Accessibility is usability


Featured speakers


Sarah Richards: Awesome. Right. Hello. Today, we’re going to talk about how accessibility is usability. Usability is accessibility, and if you don’t have one, you do not have the other one, okay? If you have both of them together, then and only then do we get the inclusive web that we all deserve. Yes?

Okay. So just a note about the kind of language that I’m going to use in the presentation today. There’s a quite a lot of conversation about whether we should use the term “disabled people” or “people with disabilities.” I’m going to use the term “disabled people.” It’s under advisement from a charity called Scope in the UK who works with disabled people all the time, and they say that “people with disabilities” is that we are defining people by a condition and that’s not okay. Often we disable other people.

So to give you a concrete example, if you are a wheelchair user, you have money, there’s a shop you want to go into, there’s a thing you want to get, you know it’s in there but you can’t get to it because there’s no ramp. It’s not you that’s being stopped, if you see what I mean. It’s not you stopping me. It’s the lack of design. Now we, as content professionals, as web professionals, often disable other people with our choices.

So we’re going to start with this. This is a Microsoft inclusivity kit. It’s very good. At the end of this talk, there is a short URL with links to everything that I’m talking about today. This is in there. When we talk about access needs and when we go into organizations and we talk about accessibility, often people will think, “Oh, permanent disabilities.” Right? So they’ll think of people with a limb missing, they’ll think of people who are blind, they’ll think of people who are deaf. What they don’t understand is that actually there’s an entire spectrum of access needs.

If you break your arm, you might itch it for kind of six weeks and be very distracted. You might find some workarounds for your laptop at work or maybe even use voice function on your phone that you don’t normally, but you’ll keep going. If it’s situational, for example, like parenting. If you are a parent, you know that you probably only have full use of both arms 50% of the time, and that’s mostly when the kid’s asleep. You probably won’t bother with those workarounds, because you’ll put it down and do it later or you’ll forget about it. This is a whole spectrum of access needs. In the next 20 minutes, I want to show you how you, as content people, can help that entire spectrum, and you’re probably already doing half of it.

Hello. No. Some stats for you then. You have 61 million disabled Americans here. This is taken from your CDC. You have 1 million Americans who are legally blind. You have another 3.2 million with a visual impairment of 20/40. So you know perfect vision is 20/20, yeah? So 20/40 is not good, and we’re going to go into that in a minute, but it’s that and worse with the best possible correction. So that’s after surgery or that’s after you wear glasses or contact lenses or whatever. And another 8.2 million have vision problems. These numbers are taken from people who go to the doctor and understand that. That’s not just people struggling through because they don’t have healthcare.

For the entirely mercenary among you, and I’m sure none of you are mercenary and it is in fact your organization, but you have a disposable income of this country of $490 billion. Now, I know that you’re a really rich country. That’s a massive number to ignore in terms of accessibility, and I’m not sure if you’ve seen British politics at the moment. Oh, you have? Biggest omni-shambles ever. That could be a word that’s applied. You could just give us some of that money. We could do with it.

Organizations will often see accessibility as a tick box exercise, right? They go, “Oh, you know what? Screen readers work. So long as the code is clean and people can read their way through it, you know, they can hear their way through it. We’re accessible. I’m going to ignore everything else.” When I get to conversations like that, the first thing I do, obviously I smile in a terribly professional, British way. Not freaky at all. I’ll say, “Well, I’ll give you one audience that that’s not going to help them. Profoundly deaf people.” By profoundly deaf, I mean those who can’t hear from birth. In the UK, 8% of the profoundly deaf audience communicate by sign language alone. They do not read one word of English. English is a second language to them and it is a relatively closed community. Every sign language in the world does not work on the same grammatical structures that we use every day. So that’s point number one. Do not assume people who can’t hear, are deaf, have listening impairments or hearing impairments can read, because this is not true.

I’m going to show you some examples now, however, with visual impairments, because visual impairments is the first thing that people normally think of when they think of accessibility. There is a Chrome extension called the NoCoffee simulator. Now, massive caveat. This is not 100% scientific, all right? It is an indicator, but it is amazing for opening up those conversations with people. Let’s look at a very lovely, wonderful site. Oh, it’s mine.

