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Re: accessibility without testing?


From: Keith Parks
Date: Mar 14, 2008 2:30PM

On Mar 14, 2008, at 12:08 PM, Steve Green wrote:

> If you don't do user testing and you don't engage accessibility
> consultants
> and you don't spend time with disabled people to learn about their
> disabilities, then there is a very significant possibility you're
> going to
> build something that is inaccessible.

I'm not urging people not to engage disability consultants or not to
spend time learning first hand from disabled people how they
experience the Web. I was only talking about user testing.

> The WCAG are a starting point but how close they get you to an
> accessible
> site will vary greatly depending on the content, the functionality
> and the
> technologies you choose to build it. In some cases designing to
> standards
> may be good enough. In other cases it may be totally inadequate.
> How are you
> going to know which it is?

> A long list of checkpoints isn't the answer. A lot of the problems
> users
> have are not technical, but cognitive; they can access the content
> but can't
> understand it or can't understand what they need to do.

I'm truly and sincerely curious as to what types of issues people
have discovered through user testing that had not been noticed during
development and manual inspection of a site? Are they all content

It just sounds like the types of issues that would come to the
surface that way would be so... individualized; a particular user
having a problem comprehending a particular piece of content. And
would these issues apply to non-disabled users as well? (We've all
experienced the case of the developer being too close to the content,
but those types of things ought to be caught in the regular non-
disabled, third party review process.)

And since we can't realistically test *all* types of users (are there
"typical" types of cognitive disabilities?), it just seems to me that
you would hit the point of diminishing returns pretty quickly with
anything but an extremely wide range of user tests. An "average"
disabled user test would only catch the low hanging fruit, so to
speak. Which designing to standards and "best practices" should catch
before they happen.

It almost turns into a Rumsfeldian dilema: There's the known, and
then there's the unknown. And there are the unknowns that are
knowable, and the unknowns that are unknowable.

Building to the standards and thoroughly inspecting the results
should cover the "known".

To uncover the "unknowable unknowns", you'd have to test a big enough
variety to reasonably represent *all* users. Clearly not practical.

So it comes down to testing for the "knowable unknowns". And is
having typical (assuming there is agreement as to who that is)
disabled users test sites the only way to uncover those? I'm not
convinced it is.

But again, I'm curious to hear about specific problems that testing
has uncovered that were otherwise "unknowable."

Thanks for listening,


Keith Parks
Graphic Designer/Web Designer
Student Affairs Communications Services
San Diego State University
San Diego, CA 92182-7444
(619) 594-1046


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