Tag Archives: Usability

What Developers Should Know For A Universally Accessible Internet

This article was originally published in the September 2015 edition of “NTEN: Change“, the quarterly newsletter of NTEN (Nonprofit Technology Network) and was crafted by the Marketing Team of Knowbility: Jessica Looney, Community Programs Manager; Divya Mulanjur, Marketing & Communications Associate; and Anne Mueller, Community Programs Assistant.

web accessibility icon
web accessibility icon

Web accessibility is the practice of removing any barriers to interaction with technology for anyone, including people with disabilities. Simply put, this means that when you create an application or a website, everyone should be able to access it.

The regulations that govern accessibility in the United States include Section 508 and the American with Disabilities Act. In 1998, the federal government amended the 1973 Rehabilitation Act that determined that “agencies must give disabled employees and members of the public access to information that is comparable to access available to others” (Section508.gov). The American with Disabilities Act recently celebrated its 25thyear of existence. These regulations prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. The Supreme Court recently determined that the Internet is public domain; therefore, it must be accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities.

When implementing accessibility standards, web professionals must consider a myriad of factors. Disabilities can include visual, physical, auditory, speech, or cognitive impairments. Many websites, programs, and applications contain barriers that make it difficult for people with disabilities to use. A person with a visual impairment may use a third party program, like a screen reader, that will read aloud the text on the screen. Therefore, images should contain alternative text (“alt” text) that will describe the image the person cannot see. If a person is unable to utilize a mouse when using the Internet, the website should contain architecture that allows a keyboard-only user to easily maneuver through the site. Check out WCAG (Web Accessibility Content Guidelines) “Before/After Demonstration” to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t. As well, you can use WAVE (Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool) to test your website’s accessibility.

In order to continue developing a more accessible Internet, web designers and developers should consider the following factors:

  • Page Title: Be sure the page has a simple, explanatory title that informs the user of the name of the site
  • Headings: Each page should have at least one heading. Maintain a friendly hierarchy when coding
  • Text Size: Some people need to resize the size of the text on the screen. To test this, zoom in on your web page to see what it looks like
  • Contrast: Use a website like Check My Colors or Contrast Ratio. The former will check your page for proper contrast, and the latter will give you a WCAG-based score after you input the text and colors you plan on using
  • Landmarks: Add at least three landmarks to your site: “Main,” “Navigation,” and “Search”
  • Keyboard access: Every element of a website should be easily accessible if a person is only using a keyboard, not a mouse. Links should be easily tabbed through, and drop-down menus should also be able to be tabbed through
  • Links: Each link should contain a descriptive name
  • Forms: Be sure any forms you have on your website are accessible. Identify the required fields
  • Do not use the phrase “Click Here”—it’s too ambiguous

One of the best ways to test for accessibility is to try it out yourself! Unplug your mouse; if you’re using a laptop, turn off the track pad. Many computers now come with their own screen reader software; turn this on. Toggle the “high contrast” switch, and zoom in or magnify a web page. How does the site look? Are there overlaps? Are the colors appeasing to the eye? Do you get stuck on a link or page when trying to navigate only using a keyboard? This should be a good test for accessibility.

Knowbility is improving technology access for millions of youth and adults with disabilities all over the world with its many community programs. One such program is OpenAIR, Knowbility’s annual global web accessibility challenge. OpenAIR invites teams of web professionals to sign up for a global competition where each team has to develop an accessible website. These websites are made for nonprofits from around the world, who also sign up for OpenAIR.

OpenAIR began in 1998 in Austin Texas, as the Accessibility Internet Rally (AIR), a web design competition that would:

  1. Raise awareness among technology professionals about the need for accessible websites and software applications
  2. Provide a medium for nonprofit agencies to harness the power of the Internet and expand their reach
  3. Create meaningful connections between the disengaged technology sector and the rest of the community

Today, OpenAIR has evolved into a global teaching and learning competition that puts accessibility front and center, where it belongs. OpenAIR imparts advanced accessibility skills to web developers across the globe, creates a challenging atmosphere for participants to enhance these abilities, and keeps them engaged with games and networking events. By bringing in an experienced panel of judges and assigning leading accessibility experts as mentors to each team, the competition has been fine-tuned as an incubator of quality websites.

In its 18th year now, OpenAIR has nurtured the creation of hundreds of accessible community websites. The FCC recently honored Knowbility by bestowing upon them the Chairman’s Award for Innovation in Accessibility for this program. For many arts and nonprofit organizations, the AIR site was their first foray onto the Web. OpenAIR is growing and is on its way to becoming an established global event. OpenAIR 2015 is a technology challenge that fosters healthy competitive spirit to do good and make a difference in the world through knowledge of universal design.