So, when you get the ... when you download the simulator, you get a tiny little black box in the corner and you end up with this dropdown and you get two versions that you can choose afflictions, basically. The top one has got sliders. I just want to draw your attention to that slider and just see that it’s kind of, it’s a little past the middle but it’s not right up to the top. You can move those so that you can increase the severity of the condition that you’re looking at. This is cataracts. So with cataracts, with a page like this, this is kind of awesome, right? There’s massive text, massive amounts of white space. You can still see it. Most sites don’t look like this. Let’s go to another site. I’m really struggling with the … Brexit! There it is. And the government decided not to call it Brexit because we’ve all been calling it that for three years. They decided to call it EU Exit because ... I love not being a civil servant. I can just slack the government off loads.

Okay. So, what I want to draw your attention to is that I haven’t changed the screen size in any of the screen grabs in this presentation, right? They are all exactly the same ratio. So first of all, you get to this page. You are a business owner, right? With Brexit, the Prime Minister doesn’t even know what’s going on and we are being told that we need to sort out our businesses and plan. We need to plan for all these things that we don’t even know what they are. First of all, you get a massive image. Lovely. Whatever. Next, you get this. I just want to say two sentences out of this for you. I will not bore you any more than that. It says, “Delivering a deal negotiated with the EU remains the government’s top priority.” One, could have got that from the BBC. They have been telling us that for three years. Two, for me as somebody’s who’s very close to London, I’m kind of like, “Why are the stabbings not our top priority? Why is our lack of education not our top priority? Why is our failing national health service not our priority, but okay.”

Second sentence then. “With an implementation period of until December 2020, this will give new businesses stability ...” I can’t even be asked. The fact is, that says nothing, all right? So for somebody with 20/20 vision with no cognitive impairments, I look at that and at best, I’m frustrated that these people have wasted my time. I also run a business. I can’t do anything with that. It’s pointless.

Now let’s add some pain. Let’s add some glaucoma. There’s over 3 million Americans living with glaucoma right now in this country. Glaucoma means that you have a very narrow field of vision, right, so this bit in the middle? That’s clear and then it goes gray and then it goes black. As you move your eyes along these sentences, then that kind of black/gray/white spectrum moves with you. Now not only are you boring me, government ... not you, obviously. You’re not saying anything, and now it’s painful as well? That’s not okay, right?

Let’s look at something that we should all be looking at. Terms and conditions, because we all read them, right? You all read them? You’re all nodding. Awesome. Terms and conditions, where we signed our life away. Again, just draw your attention to where that slider is. Very low. This is blur. It’s kind of low acuity. It kind of houses a number of conditions, so this is quite blurry. You’re signing your life away and you look at this. You can’t read any of it, right? I mean, you can’t. Please don’t try. You’ll make yourself sick. You literally can’t read any of this with a very tiny amount of blur.

Now, I’m going to show you a page from GOV.UK. Can you read any of that? The difference between the page before, I don’t want to do the whole back forward thing in case I muck that up. The difference with the page before is that that was written, and it’s written quite well actually. A lot of it is plain English. This, this is content design with accessibility in mind. Loads of space. Loads of headings. Loads of short sentences, because we know nobody goes to that page anyway, and if they are on that page, we need to get them through it as quickly as we can. So loads of subheadings all the way through. Even with some blur, it will still be painful. Don’t get me wrong. It will still be painful, but it’s possible.

What we would say is you’ve got three seconds to get my attention from a usability perspective, right? You’ve seen all the studies. You go in, I get bored, I leave, I go to your competitor. It takes on a whole different meaning when there is pain attached to it, when there is discomfort attached to it. So we want to value your time. Number one, then, finding accessibility information at the right time. That is accessibility. I’ll give you an example. This again is from GOV.UK. The government gives people money in child tax credits, and the rate changes each year. People don’t need a whole explanation about what that benefit is. What they need is to know what the number is, so we put it there. Don’t need traffic. Traffic alone is a vanity metric when it comes to accessibility. You’ve got people clicking through and it’s painful to them. It is a lot better to just give them the number and get out of the way.

We would say don’t have a search result strategy to play some search engine optimization game. Actually have one to help people. When it comes to pain, pain can be relative. It is subjective, and it comes in different ways. It comes in time, mostly, at the moment. When you’ve found your information and then you go to the page itself, you are already making decisions in seconds about whether you want to engage with that pain, with that page or not. It is entirely your structure, your format, and the language that you use.

