How to Involve Users in Web Accessibility Testing

How to Involve Users in Web Accessibility Testing

Last Edited October 22, 2019 by Garenne Bigby in Accessibility Testing

Before any project is started, users need to be involved from the very early stages. It provides the developer with quick feedback, so issues can be resolved efficiently. The accessibility-related issues include things like how seniors and people with disabilities have had to adapt to using the web through strategies and assistive technologies. We often don’t think about how some people might not exactly conform to society’s normal way of doing things.

 It should be a goal to be able to make the project more accessible to everyone. When users are involved early, this can help the process go much quicker and much smoother. A web Accessibility strategy also leads to improving the project in more ways than one. Having multiple people working on a project from the get-go will model a team. Collectively, everyone can brainstorm, see things from multiple angles, and overall make the project more successful. 

There are many areas that these skills can apply to when designing and developing a website:

  • Assistive technologies, browsers, and media players

  • Different policies and ideal requirements for accessibility

  • Websites and web applications

  • Web technologies and technical specifications, such as HTML

  • Tools that help with writing, like content management systems (CMS) and software for blogging

This is just the start of understanding the benefits of involving users—especially people who are disabled and others who require special accessibility needs due to their age.


How Early User Involvement Helps Your Project

When users are involved early in different web-related projects, it will more likely result in better products, efficient development, and another list of benefits to stakeholders of the project.


How to Achieve Better Accessibility and Better Usability for All Users

The first step to fully optimizing the time and efforts put into the project is that the entire team must understand accessibility issues that are most pressing in the target community that is trying to be reached. It is important to take time to become fully educated on these issues. Even if it feels like not enough time is being spent working on the project itself, it is benefitting the development in the long run. After doing research, the focus can be shifted to the most effective solutions to any accessibility problems that may occur. 

Take a situation where a website is fully centered around being open to use by people with special needs. By working solely on accessibility for the disabled, this also improves the overall usability for everybody, even people who do not have specific special needs. This involves so many more users, and the project gets a large boost in usability for no extra charge.

This benefits more people than it would if special efforts were not taken to make the project accessible. It benefits users, but also it benefits stakeholders.


Developing Your Project More Efficiently 

When users are included in the development stages of the project, it advances the overall efficiency. It works as a trial and error process, so things can quickly be fixed that would have been an issue for future users.  Small “bugs” can be wiped out and eliminated entirely, and more focus can be spent on bigger and more pressing issues with the development of the project. This can financially be a helpful tool because it will maximize the money coming out of the investment in accessibility. 

  • Arrange availability into specific phases from the very start of the project

  • Quickly look for the best solutions for accessibility-related issues

  • Make educated decisions when prompted with a choice, and no not waste time by making random guesses

  • Fix things right from the beginning, so you don’t have to go back to adjust things later

  • Address different accessibility-related issues first, so you do not have to go back and make compromised decisions later

  • Change the way accessibility standards are views, and keep an open mind

These benefit a range of people, such as developers, project managers, and other stakeholders.


Motivation

Humans are naturally motivated by learning new things related to the people around them and how their products impact them. When a web designer or developer notices that their product is being used by people with disabilities, they will have a new sense of motivation to completely understand the accommodations for the disabled. This can drive the developers and designers to go above and beyond—not just “settling” for mediocre accessibility. Designers will be driven by curiosity and a thirst for knowledge of how to improve themselves and their project. 

When people with disabilities use their products, it can work as a business tactic. Managers and stakeholders can voice their personal experiences with this group of people, and it can often lead to a whole new target audience.


Testing the Accessibility at Different Stages in the Project

Throughout the entirety of the project, it is important to continuously implement accessibility. This is much more efficient than adding in all the accessibility features after the product has been fully developed. Design is a process that defines and tests the criteria for web accessibility at each stage of the project:

  • Planning strategies: In the very early stages of development, make sure to state the goals for accessibility in the project clearly. 

  • Goals for design: This is the time to make specific plans for how accessible design will be incorporated in the product. It is important to come up with specific evaluation procedures for accessibility.