AccessU 2015: Put People First


Registration is open for this year’s AccessU themed, ‘Accessibility: Put People First’ at http://www.knowbility.org/v/accessu-registration/.

The conference will provide practical resources, encouraging participants to explore various aspects of digital inclusion and master the role-based skills involved in launching successful accessibility initiatives.

AccessU is a conference that brings leading experts from around the globe to Austin, Texas to teach t accessible design skills.  AccessU promotes universal access to the web, including for people who are blind, have low vision, are deaf or hearing impaired, have mobility impairments or have other kinds of disabilities. The conference was first launched in 2004, and has since then been an annual event conducted by Knowbility with sponsorship and support from St. Edwards University and Deque Systems, and other leading tech companies.

The conference will feature internationally known leaders in accessible design and development, including:

  • Accessibility pioneer and superstar Henny Swan (lead editor of BBC Mobile Accessibility  Standards and Guidelines and a regular speaker at conferences like SXSW, the World Wide Web Conference, Tec share, Accessibility 2.0, access, Mobile Monday and CSUN),
  • The development team from the Web Accessibility Initiative and Education and Outreach working group of the W3C – Shadi Abou-Zahra, Shawn Henry, Kevin White and Eric Eggert.
  • User Experience guru, Whitney Quesenbery (author of Storytelling for User Experience and Global UX: Design and research in a connected world)
  • Sarah Horton (User Experience Strategy Lead with The Paciello Group and award winning author of the book Web Teaching Guide) among others.

For the full list of speakers and instructors, visit http://www.knowbility.org/v/accessu-course-list/John-Slatin-AccessU/3k/.

Join us May 11th – 12th at St. Edward’s University, Austin, Texas and for a post conference workshop May 13th for three days of learning, sharing, exploring, and fun!

Usability Meets Accessibility in our Access-Works Webinar – Sept 5th

Our Access-Works usability/accessibility Testing Portal is live at Access-Works Portal! Join us for a 30 minute live demo-webinar Wednesday, September 5th, 3PM CST. It’s free.

Knowbility Executive Director, Sharron Rush, and Loop11 CEO, Toby Biddle, will show how the portal works and talk about why including users with disabilities in site testing is not just a good idea; it saves you time and money.

If you’re a Usability or Accessibility professional, please join us. Reserve a seat today – register for the webinar. With the Access-works testing portal you can ensure that your site is universally designed for a diverse marketplace that includes persons with disabilities.

Knowbility and Loop11 created the Access-Works Portal to make remote usability and accessibility testing easy. The portal lets you choose test participants from a database of users with disabilities using a wide range of assistive technologies like JAWS, WindowEyes, and NVDA screen-readers, ZoomText and MAGIC Screen Magnifiers, Dragon Naturally Speaking Voice Recognition Software, refreshable braille displays, alternative input devices and more.

Good Web Designers and Usability Professionals understand the need for inclusive design and the problems associated with integrating accessibility as an afterthought. Check out these papers on why.

Cost-Justifying Accessibility – Paul Sherman (2001)
Accessibility and Usability in Information & Communication Technology – Bloor Research (2007)
Assessing Usability for People with Disabilities through Remote Evaluation – The Paciello Group (2002)

Once You Know How: 30 Seconds with Whitney Quesenbery

For the fourth installment of our 30-Second Interview, Whitney Quesenbery, who will be doing “2 ½” things at AccessU, talks about discovering the importance of accessibility, getting older, and how learning even the simplest things can completely change a user’s experience.


Who are you?

My name is Whitney, and I believe in accessibility. I primarily work in user experience, but who along the way discovered accessibility because accessibility is simply experience for even more people. That’s how it’s defined in the ISO standards – it used to be a completely separate part of their taxonomy, and now it’s defined as usability for the broadest range of people.

Whitney Quesenbery
Whitney Quesenbery, Usability Expert and AccessU Presenter

What will you be doing at AccessU?

At AccessU, I am doing 2 ½ things. I am doing two presentations and a panel that are part of the Usability and Design track. One session is about how to do usability testing quickly and inexpensively, using a minimum of resources. It’s about how we can do the least work possible and still have it be really effective.

The other session is on conducting user-centered reviews. A couple of years ago, I ran a full day usability testing track, and people thought it was great – but they kept saying that it’s really hard to get access to people – it’s hard to get access to people with disabilities, hard to get out of their office, and hard to get permission. A user-centered review is a technique where we think about people who are real out in the field, and write a little story for them. For example, I could say, “I’m my friend Mary. I’m in a wheelchair, but I have full mobility in my upper body.” You define who you’re going to be based on your own knowledge, plus other research, and channel them, be those people for the review. It’s an easy technique that doesn’t find everything, but it does find those first 12 stupid things you want to fix before you do a full usability test. Plus, it’s a great way to get your whole team involved. They can each take on a role, and each bring a different perspective.

