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Live from ConfabEDU: The accessible user experience

The accessible user experience, by Robin Smail

Robin’s a Penn State UX designer. What is UX, and why should you care?

  • User experience encompasses everything people touch.
  • Usability is how well they can get what they need.
  • Accessibility is the inclusive practice of removing barriers to prevent interactions

There are many many definitions of accessibility though, which can be overwhelming. When admins here “accessible” they sometimes hear that as “costly litigation.” But we are all designing for people with low visibility, hearing issues, etc etc.

We don’t get to choose who our users are or what device they use. They choose that.

Who is your audience?

You might use personas, or do audience research to learn who the people are on the other end of the screen who you want to reach.

There are 3.5 billion people on the internet today

  • They use low end phones, tablets, and high end laptops
  • They’re on mobile networks, cable connections, public wifi
  • They browse from home, work, and coffeeshops
  • They’re looking for all sorts of things

They’re having millions of experiences. You’ll never meet them, but they’ll have an opinion of you as soon as they hit your website.

  • People might use assistive technology to access your site
  • How do you handle specialized keyboards?
  • How do you plan for eye trackers?
  • Do you test for speech recognition?
  • Do you test for screen readers and screen magnifiers?

Things to test for

  • Visual: non-sighted users, users with low vision, users with obstructed vision, or aging vision
    • What does it look like in black and white?
    • What does it look like with spots missing (like macular degeneration or glaucoma)
  • Motor: people using assistive technology from specialized keyboards, eye trackers, or single buttons to navigate
  • Cognitive: ease/difficulty in processing information, such as memory or attention disorders, problem solving issues, etc
  • Vestibular: inner ear or brain disorders causing dizziness, vertigo, cognitive confusion, and hearing or visual disturbances

Creating better experiences for people with a particular subset of our users (people with disabilities) results in better designs for everyone. – Derek Featherstone

5 things you can do right now:

  1. Fix the usability problems that confuse everyone
  2. Start using CSS
  3. Go for the low hanging fruit
  4. Read about accessibility (Web Accessibility for Designers)
  5. Don’t think edge case. Think of the stress cases (Eric Meyer)
    • Test using stress condition use cases
    • Is emergency information clear and easily available?
    • Can users access on any platform?
    • Avoid jargon – use plain language.

Marli Mesibov

Marli is a content strategist with a passion for the user experience. Her work spans websites, web applications, and mobile. Marli is the VP of Content Strategy at the UX design agency Mad*Pow, and she serves as managing editor at UX Booth, a publication about all areas of user experience. Marli is a frequent conference speaker, and has spoken at conferences including Content Strategy Forum and LavaCon. She can also be found on Twitter, where she shares thoughts on content strategy, literature, and Muppets.

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