You’re not expected to see very much except a blurry image, alright? I just want to make that very clear. When you first look at a page, and this is everybody, right? Humans, we think we’re so special. We’re literally not. This is what happens in your brain if you don’t have any cognitive or lesions on the brain. You will look at a page and you will just see all the dark bits, right? So you’ll see the banner, you’ll see the buttons if there are any, you’ll see some images. Next, the words start to come into focus. The headings are always first because they are bigger and they are either bold or they have more black to the typography. Then, your words will come out. Now, this happens in milliseconds. You won’t notice it, but subconsciously, your brain is already making a decision about whether you want to go into that or not.

What we would say from headings, from an accessibility point of view, you can use headings alone. Screen readers can jump down headings. You can ... in our courses, we actually get people to cut out the bit, all the content and see if people can guess what you need to do and what you’re going to get from the headings alone. From an accessibility point of view, it just makes it less painful. From a usability point of view, it’s exactly the same. You go down and you decide whether you’re going to read or not. Luke Wroblewski did a report and said that within 90% of the time, within 14 seconds 90% of people are scrolling. Now, I think that’s really long, but he did a study with six thousand people and I haven’t, so we’ll just go with his numbers. From an accessibility and a usability point of view, headings tell a story. A really powerful story if you do it properly. If you’ve got terribly clever headings and they’re really smart and they’re really funny, great. But will you be able to get through them if a screen reader is doing it? Will somebody still understand what they’re doing if they’ve got a kid hanging off one arm and they’ve got no time and they’re really just trying to do a really simple thing? Use your headings. Use them well.

From a format perspective, then, accessibility, always use your captions. You’ve got captions coming up here, which is great, and have a transcript. People can generally read in the secondary school educational high school here. People can read faster than you can speak, unless you’re Eminem or something, in which case maybe not. But generally, people ... and you open up your information to people with any hearing impairments. Now, from a usability perspective, ah! It’s the same thing, alright? There’s a pattern emerging here. If you don’t have your headphones on a bus, you are hearing impaired. If you lock all that content away into your video, you’re not going to get to that audience either. Same thing. You only need to do that thing once. You only need to put a transcript on there once, and think about the audiences that you’re opening up to.

Jargon. Everybody loves some jargon, don’t they? From an accessibility point of view, can be very difficult for a number of audience to get through jargon, right? You could alienate people really quickly, exactly the same with usability. I’m going to give you a concrete example of this. So if I was to say to you, “Cheesy bobs can be a menace, but they’re essentially harmless,” are you slightly scared? Hands up who knows what a “cheesy bob” is. Does anybody know? No. There’s a reason for that. Good. Because if you all went like that, I’d be terrified right now. Okay. If you don’t like bugs or insects, please look down now. I will tell you when you can look up. That is a cheesy bob.

Okay, if you were looking down, you can look up. A cheesy bob is a wood lice, or wood louse, or there’s whole hundreds of other names for this thing. I come from a small town in Guildford, in the UK called Guildford. It’s in Surrey, and I was 34 years old before I realized that wasn’t called a cheesy bob. Yeah. My now ex-husband, thank you very much, was laughing his ass off. It’s kind of a silly example, but it does show you if you know your language, you kind of don’t question it. You don’t think about that. But just think about a three-year-old child is not going to go, “I know, Mummy? Can we ‘solutionize’ lunch?” It’s not going to happen. Do you really think about that kind of language that you’re using? Jargon and idioms are really bad for anybody who’s not used to those terms.

Now for those people who are sitting in organizations going, “But we just have specialists. They all know our language.” I generally really commiserate with them because clearly their industry’s dying, and they have no new people going into it and that is very sad. It’s also not true. Anybody reading with English with a second language ... it’s called the world wide web for a reason. If it’s not on the internet, put it on your intranet. And people with autism can really struggle. There are a lot of posters in the link at the end that will give you a breakdown of this sort of thing with all the different conditions that this impacts.

Now you might say to me, “Yeah, that’s nice, Sarah, but do you know what? My organization loves a bit of jargon, and you are not going to get them away from it.” Yes? I’m going to help you with that. We have a global crowdsourcing project called the Readability Guidelines. It is a wiki. It is open. I really hope that you get involved. It is a whole stack of evidence. It’s usability studies. It’s accessibility studies. It’s academic studies. It’s everything that we can get our hands on, so if you would like to join in, please do. There are lots of studies about how jargon impairs people, how it excludes people and it is not helping us build a better web.

