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Missing link in Accessibility Checking Tools – the “I see what you mean” factor

November 22, 2011

Time to share some ideas I submitted to a global software company several years ago! It was a set of recommendations , suggesting a re-think of the way their accessibility checking tools worked – so they would help achieve full accessibility rather than at best partial accessibility.

The specific problem I aimed to address was that the average fully sighted document author finds it very difficult to “visualise” the accessibility problems in accessibility reports. Thus these all important checking tools were probably falling short and doing little to address the Systemic ignorance of accessibility out there. Put simply how can a text based accessibility report strike home to a typical content author who is not an accessibility expert? My experience proved time and time again they didn’t work.

The solution I put forward was for the accessibility report to be rendered “visually” in effect replicating the barriers but in a medium which the author personally understood.

This would enable two vital things to happen: first and most importantly to communicate the “effect” of the accessibility problem rather than just the description. Second, to enable the author to judge whether this effect was serious or not serious and therefore how to prioritise any action.

_Improving the way accessibility checking tools work_

1. let content authors and designers “see it for themselves” by adding a new “visualisation” function to enhance your existing text based accessibility reports.

2. Devise the visualisation effects to filter the page content that you are testing, so page elements in question are degraded or filtered out, depending on the type of problem being reported.

3. Devise the filters on a solid understanding of the reading features provided by each assistive technology product you want to provide checking tools to test against.

4. Avoid building filters based on inaccurate assumptions about how people actually use the reading features provided by their assistive technology products (AT), they might not use their AT in the way you think. Consider building models of beginner, intermediate and advanced AT users and provide extra settings in the testing tools to simulate how each type of user might “see” the document, based on the reading facilities they are most likely to use / know about.

5. Leading AT products are frequently updated giving users more facilities and functions. Track these and issue updates to your checking tools. This will empower the people who author with your products to get an accurate “view” of just how accessible their content is to different AT equipped audiences out there. Your customers will appreciate this from your product and many may expect their software supplier to be the one keeping on top of the issues.

Ok so that was it – please comment on this if you like the idea or if you know of actual examples of this being done!

Thanks to Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox for jogging me into writing this post today! His article “Accuracy vs. Insights in Quantitative Usability” even though not directly about checking tools it somehow reminded me of the work I had done and also that I never got any feedback from the global software company!


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