Duncan Stephen
Wednesday 29 May 2013

This week’s theme is accessibility – making the web easy to use for all.

Seniors as web users

Jakob Nielsen’s latest ‘Alertbox’ usability report. We probably don’t have many users aged 65 and over, but we do have a few, and it is interesting to see this study and compare it with Jakob Nielsen’s recent study on teenagers’ use of the web. The lessons learned from analysing the problems encountered by older users can also benefit all users.

The finding I found most interesting is that older users are more likely to follow a single methodical approach, but they give up easily if that approach does not succeed. Younger users tend to use a scattergun approach to find what they are looking for, and try alternative tactics if their first approach fails. There are also interesting points about the importance of the colour of links and avoiding punishing users for writing telephone or credit card numbers a certain way.

95% of seniors were rated as methodical in their behaviors: for example, they were likely to think through each step or click and assess an entire page before moving forward. Only 35% of younger users exhibited such methodical behaviors. Sadly, the slower and more measured approach to computers didn’t gain seniors better results, as demonstrated by the study’s success scores.

Things I learned by pretending to be blind for a week

All web content creators must think about accessibility. This person went one step further – he blindfolded himself while using the web to learn what it’s really like to use a screenreader. His findings are very interesting and useful.

Here’s a sample of what happens when you navigate to a page using a screen reader, it starts to read out every piece of content on the page, and I mean EVERY piece of content, and doesn’t stop until it’s melted your brain and the words merge together into a sea of electronic voice. If you want, you can listen to the entire page, but I learned from this screencast by visually-impaired user Robert William that it’s actually much better to wrestle for the control and navigate through the content yourself. Be prepared though to be baffled by hundreds of links and headings before you even get to the page content, or the link you want.

Keep the underline

You want an accessible, usable website? Then please don’t remove the underline on text links, particularly in the main content…

Why? For accessibility, users with color blindness or low vision may have trouble distinguishing links from regular text when the underline is missing. Also remember situational disability; links with no underline are usually more difficult to determine when using a poor monitor or when using a computer in a brightly lit environment.

And for usability, it’s just easier to see the links and easier to scan them when they have underlines.

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