  • Implementation: In this phase of the project, all parts of the product should be evaluated based on how well they work with the design plan. 

  • User testing: Have outside individuals brought on to run tests on the project. Have them use different methods of access, such as keyboard only, screen reader, color-blind adaptations, etc. 

  • Evaluations: As the product is nearing the end stages of development, do consistent evaluations of the quality of accessibility techniques.

  • Fixing bugs: Track any fixes that are made to the product and test the effect they could have on accessibility. If they have any negative impacts, find a more fitting fix that has only positive impacts or no impact on accessibility at all.


Different Ways to Involve Users throughout Your Project

This next section of the article mainly centers around how real people can be included in the development of a project. Like how it is best to address the ways accessibility should be implemented from the earliest possible stage of the project. For instance, it is crucial to consider these accessibility issues during budgeting, planning, scheduling, etc. Including accessibility in your user-centered design processed (UCD) or any other methods of design and techniques should also be a top priority. 

Below is a list of the basics of things that can be done to include users in web accessibility testing. It is especially important to take advantage of any resources that you have available, such as getting help from accessibility, disability, and user-centered design specialists.

Including Users to Understand the Issues of a Project

When first starting the project:

  • Be educated on basic knowledge of how people with disabilities use the internet. Many resources can be found, like reading online posts or watching videos. These should help to inform the reader of the ways that accommodations are needed on different projects based on how different people are able to function.

  • Get to know people with disabilities. Arrange meetings and talk to them personally about ways that work for them when using the web. Ask many questions and have them ask questions too. This can be excellent for growing the project, because many people could view it as a friendly work, and they will be more likely to use it.

  • It is never a bad thing to learn all you can about a subject. Keep learning more about something to get a better sense of it. Learn about some of the issues that are related to the type of project you are creating. Be sure to ask different people with disabilities about similar products that work well for them. Follow up by asking about products that do not work well for them and ask why. 

Including Users in Implementation

To broaden personal knowledge of design techniques, it is a good idea to look to others for inspiration. For things like websites, web applications, and web tools, search for other products. Take notes and get ideas from the way their products work. To cover more ground and work more efficiently, ask users to help you. They may do this by exploring what works and what doesn’t through different products. 

Throughout your search of trial and error, ensure to ask for reviews from users. Have them give feedback and opinions on different prototypes of products. When they are testing the products, give clear and straightforward directions to make sure their task will be understood. This can show which areas of the product need the most improvement. 

Carefully Consider Input

It is important to consider every single piece of input individually and as a whole. Do not focus on one piece of information too much. Do not assume that a single piece of information from a person with disabilities will automatically apply to all people with disabilities. This is not the case, and it will likely take away from the product itself. 

The most important thing to do is to get information from a very broad range of individuals. A disabled person will not necessarily have all the facts on how people with their same disability respond to the web. They might not be educated or aware of how other people respond. Almost no person with a disability responds to things the same way.


Hiring People with Specific Knowledge in Accessibility

In job descriptions, it is best to conclude that people with prior knowledge of accessibility-related issues will be hired much quicker. If a staff is hired and already has experience in this category, work will be completed in a timely manner and will also be cost-effective. 

There are many different tactics that can be used to judge the skill level of applicants.

How to Visualize the Efficiency and Skill Level of Applicants

It is important to look towards multiple different sources when assessing applications. These include looking towards different websites and asking the applicants specific questions relating to their knowledge of accessibility. This will provide enough information that can decide whether they will be a good fit for the team or not.

Some ways you can get this information:

  • Ask for samples of their past work: When they list a website they have worked on in the past, evaluate the way that accessibility was taken into consideration of the site. 

  • Have the applicant explain how accessibility works on the site: When the candidate is showing samples of their past work, ask for a demonstration on a variety of ways the site can be used. Have them navigate the website solely using the keyboard.

