Accessibility: three layers

Today we discussed the notion of testing individual snippets (or widgets, or components, or pieces) for accessibility. There was some discussion if it was really realistic to look at pieces in isolation, as context would play some role. Ultimately, though, it was decided that there are several levels of testing that can occur with regards to usability:

  1. Functional testing: testing individual pieces, at a code level. Perhaps able to be automated?
  2. User testing: involving individuals who use assistive devices or suffer from afflictions or disabilities
  3. (???) Testing – examining how usable a product is, including context-specificity and perhaps engaging specific targeted (expert) users

My primary goal is the second in the list. We can all run code through automated systems, but I want to really see how users are able to use what we create. I also think the scope of individual elements needs to be as limited as we can make it. Yes, ultimately there is transfer by what else is within the context, but we need to find a simple solution first.

I also think we need to be cognizent of the fact that context/interference for a sighted user is dramatically different than it would be for a non-sighted user. Someone using a GUI has to deal with seeing the entire screen at once. Someone using a screen reader is effectively looking at the screen through a straw (need to find the reference I got that from) — they are not overwhelmed with the competing items visually displayed on the page.

I’d like to see some test suites developed and worked through with users. It’s far too easy to make assumptions on what works and what doesn’t. Eventually those can be rolled into more complicated scenarios, but in the immediate present, I would like for my role in the User Experience group to look to, well, the User’s Experience….