W3CWeb Accessibility initiative

WAI: Strategies, guidelines, resources to make the Web accessible to people with disabilities

Editors Draft: 22 October 2009 [changelog]
Status: This document is a draft and should not be referenced or quoted under any circumstances. The published version of this document's predecessor is at www.w3.org/WAI/eval/users.html; the final published update is at http://www.w3.org/WAI/@@. Please send comments to wai-eo-editors@w3.org (a publicly archived list).

Note: end of note Items shown with a green background and marked with @@ blah blah are open items for further discussion.

[Early Draft] Involving Users in Web Development
(working title)
Update to Involving Users in Web Accessibility Evaluation

Page Contents


Web development for accessibility often focuses on evaluating conformance to accessibility standards, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). However, involving people with accessibility needs, including people with disabilities and older people, throughout the development process provides insights into how users interact with the Web and enables the implementation of more effective solutions. Involving users early on, and throughout, the development process allows adjustments for users' requirements to be made progressively.

This document introduces the involvement of users with accessibility needs throughout the process of web development, provides guidance on some considerations for involving users, and links to additional information. It is part of the @@ suite.

Why Involve Users

Accessibility makes good business sense, so making sure that accessibility is implemented correctly by including users with accessibility needs in the process also makes sense. Collaborating with people with diverse abilities who are part of the target audience of a website early in a project helps web developers be more efficient in addressing accessibility, thus maximizing the results from an investment in accessibility. Furthermore, it has been shown that changes early in the development process are much cheaper than trying to fix problems at the end of the process.

One of the main benefits of including people with diverse abilities is that web developers can learn how people with accessibility needs, including people with disabilities and older people, interact with the Web, utilize adaptive strategies, and use assistive technologies. When web developers, managers, and other project stakeholders see people with disabilities and older people use their website, most are highly motivated by a new understanding of accessibility issues. For example, @@ screen reader and alt-text, or another example

As people with accessibility needs also have general usability requirements, consulting these users during development will also help create a site that is more usable for everyone. @@ link to "Relationship Between Web Accessibility and Usability" (draft) when complete.

Involving users with with accessibility needs during web development has many benefits; however, this alone cannot determine if a website is accessible. Combine user involvement with evaluating conformance to WCAG to ensure that accessibility is provided to the widest group of users with a range of disabilities and impairments and in a multitude of situations.

Involving Users Effectively

Where do you start involving users? That depends on your project ...

@@ Existing site: conduct a prelim review first - fix it up some before getting users in for a potentially frustrating session
@@ New site/application: start with 'requirements' and a requirement for it to be accessible and for the process to include consulting users with accessibility needs

Scope of User Involvement

Users with accessibility needs can be included in a wide range of evaluation activities, from brief consultations to large-scale usability studies. There are many options in between these extremes:

Conducting informal evaluations throughout development is more effective than formal usability testing at the end of a project. In most cases, including users in evaluation involves:

Carefully consider all feedback and avoid assuming that feedback 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, nor know enough about other disabilities to provide valid guidance on other accessibility issues.

@@ Scenarios

There are many stages of web development where people with accessibility needs can be involved (@@ list?). The following scenarios are provided to give you some guidance about what you might expect in some situations.

@@ possibilities for examples of involving users - business requirements; technical requirements; wire-frames/story-boards; graphical design; templates; content preparation; completed site; ??? Discuss what they might get out of involving users at some stages.
- include scenarios of involvement
- indicate just where users can give extra insight
- select examples where experience shows there are pitfalls and that people can make mistakes and get it wrong (e.g. listening to a single user)

Including Diverse Users

People with disabilities are as diverse as any group, as are older people. Everyone has diverse experiences, expectations, and preferences. People use diverse interaction techniques, adaptive strategies, and assistive technology configurations. People have different disabilities: auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech, visual — and some, especially older people, have multiple impairments. 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 and a loss of contrast acuity 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. In most cases developers have limited time and budget and cannot include many users in evaluation. Selecting the optimum number of users with the best suited characteristics can be difficult. There are resources on the Web that provide guidance on determining participant characteristics for a particular situation and on finding participants with disabilities. @@ number of participants for small enterprise (family, friends and customers) vs large business (larger study with formal 'recruitment')

Users' Experience Interacting with the Web

A primary consideration in selecting users to help with evaluation 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. Problems identified may be due to the user's lack of knowledge of the AT, not problems with the website being evaluated. On the other hand, a very advanced user might know uncommon work-arounds to overcome problems in the site that the "average" user would not be able to handle.

Just as with any evaluation with users, whether you include novice, average, or advanced users depends on your target users. For example, if you are developing a web application to be used by accountants inside a company, you probably want advanced AT users; for a public website to apply for disability benefits, you want novice AT users; for a commercial website providing holidays for older people, you may want relatively inexperienced web users.

@@ discuss that PWD will not complete as many tasks as others might in the same time & neither will older people; also can be beneficial to engage on own computer for PC-based input if users uses AT
@@ discuss that having two older people together can be productive in getting feedback

Analyzing Accessibility Problems

Web accessibility depends on several components of web development and interaction working together, including web browsers, assistive technologies, and web content. For any accessibility problems you identify, determine which components are responsible. For example, if a user has trouble with a data table, it could be because:

In addition to finding accessibility problems, evaluating with users with disabilities usually reveals general usability problems that impact all users, including those without accessibility needs.

Drawing Conclusions and Reporting

As explained earlier in Why Involve Users, involving users with disabilities makes accessibility efforts more effective and more efficient. However, it alone cannot determine if a website is accessible; even large-scale usability studies cannot cover the diversity of disabilities, adaptive strategies, and assistive technologies. Combining user involvement with evaluating conformance to WCAG ensures that the broad range of accessibility issues are covered.

Reports should include the scope of the study and the evaluation parameters, such as the testing methods and the user characteristics. For example, if a study included only usability testing with participants who are blind, its report should clarify that it did not evaluate conformance to accessibility guidelines and that it does not apply to all people with disabilities. Thus the report can help readers draw appropriate conclusions.

For More Information

This document briefly addresses a few points of a very complex topic. Many resources on other aspects of involving users in evaluation are available on the Web.

Terminology and Notes

@@ other terms to include?

adaptive strategies
Adaptive strategies are techniques that people with disabilities use to improve interaction with the Web, such as increasing the font size in a common browser or navigating with the keyboard instead of a mouse. Adaptive strategies include techniques with mainstream browsers or with assistive technologies.
@@ link to "Improving Your Web Experience by Using Adaptive Strategies" when completed (draft)
assistive technologies
Assistive technologies are software or equipment that people with disabilities use to improve interaction with the Web, such as 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.

Optimizing Usability Testing for Accessibility Issues

Note for usability professionals: See current document - update this towards completion.