  • Have them explain their future goals relating to accessibility: Discuss with the applicant ways they plan to continuously improve accessibility. Have them voice their long-term goals of always educating and re-educating themselves to constantly be improving their projects. Make sure they are committed to providing the level of quality that is acceptable for the project at hand. 


Finding People with Disabilities

It is important to use all resources available when looking for people with disabilities. The people that will be most valuable to the project are people that are most relevant. If the project at hand is a website involving applying for college loans, it would be more beneficial to get people in the 18-year-old age group than the 70-year-old age range.

Prior experience

People you work with should have some prior experience with products similar to the one they are testing. This can provide for more efficient and cost-effective work because it will not be necessary to implement a “training phase” for people who are working on the project. Later in the project, it would also be good to bring in novices for testing.


Getting a Wide Range of Users

As with any other group of people, the disabled are diverse. Everyone has been through different experiences, has varying expectations, and distinct preferences. There are many different disabilities: neurological, speech, physical, auditory, visual, and cognitive. Many people have multiple disabilities from this list. Take just one category, and there will be an extreme level of variation. Visual disability will include people who were born blind at birth, all the way to people who have age-related vision problems, often limiting their field of view.

Have a large variety of users, each with their own specific characteristics and disabilities. This will provide a greater sense for things of benefit. However, it can be expensive and time-consuming to have so many users. To get help deciding the  number of people that would best suit the project in development, many online resources can be found. 

Users’ Experience Interacting with the Web

One of the most important parts of selecting people to test your product is their level of expertise. This means how well they know how to use something like an assistive technology. Often, those programs can be frustrating and difficult to learn quickly. This makes a barrier and hurts the testing stage more than it helps it. It is also important to be careful about having someone with an extremely high expertise level. 

They could know short-cuts through the technologies that are not widely known to the general public. They might be able to overcome problems much easier, but this is really a way of hurt the testing stage. Their provided feedback would not be beneficial to the average individual.

Generally speaking, it is best to have everyone at the same level when testing a product. But in the beginning, it would be more cost-effective to get people with a fairly high expertise level. They would help to give feedback on bugs that couldn’t be found by those who are less familiar with the programs. 


Working with Users

It is best to be comfortable when working with people. Create a nice, welcoming atmosphere. This will most likely get you the best feedback possible because the user feels safe and are able to speak freely about things relating to the product. Some general rules to follow are:

  • Establish a strong relationship with your users. It is best to carve time out of the day to meet with them and have casual discussions. That would make it easier for them if they feel like they are in a trusted place.

  • Ensure all boundaries are set. It is important to get consent and make sure other ethics are not crossed. All participants should know they are free to stop at any given time. They should know that they have a say in what they are doing, and if it makes them feel uncomfortable, they have a choice to pause.


Maximizing Information Learned from People with Disabilities

When working with different users, it is important to use your time wisely. Try to get the most possible information in the shortest amount of time. Include testers in all stages of the project and have them work on prototypes. Keep in mind that when you are working with people, you do not need to stress over making sure everything is perfect. The point of testing is to see what works and what doesn’t in a short amount of time.

Getting the Most Information

Being cost-effective is important. Do not waste time on small things and be clear with instructions. Try not to send mixed signals and be straightforward. Another method is videotaping. If the testing is being recorded, it could be analyzed by a much vaster group of people. Some people might enjoy testing for a big audience, but some may feel uncomfortable. It is important to consider how the specific person feels towards these things.

Including Testers for the Entire Project

Don’t stop testing. Continuous testing is the most effective way to get the feedback needed to always be improving the project. Include users to test prototypes when they are developed, and even have users test ideas before they are turned into a prototype. This can help in the decision of including that idea in the final product.


Final Words

Involving users in testing your products is crucial. This provides immediate feedback and makes the development more efficient. It is also important to develop products based on how it will be used by people with disabilities. Look for a wide range of people who all have specific characteristics and ways that they have adapted to using technology.

Garenne Bigby
Author: Garenne BigbyWebsite: http://garennebigby.com
Founder of DYNO Mapper and Advisory Committee Representative at the W3C.

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