User-experience testing is no longer something reserved for Silicon Valley laboratories; it’s fast becoming a part of how governments and even small businesses, implement sound design and risk management procedures. But how can your office benefit from the user’s experience? By consulting them through out the development process. And if you are developing with an eye towards accessibility–as every organization should be–then who better to use than disabled users.
It has become increasingly common for content managers and web developers to employ user experience testers to check the usability and functionality of their projects during the development process. By releasing a portion of a Web site or excerpt from an electronic document, developers are able to get prompt feedback to some important questions: are users able to navigate the site effectively, do links and site features work as intended, is the information in a document laid out in a way that makes sense?
This kind of agile development is responsive to user feedback, guides changes in an informed manner, and allows development teams to learn and experiment with what works and what does not. Unfortunately, such processes are seldom used effectively when developing for web accessibility.
Most organizations use a “machine-based” approach to accessibility testing and rely heavily on automated checking software to determine if their Web sites and documents can be used by people with disabilities. While such automated checkers have their place in the development process, they have their limitations
- they cannot measure usability as experienced by a human
- they frequently return false positives and false negatives (Industry experts acknowledge automated checkers are only 25-40% accurate compared to human testing.[ref] http://www.karlgroves.com/2012/09/15/accessibility-testing-what-can-be-tested-and-how/ [/ref])
- they do not represent users with disabilities that do not require assistive technologies
In contrast to accessibility testing companies that rely heavily on automated checkers, WeCo performs human-based testing with users who live with a variety of disabilities, and using our Access Check-In Service, clients can have access to these user experience testers through out the development process. WeCo employs testers who represent the four major disability classifications:[ref] As recognized by the US Department of Human Services[/ref]
- Sight-Related: People living with blindness, low-vision or color blindness. Testers living with this type of disability are helpful in verifying non-visual access to Web sites and documents.
- Hearing-Related: People living with deafness or who are hard of hearing. Testers living with this type of disability are helpful in verifying audio elements, such as videos and recordings.
- Motor Skill-Related: People living with mobility challenges, such as those who use wheelchairs and walkers and may also have difficulty using their hands and arms. Testers living with this type of disability are helpful in verifying access to sites that have a large number of links and/or require a great deal of page scrolling.
- Cognitive-Related: People living with cognitive challenges that make it hard for them to read and understand information. This group of people may also be easily overwhelmed by large amounts of information or visual distraction. Testers living with this type of disability are helpful in verifying access to sites that have a large number of pages and a great deal of information.
Using these testers during the development process allows clients to:
- catch potential mistakes by testing small changes as they are made
- provide your staff with functional training in accessibility by making fixes as they are needed
- give your staff the confidence that their work will be accessible
Addressing accessibility issues early and often through the use of human-based testing can make web accessibility–often viewed with misunderstanding and trepidation–just another part of the development process, alongside content management and design.