For the panel I’m leading brings together some of the teachers from the design and usability track. Often, people will go out and do usability testing, then come back with a list of issues. Then what? We’ll talk about how to wrap it back in to the process.

Why do you care about accessibility?

I should tell you the story about how I went from “Yeah, of course we should do accessibility. Big deal.” It was just one of those things you should do. I had an amazing opportunity after the 2000 election to join a federal advisory committee to write national voting guidelines. The law that had been passed said that not only did we need voting systems that didn’t produce chads, but we had to make it available to people with disabilities, including the blind. We are still working to resolve the apparent conflicts between accessibility and security, but I believe it can be done, especially if we think of accessibility as an intrinsic part of the design, not an add-on.

Then I got older. And I got bifocals. Plus, I spend a lot of time watching people as part of my user experience research work. You start seeing how people struggle, and the different ways in which they struggle, and I began to see that if we took designing seriously for people outside the bell curve, it would help the people in the middle of the bell curve as well. If we consider all the different things that make us partially disabled at any time, we’d end up with technology and websites that are better for everyone. There are a lot of features that were originally just for accessibility that everybody uses. My favorite example is curb cuts. But I’m sure you’ve used Google maps right?

Yes, of course.

Did you know that the text directions were not planned – they were forced in as an accessibility feature? The original plan was that it would all be visual. Then they realized that of course people would want to print the directions, and there wasn’t a way to get the resolution good enough. The text directions were suggested as an accessibility feature.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned recently?

I’ve just spent the last two days doing interviews with people in the federal government who do emergency response planning. I constantly have this experience where I learn about things have no knowledge of.

But, more practically, I learned a new gesture on my iPad that has changed the experience for me. If you take four fingers and push the screen up, you get a little bar with all the running applications. You don’t have to go home and jump back to move between applications.

I’ll tell you about the most amazing thing I’ve taught recently – I’ve taught my mother how to use the contacts list in her phone. It wasn’t just me; it took me and a couple of people at Verizon. I think it’s on the same line as my iPad discovery – it’s the same type of basic knowledge.

I once put together a report called “It’s Easy Once You Know How.” We were testing two small business systems with everyone from the small business owner doing her own bookkeeping to an accountant who managed a team of bookkeepers. At some time during the 90 minutes we spent with them, every one said that “It’s easy (do use this software) once you know how.” It’s true of so many things… including accessibility.

What would you tell people who don’t think accessibility should be a priority?

Planning on getting old, one day?

That is what I tell them. That they may not think it’s a priority because they’ve never seen its impact. I guess we can turn that around and say people with disabilities have been invisible because it’s hard for them to be out in public. The more you see the impact, the more you want to do it.

But really, I just say, “Planning on getting old?”


Find out how to age gracefully (at least in the digital realm) with Whitney. Find her on Twitter at @whitneyq, visit her website www.wqusability.com and check out all her presentations at AccessU: http://www.knowbility.org/v/staff-detail/Whitney-Quesenbery/78/.

Uncle Sam needs YOU! (to make dot gov better)

My fellow citizens, now is the time to come to the aid of your country.  The feds are are serious about wanting diverse, constructive input about how to improve online services to the public – and they are actively listening.  Here’s the scoop:  As part of President Obama’s Campaign to Cut Waste, the federal government has launched an initiative to streamline and improve agency websites.  From an accessibility standpoint, this is terrific news and a welcome effort!

The .gov Reform Task Force is hip to the wisdom of crowds.  Its leaders have invited citizen Catalysts – including Annetta Cheek, Craig Newmark, Steve Krug, Vanessa Fox, Lee Vann, Ed Mullen, Candi Harrison and others – to “spur and deepen the discussion.” In other words, they want all of us to encourage peers from specific communities of online practice to contribute to open, honest dialogue.  Discussions will lead to improvements in the usefulness of web sites and web based services of US Federal government agencies.   The Task Force really wants to hear from citizens – ALL citizens, including those with disabilities – about what we need and what we want from dot gov domains.

So now is your chance – as Joni Mitchell sang, “Call me at the station, the lines are open.”  For two weeks, starting Monday, September 19, at 2 p.m. ET and closing on Friday September 30th, the task force will conduct The National Dialogue on Improving Federal Websites.  Catalyst participants listed above will lead a series of discussions on various specific aspects of the redesign challenge.  Your voice is needed, and you won’t want to miss any of it!