Why We Care About Usability and Accessibility

Every day another light bulb goes off in someone’s head when they wake up and realize that what they’ve been doing isn’t enough to count.

Once, when I watched SiteLogic’s Matt Bailey present to a search engine marketing conference audience what their optimized web pages sounded like to people who relied on Assistive technology to use the Web, I could feel the entire room change. He’d made his point. Poor SEO techniques could make web site pages completely unusable for people.

His presentation was about how to fix that problem.

I’m not sure where my friends’ passion for accessibility or usability comes from. I don’t know what hooked me either.

Joe Dolson is wrapped up in accessible design practices and when he writes in his blog or in the Usability/Accessibility forum at Cre8asiteforums, it’s clear he deeply cares about the end user experience. I don’t know why it matters to him, but we need people like him to keep teaching and reminding us what matters most.

My friend Elizabeth Able has intimate knowledge of the needs of disabled web users, and not just because her mother runs a school for the blind. Liz’s personal experiences and born intuitive insight make her a perfect advocate as a self employed web designer.

Today’s UPA Journal presents an article called, What is our role as Usability Professionals, by Silvia Zimmermann. She writes,

As Usability people we usually tend to focus on making things easier to use. To allow for good usability and an excellent user experience we integrate user centered design methods and standardized usability processes into our daily work. We are used to doing this; we advocate for it day after day; we even try to persuade our clients and the people around us to do the same because we have a strong belief in it. And without question, making things easier to use is an honorable thing to do, because it generally enhances the overall user experience.

It bothers me when I hear stories from software development companies who don’t have a usability specialist on hand or do user testing. There are other companies that budget in usability and accessibility but it’s all smoke and mirrors. They don’t actually implement the changes. Rather, it looks good to document that they tested a few things and called it a day.

I’m noticing more articles and blog posts from people who are becoming interested in how usable web design is the logical next step in marketing. It’s a bit of putting the cart before the horse, however.

When you build something to be accessed via the Internet, plan on optimizing for search engines and people at the same time.

Search engines don’t need your consideration as much as your family, friends and customers do.

3 thoughts on “Why We Care About Usability and Accessibility”

  1. “I don’t know why it matters to him….”

    And I’ll answer that – it matters because it’s what makes my work meaningful to me. I can’t honestly say I give a damn about whether or not a given company has a website. It’s not, for me, just about the existence of a web presence or about financial success (although, obviously, that’s pretty crucial in the long run.)

    For my work to be meaningful to me, it needs to do something to make the web more useful for somebody. This can be making a website function work more easily, making something usable by more people, or just making sure it’s got valuable information.

    Vomiting up a bunch of graphics then scrawling meaningless fluff on them? Not going to come from me.

    Right…I intended that to be brief! ;)

  2. This was a fantastic point about accessibility. I actually got into IT from working with adults with cerebral palsy–I wanted to become involved with assistive technology, then fell in love with programming. When I worked with individuals who had visual disabilities who could not ascertain what a page was about simply due to poor design (and no alt tags), I realized that making the internet available to people with all sorts of disabilities was critical. This is a topic that is so important, but many times it’s not anything people think about unless they’ve had personal experience. Again, an excellent article!

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