Involving Users in Web Projects for Better, Easier Accessibility

Introduction

Involving users early in projects helps you understand real-world accessibility issues, such as how people with disabilities and older people use the web with adaptive strategies and assistive technologies.

Involving users early helps you implement more effective accessibility solutions. It also broadens your perspective and can lead you to discover new ways of thinking about your product that makes it work better for more people in more situations.

This applies when designing and developing:

This page gets you started reaping the benefits of involving users — specifically people with disabilities and older people with accessibility needs due to aging — early and throughout different types of projects. A separate page focuses on including users in evaluation for web development projects.

How Involving Users Early Helps

Involving users early in web projects results in better products for users, more efficient development, and other benefits to project stakeholders.

Better Accessibility and Better Usability for All Users

When developers understand accessibility issues, they can implement more effective accessibility solutions. For example, their website will work better and be more usable for people with disabilities, older users, and other target groups. Making websites and web tools more usable for people with a range of disabilities improves general usability for everybody, including people without disabilities. (You could say that involving users with disabilities in your development project gives you improved usability for free.)

This benefits users, and also stakeholders. For example, when websites get increased use and other business benefits from increased accessibility.

More Efficient Development

Including users in the development process helps you more efficiently develop accessible products that work well for real users in real situations. This can help maximize your return on investment (ROI) in accessibility.

When you understand how people use the web and your particular product, you can:

All these benefit developers, project managers, and other stakeholders.

Motivation

When designers and developers see people with disabilities use products like theirs, most are highly motivated by a new understanding of accessibility. They understand the human interaction aspects of accessibility and go beyond approaching accessibility as only a checklist item. Designers and developers can see the opportunity for their work to impact lives. When managers and stakeholders share such experiences of people with disabilities using their products, it often helps get resources budgeted and scheduled to address accessibility well.

How to Involve Users throughout Your Project

This section focuses on including real people in the process. Address accessibility from the earliest stage of the project. For example, consider accessibility during planning, budgeting, scheduling and such. Include accessibility in your user-centered design processes (UCD) or other design methodologies and techniques. For example, ensure that people with disabilities and older users are included in use cases, user analysis, personas, scenarios, workflows, design walkthroughs, etc.

Below are the basics that you can do yourself to include users in your projects. If you have the resources, consider getting assistance from accessibility, disability, and user-centered design specialists.

Including Users to Understand the Issues

As early as possible in your project:

  1. Learn the basics of how people with disabilities use the web by reading online resources and watching videos.
  2. Find people with disabilities, with a range of characteristics. See Getting a Range of Users and Working with Users below.
  3. Learn about general issues related to the type of product you are developing (website, web application, authoring tool, standard, etc.). Ask people to show you related products that work well for them. Then, ask them to show you problems in products that do not work well. Ask lots of questions to help you understand the accessibility issues.

Including Users in Implementation

For example, for websites, web applications, and web tools:

For more in this, see Involving Users in Evaluating Web Accessibility, especially the sections on Analyzing Accessibility Issues and Drawing Conclusions and Reporting.

Carefully Consider Input

Caution: Carefully consider all input. Avoid assuming that input from one person with a disability applies to all people with disabilities.

A person with a disability does not necessarily know how other people with the same disability interact with the web. They might not know enough about other disabilities to provide valid guidance on other accessibility issues. Getting input from a range of users is best.

Getting a Range of Users

People with disabilities are as diverse as any people. They have diverse experiences, expectations, and preferences. They use diverse interaction techniques, adaptive strategies, and assistive technology configurations. People have different disabilities: auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech, and visual. Some people have multiple disabilities. Even within one category, there is extreme variation. For example, “visual disability” includes people who have been totally blind since birth, people who have distortion in their central vision from age-related degeneration, and people who temporarily have blurry vision from an injury or disease. Include users with a variety of disabilities and user characteristics. Most projects have limited time and budget and cannot include many different users. Selecting the optimum number of users with the best suited characteristics can be difficult. There are resources on the web that provide guidance on selecting participants with disabilities. For example, determining participant characteristics and finding participants with disabilities.

Users’ Experience Interacting with the Web

A primary consideration in selecting users is their experience interacting with the web. For example, some assistive technologies (AT) are complicated and difficult to learn. A user with insufficient experience may not know how to use the AT effectively. And a very advanced user might know uncommon work-arounds to overcome problems in a website that the “average” user would not be able to handle.

In the early stages when you are first learning how people with disabilities interact with the web, it is usually best to get people with a fairly high experience level. (Involving Users in Evaluating Web Accessibility says more about different experience levels in later evaluation phases.)

Working with Users

Follow common practices for working with people informally and formally, for example:

There are resources on the web that provide detailed guidance on working with users; for example, Interacting with People with Disabilities, Assistive Technology and Location, and The RESPECT Code of Practice.

Combine User Involvement with Standards

Including users with disabilities and older users with accessibility needs is key to making your accessibility efforts more effective and more efficient. Yet that alone cannot address all issues. Even large projects cannot cover the diversity of disabilities, adaptive strategies, and assistive technologies. That is the role of accessibility standards.

More Information and Guidance

This document briefly addresses a few points of a very complex topic. Many resources on other aspects of involving users throughout projects are available on the web, such as:

Terminology

adaptive strategies
Adaptive strategies are techniques that people with disabilities use to improve interaction with the web. For example, increasing the font size in a common browser. Adaptive strategies include techniques with mainstream browsers or with assistive technologies.
assistive technologies
Assistive technologies are software or equipment that people with disabilities use to improve interaction with the web. For example, screen readers that read aloud web pages for people who cannot read text, screen magnifiers for people with some types of low vision, and voice recognition software and selection switches for people who cannot use a keyboard or mouse.
user characteristics
User characteristics typically include things like age, job responsibilities, software, hardware, environment (for example, home, shared office, private office, shared public terminal), computer experience, and web experience. User characteristics can also include type of disability, adaptive strategies used, and experience with specific assistive technologies.
web content
Web “content” generally refers to the information in a web page or web application, including text, images, forms, sounds, and such. More specific definitions are available in the WCAG documents, which are linked from the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Overview.
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