Multiple Facets of Accessible Design – Scott Mayer presentation

In my last post, I began sharing many thoughts about my visit to IndependenceFirst on Monday, to attend “Multiple Facets of Accessible Design.” It was an excellent presentation facilitated by MilwauCHI.

Scott MayerI rambled so excitedly in my coverage of Shawn Henry’s presentation that I needed to split things up into multiple blog posts to do them justice.

The second presenter was Scott Mayer from American Family Insurance, a usability services specialist who became blind at the age of 24.

He led off with some interesting statistics about disabled people in the United States:

  • 12 million: Americans with sensory disabilities (legally or totally blind and/or deaf)
  • 26 million: Americans with physical disabilities
  • 16 million: Americans with mental/cognitive disabilities
  • Scott then demonstrated how he uses the Internet via his JAWS screen reader. I’ve got to tell you, that was one of the most revealing experiences I’ve had since focusing on accessibility.

    I’ve been tackling the subject in my own incremental way, and while I’ve watched a video here and there demonstrating screen readers, there was something completely different about seeing one in action.

    Scott showed examples of good and bad accessibility using his screen reader. On one site, he showed how he was unable to pay a bill on a banking site because the actionable button for signing on was invisible to the screen reader.

    Another interesting point – Scott talked about how many sites, particularly in the financial sector, tend to go through redesigns often. Some financial sites do it almost quarterly. While constant evolution and enhancement may seem like an all-around great idea, somebody like Scott has to completely re-learn how to get around that site each time they retool it.

    Scott explained how automated accessibility testing is not enough. There is no replacement for usability testing with disabled users.

    People tend to treat disabled consumers like Scott differently, thinking them to be less educated or poorer. He shared an experience in which he and his wife took their car in for repairs, and how the attendants didn’t even consider for a moment that a blind user may know something about car repairs. They barely acknowledged him.

    Physical stores tend to be useless to somebody like Scott. He frequently utilizes the Internet to buy things and have them shipped to his home.

    Just because somebody is blind, or deaf, or has some sort of disability, don’t assume they are less intelligent or some poor, destitute person. It may be easy for some businesses to dismiss what they assume is an insignificant minority of potential visitors to their web site, but there is an awful lot of ignorance steeped in that attitude.

    And I haven’t even gotten to my first tour of IndependenceFirst! We’ll save that for next week’s posts!

    5 thoughts on “Multiple Facets of Accessible Design – Scott Mayer presentation

    1. Mike Calvo

      Hello Steve and Readers:
      I love Scott’s attitude and as a blind consumer I have ranted many times about the same things Scott has pointed out. I would suggest though that Scott needs to look at some more adaptive technology solutions that would give him even more access than just Jaws For Windows.

      My company Serotek provides a free web based screen reader called System Access To Go or SAToGo for short. Any blind person on the planet can have access to this free solution by simply visiting http://www.satogo.com. SAToGo has about 98% of the same features found in screen readers that sell for over $1000 like Jaws. Yet, we provide it for free to people on the go, and if they choose to install the solution on a home machine or U3 enabled thumb drive, we provide monthly subscriptions that start as low as $9.95 per month.

      While this may seem like a shameless promotion, and maybe to a certain point it is LOL, I don’t think as many blind people that need to know about various solutions have access to tools that can get them to that information. I believe that if the blind are ever going to be seen as a market we need to establish ourselves as one through the power of online community.

      Thanks for the great post Steve and I would invite you and your readers to visit the Serotek blog located at our website or the Serotalk podcast located at http://www.serotalk.com. The podcast focuses on technology both in and out of the blindness market that is accessible and usable by blind people.

    2. Charlie

      Great post Steve, lots of interesting points there.

      As you mention, it is really hard to appreciate how difficult some websites can be to use if visually impaired, unless you actually see it being used first hand or you test with users. Automated accessibility testing should never be a substitute for testing with real users.

      I like the point Scott makes about frequent redesigns within financial websites… while they can (and often do) bring accessibility improvements in the future, the users need to “learn” how to use the webpages once again. This is something which is often overlooked in redesign projects in big firms.

      Anyway, keep up the good work!
      Charlie

    3. Cliff Tyllick

      Steve, do you happen to know the original source for Scott Mayer’s numbers of people with disabilities in the U.S.? If there is a well-defined source, I would like to use them in my own presentations.

      And thanks for this great summary!

    4. Steve Post author

      Thanks for all the comments — always much appreciated. I’m glad the sentiment of Scott’s presentation resonates with others as well.

      Cliff — Scott didn’t provide the source for his numbers. I’m digging around a little myself to find comparable stats. You may want to sign up (for free) here — http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/edi/disabilitystatistics/index.cfm?n=1 and check out the Statistics tab.

      Was doing a few searches and found comparable numbers to Scott’s, but as I said, I’ll delve further as well.

      Thanks again!

    5. Ben

      That is an interesting point about site redesigns. I wonder if such frequent web designs serve some sort of purpose with regards to security, because even as a non-disabled user, having to relearn a site constantly makes for a usability issue as well.

      It would be interesting to find out the reasons why some sites change so frequently. If it is just an aesthetic change, CSS can maintain the structure without mucking up the accessibility. If it is to add new features, maybe they need to crank down the release schedule. If it is security related, perhaps there are other ways to address it besides a site redesign.

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