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What happens when a workaround becomes normal?

July 27, 2012

I was sitting in a meeting of the National Payments Council (in the old News of the World building in Wapping) yesterday and the meeting was about access to payments systems for older people and disabled people.

As one or two slides ahem weren’t sufficiently interesting to hold my full attention, I decided to try see if I could log into my own bank account from my very basic mobile Smartphone with Talks screen reader.

Well my bank’s Mobile Site was actually accessible – I’m a bit surprised it was that easy.

…when I say “easy” I did need to use a workaround, but one which I use so often I don’t think of it as a workaround.

Reason why I’m posting about this is because if anyone had asked me about accessibility I probably wouldn’t have mentioned it because I forgot I did it.

In fact, I regard it as just the way combo drop down boxes work on my Smartphone. But would other people know this trick? And how much variation is there in the way people string together little workarounds here and there so they can navigate pages and use controls?

Maybe in carefully observed and monitored accessibility testing the testers would spot this, but from my experience most testing isn’t done like that.

The control in question here is in the log in forms – they include a security check where you have to enter two letters from your memorable word. Letter entry is by a vertical list of every letter in the alphabet arranged in a drop down box (combo box).

I visit a lot of websites using my mobile now-a-days and Wherever I find these combo drop down boxes I usually just press the centre key when focus is on it and it drops down with a menu, which can be navigated by up and down arrows and an item can be selected by pressing centre key again.

* However it’s not unusual for me to find combo boxes which do nothing when I press the centre key on them. They appear to be inaccessible, but, (thanks to the power of Frustration driven experimenting) I by chance found that if I press the right arrow key once on one of these dead combo boxes, then press centre key, suddenly the box springs into life.

So my ability with my Talks screen reader extends and my understanding of combo boxes includes a little piece of extra knowledge that isn’t in any guideline or manual, i.e. it’s a workaround, but it’s one which I am so familiar with I wouldn’t bother saying it to a usability / web developer tester person.

When a workaround embeds into one’s normal practice I’m sure this must have implications for web developers and testers…

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