accessibility presentation at work.

I’ve got about a month (less now!) to put together something. The good news is that I’ve got a pretty solid foundation in place. Now I just need to fill in details.

Since the audience probably isn’t overly familiar with web and application accessibility, other than high level “We need to be mindful of X, Y, Z for government compliance”, I think a great approach is to go over:

1) What is accessibility?
2) Why is important?
3) What disabilities affect people who use the web or applications (it’s not just blindness!)
4) What about, specifically, our users?

Stay tuned — some of the stuff will obviously be company-specific stuff I won’t share, but I’ll post the general stuff when it’s all done.

It’s exciting to me because it’s an opportunity for some general education, and to dispel some myths or assumptions along the way.

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Icons

July 16th, 2014 by Steve | Comment on Icons | Filed in Accessibility Thoughts

My wife shared with me an article about color blindness and video gaming (Red vs. Green: Gaming with Colour Blindness), and one of the things the author discusses is how some games like the Grand Theft Auto series avoid sole reliance on color on their maps by also using icons.

That got me thinking about the pros and cons of icons.

In the GTA example, it’s great having recognizable icons for things like food stops, stores, car repair businesses, etcetera.

On the other hand, a good rule to follow with iconography is “less is more”. You may be solving visual and cognitive obstacles by using symbols versus potentially vague or indistinguishable colors, but new problems can be introduced if you go nuts with them.
The face with an exclamation point quote bubble that informed Pre-OS X Macintosh users of an important decision or notification
Some things to be mindful of:

  • Generally speaking, a handful of icons might provide differentiate and quicker recognition of the information they support. A dozen icons? More? That might start watering down their impact. If you’re finding yourself using that many, it might be good to ask yourself if there’s an even better way to break down information.
  • Be mindful of your audience and realize that some icons might be universally understood in some cultures, but not in others.
  • Using images for icons might not be scalable — especially if they are initially small. Zooming will pixellate them and quickly render them hard to decipher.
  • On projects I’ve been involved with recently, Font Awesome has been used more and more. They have a wide range of icons, plus they scale very nicely. Just be sure to provide descriptive text (see: Making accessible icon buttons

    The smiling Macintosh icon that greeted Pre-OS X Mac users when they booted up their computer
    Like many things, icons can be an accessible plus, but only if used judiciously and appropriately!

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