So, let’s go through some of the guidelines then. Having accessible content doesn’t really matter, right, about people ... about their intelligence. But we say, “Oh, you’re dumbing it down. It’s so simple. Everybody can read it.” Most of the problems that we find now is in time. People don’t have time to take things in. If they want to look at a funny cat video, that cat better be being funny. No, and a cat just sitting there going, “Mm-hmm. Whatever.” Because cats do that. You want it to be funny if that’s what you’re looking for.

It’ll also help anybody with a cognitive impairment. Jakob Nielsen says that you add cognitive load ... 11% of cognitive load every hundred words you put on the page. Cognitive load for somebody who’s just sitting there worried about whether they’re being sent on the coffee run or not is probably not very much. 11% for somebody who’s caring for parents, caring for their children, holding down a full-time job, that’s massive. That’s 11% of not very much left.

Clear language will also help you with your motor impairments. So the image that I showed you before about that number, you know, with the child tax credits, really helps people because they don’t have to go through to a website. Now something that you can do, there are great accessibility kits that you can buy, but if your organization isn’t going to give you money for that, I’ll give you a little tip. Get a medium sized glove and a large sized glove and sew it down here, not all the way through obviously, but just give yourself some fingers and push some sand or some rice in it. Give somebody a mobile phone and then go, “There. Now go and use our website.” Because that’s what it can be like. Again, silly little things like that can really open up that accessibility conversation.

Visual impairments, back to it. You know that you write short sentences because you love it, because you’re great content people. Short, active sentences. It actually means that you can take in more when you’ve got that glaucoma view because you have a narrow field of vision. You can take in more information in one go. It is less tiring.

Well, we would say generally people want to understand. They don’t want to just marvel at how brilliant you are. They don’t want to wade through your language, but you still need to be interesting. We still need to engage. We still need to sell our brands and our companies. Can be done. You don’t have to be boring to have accessible content. Not at all. I’m going to show you a slide. I’m going to read three words to you, and I want you to put up your hand if you know what brand it is, okay? Ready? “Just do it.” Ah! Oh! Now that’s a surprise, too. This is in your common vocabulary set, so most people, again with the secondary western education will have five thousand terms in their primary set, ten thousand terms in their secondary set. That makes up to 80% of your language. You’ve been hearing those three words since you were a kid.

You don’t have to be boring. This is considered one of the best advertising campaigns in the world in history. It was done here, in America. Two words. “Think small.” There’s lots of others words as well. Don’t try and read those. And then maybe not think small, but a whole campaign hanging off two simple sentences, done in 1959.

Fast forward to now, 2015 after your Super Bowl. “Like a girl.” Readability guidelines say to cap words in hashtags so that it makes it better for people and easier for people to run. This went viral. Did you hear about this? Yeah? That formatting trick of having the caps in the hashtag is great, but you don’t need to rely on those to have accessible text. You know that your sentences should be around 24 words long, right? What you can do, have a sentence 24 to 29 words long then have one that’s five words long then go back out to 24 words. It stops people dead. The problem with that is that it stops people dead, and if you muck around with that and you don’t do it very carefully, it can be really jarring. But if you’ve got one thing on the page that you need to pull out, you don’t need to add a whole load of bold that makes some people’s eyes hurt. Muck around with your sentence length, muck around with your punctuation, but be careful.

And also use space. You know, designers are forever banging on about white space, aren’t they? Bless them. I love them. It’s to let people think. Use your bullet points. If you’ve got bullet points and you start with a shorter sentence and you go longer, actually it pulls the eye down the page and it opens it up to people who might think, “Oh, this information is unusual. It’s going to be too hard for me,” because struggling is not success. People sit there and say, “I want everybody to be on my site forever.” Why? You don’t want to be on a site forever. You want to go and look for cat videos, right?

There are so many accessibility tools now that can strip away all color and photographs and videos and all sorts. Basically the only thing that is left is your content. So my question to you is, is your content, is your words or your tools, calculators, calendars? Are they accessible? Because you don’t lose people, intelligent people that can just go through it and they don’t have any impairments, you’re not going to lose them. They understand it perfectly. They can understand it and they can move on. You will get some people go, “Oh, it’s dumbing down,” but they can move on. What you are doing is opening it up to whole loads of people who would be excluded if you didn’t do those sorts of things. So what we would say is that it’s not dumbing down, and that it’s opening up.

This is the link where all the things are that I was talking about today. Thank you.

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