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Benefits of User-Testing with Users of Differing Abilities

You can read about the importance of accessibility, however, not until you sit down with people using assistive technology can you begin to empathize with their day-to-day experience on the web.

To truly empathize and take a user-perspective with regards to disabilities, you need to user-test with people of differing abilities. Considering that nearly 20 percent of the US population is classified as having a disability, you risk alienating a large swath of potential users by not making a website accessible to those users.

The WCAG guidelines are incredibly helpful in making objective decisions to insure accessibility measures are met. However, they do not address user experience directly. Since improving the user experience is not actually spelled out in any mandated requirements, it might not be placed at the top of the priority list. Engaging in user-testing is a sound strategy for optimizing your site for users of differing abilities.

Benefits of user testing with people of differing abilities.

Increase Awareness

Not everyone involved in the development and design of websites is knowledgeable with regards to accessibility. They might think that worrying about accessibility is not part of their job responsibility or role within the team. By adding user-testing within the process, it heightens the importance of incorporating accessibility needs as an underlying necessity in all decisions.

Diverse Perspectives

There are many different types of disabilities. All of these people will experience your website design in different ways. Someone who has a visual impairment will prioritize different needs than someone who has a hearing impairment or a cognitive disability.

When you decide to complete user-testing, make sure to recruit people with several different types of disabilities. Ask all of these people to complete tasks that you consider essential to the functioning of your website. Make sure to pay attention to everything the user says or does. This will help you gain deeper awareness of how the various disabilities impact someone’s experience.

Improve Team Dynamics

Creating websites is often not a solo endeavor. Frequently, there are a team of experts working together to accomplish a goal. All too often, accessibility needs and considerations are not considered central to the process. There might be an advocate or two in the team, but without any data or understanding of how their users will be impacted by design decisions, their voices and concerns are often not included in the final website design.

Imagine how much different the team conversation would be if the voice of the user was present in those conversations. It becomes a lot harder to ignore user-experience considerations when there is tangible evidence and data from users with disabilities.

Measure of Satisfaction

There are a lot of metrics that one can get from website analytics. You could look measures such as bounce rates, conversions, traffic origins, search engine performance, and time on page. What is not as easy to measure from analytics is the satisfaction and thoughts that users have when they are interacting with your website.

User-testing gives you a firsthand account of how people are actually feeling and thinking when they are using your website. Instead of wondering if someone who has to use captions is able to successfully understand the premise of your multimedia, you can ask them directly. This type of data is rich and can help inform your future design directions.

Identify User Behaviors

Even with the use of assistive technologies or actions such as zooming or increasing contrast, you really do not know how someone with a disability is going to interact with your website until you actually see them do it.

They might use it differently than how you thought they would. For example, you might expect the user to zoom only when the font is below size 20 but in actuality, they have to magnify the whole screen. This alters the intended display of your website and pertinent information. Another possibility is that someone is using a JAWS screen reader versus a Kurzweil scan and reader. Both of these tools work differently and unless you have seen them firsthand, you would have a hard time imagining what this person is doing and thinking while using your website.

Spot Easy Mistakes

There are automated tools available to detect accessibility issues. However, these tools do not test the user experience. Perhaps your alt text does not adequately describe a graphic or you used a pop-up design that a user zooming in on the screen would completely miss. All of these design flaws will come through in user-design sessions.

Capturing Revenue

When websites are not designed for people with disabilities, those people will take their internet use elsewhere. While this is an indirect goal of user-testing, it can be a very motivating factor for the people concerned with the bottom line to include user-testing in website design. People with disabilities have a disposable income over $400 billion dollars. Designing a website that is easy to use means that a large segment of the population with disposable income is able to use the website. Their disposable income is not drastically different than that of other segments of the population such as African Americans or Hispanics.

At this point you might be wondering just how many user-testing sessions you should do. This decision is obviously influenced by many factors such as the number of participants you could identify, the time you have to complete the testing, and the number of sessions your company wants. While all of these are really important, they should not be the main decision-making source in determining when to stop user-testing.

There is a concept from qualitative research known as data saturation and it also applies to user-testing with disabled users. What this means is that you have collected enough data that you are seeing the same behaviors and results again and again. When this happens, you can assume that you have seen the majority of the behaviors you are going to see and can proceed with the design of your website.

No one likes to use a website that is clunky, confusing, or nonfunctional. By taking the time in the early design stages to involve disabled users in user-testing, you will save time and development cycles down the road. You will also likely create a much better experience for all your users.

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