Oct 03

Observing Users Who Use JAWS

In “Observing Users Who Listen to Web Sites,” The Communications Technology Branch at the US National Cancer Institute gives us the initial report of their investigation into how blind and low-vision users work with web sites. In it they give us a few clues as to what JAWS and Window-Eyes features their subjects make use of and how.

Some developers seem to be going with a definition of accessible as being a certain coding standard, e.g. 508 compliant, but whether or not disabled users can access the information and use a web site falls under usability. I guess in my own naive way I’ve been assuming they were one in the same — if you set out to make your site accessible then you wanted it to be usable by those with disabilities. I’m starting to gather that accessible means “we’ve adopted coding practices that might be helpful to us if we’re sued” or “we can sell our products/services as being compliant with section 508.” It doesn’t necessarily mean those with disabilities will be able to use the site. Bleh. However, the authors of the article point out that a “site is not really accessible if it is not also usable.”

Another page that underscores this is Web Accessibility — What not to do by Jim Thatcher. He examines a few examples of perfectly acceptable attempts to make a page accessible that render it unusable for the very audience for which such standards are adopted. So are the examples he uses really accessible? Maybe we’ve decided that that’s only to be determined by litigation. If so, I understand why one would want to keep the two terms separate.

(Via posts from Whitney and Kathy who started the thread on SIGIA-L)

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Thomas Gruber
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