Which is better as a research area usability or accessibilty?


I know about both, but can anyone tell me where the research is going these days? is it more in web usability or accessbility? and in your opinion which one is more important and why?

which one is more important and why?

Heh heh … this question reminds me of the question my sister and I used to put to my mother incessantly as toddlers: “Which of us do you love the most?”

Obviously, both are really important. A site that is not usable is … well, pretty useless … but so is one that’s accessible.

I see quite a few sites claiming to be run by “usability experts”, yet their sites are junk—no more usable that the average, and poor in terms of accessibility. So I’m a bit sceptical about the whole usability thing at the moment (it is showing signs of joining SEO as a new snake oil industry).

Accessibility is a harder task, in many ways, as it takes a lot of work to make a site truly accessible. So the people looking for a quick buck are turning to the “usability” camp, because it’s easier to be a charlatan under that banner.

Thank you for your reply. I see that many developers know about usability but not about accessibility. I don’t know the reason behind that, is it because that don’t target any disabled audience for example?

Oh, regarding SEO do you think accessibility is important for search engines? I don’t see it as usefult for search engine as usabilty! What do you think?

Well, remember that a site has to be accessible to Google for it to rank, so from that point of view, accessibility is crucial to SEO. (Some sites only offer content via JS, which can mean that Google gets shafted just like other disabled users …)

Usability (to me, at least) has come to be a rather vague term—kind of in the eye of the beholder. At its best, of course, it is an important science, but too often is seems to be a wishy-washy concept that doesn’t amount to much. In my experience, very few websites have much logic or intelligence to them—even those that tout expertise at usability.

There are still some giant hurdles for accessibility—like how to make some JS features truly accessible—so it’s a much more interesting and challenging area, IMHO. But that’s not to say I wouldn’t like to see a lot of further work in the area of usability. Jeesh, one of my biggest gripes is how illogical most websites are, and how hard it is to get what you want from them—which I think of as a usability failure most of the time.

Could you recommened an easy to follow book for web accessibilty?

This one seems OK: http://www.amazon.com/Web-Accessibility-Standards-Regulatory-Compliance/dp/1590596382

It’s the main accessibility book I have, but I haven’t read it all. There are really good websites, too, and they tend to stay more up to date.

The reason many developers don’t even cater for basic web accessibility is because they are either; incompetent, ignorant or just don’t care assuming it’s some weird niche market audience. Perhaps they have the bizarre mentality “Usability” sounds cool; whereas “Accessibility” is “just for people with disabilities, right?” - the latter of course is a misconception, i.e. being just for people with disabilities or those whom require assistive technologies, actually web accessibility works regardless of ability.

Even if they are aware of it, they might consider it extra work to ensure a decent level of accessibility—involving costs the client might not want to pay for, as it’s often the clients who are totally clueless. The basics of accessibility should be a natural part of one’s workflow, not requiring extra effort. This is where it would be nice to have some regulation of the web—like building standards, which require a certain level of safety and building integrity. I bet most building developers (and their clients) would happily leave out fire escapes and other safety features if they could get away with it.

Well, I’ve seen far too many a time; completely-puzzled faces when you tell people, people whom are blind do surf the regular internet. I am aware the clients can also be awkward and yes a very good level accessibility takes work to achieve. Though I was mainly thinking of considering the very basic level like; semantic markup, progressive enhancement, Separation of Concerns as some foundations. Even some web-guys seem to fail to grasp those concepts.

I’m all for freedom on the web, so I have to disagree with regulating accessibility—especially since webpage design is an art. Next we’ll be forcing YouTube users to include a fully detailed transcript with every video they upload. Fire escapes are entirely different from accessible web design, because a lack of fire escapes is an actual safety issue. In that situation, there are human lives at stake. A blind user being unable to navigate a webpage is more of an inconvenience.

But I do agree that accessibility should be a natural part of any developer’s workflow. I’d even go so far as to say that it shouldn’t require any thought—as long as you use HTML in a semantically correct manner, most of the accessibility work is done for you.

I wasn’t really equating web design with building construction, but all the same, where building regulations are lax, you can bet there will be corners cut on safety—as is painfully obvious when there’s an earthquake. That side of human nature will prevail wherever it’s allowed to.

It’s not inconceivable that an inaccessible website could lead to death, though—such as when people need to access disaster warnings and so on. It’s no surprise that some governments have legislated their websites must pass certain standards of accessibility.

A blind user being unable to navigate a webpage is more of an inconvenience.

And this is seen as pretty much okay (not necessarily by you, Spiritanium. I mean in web development in general).

After all, so long as We Have Ours, everything’s fine. Our ability to do and find jobs, our ability to access our bank and utilities accounts, our ability to reach any information whether important or trivial, our ability to connect to other people in a social context, our ability to have basic access to the same entertainment and therefore culture as everyone around us has. As teh interwebs become less and less of a convenience and more and more of a necessity, people get left behind. Not only the blind, or the disabled in general, but of course entire countries, entire groups, and entire generations.

And this is okay, because We Have Ours and to us it still feels like a convenience, a nice extra, something to waste time the same way having extra money laying around lets us indulge in playthings and baubles at our leisure like polo-riding princes. And so this is why it’s okay to have broken websites, because after all, they’re Not The Space Shuttle and they’re Certainly Not Life Support, and in our minds it’s comparable to “hey, some people also don’t have nice cars and big houses and a television in every room or a computer in every pocket”, instead of

the possibility of independence, while we whine about welfare systems under our breaths
the possibility of connection, while we show with our actions if not our words that we’d rather be facebooking than in this meeting
the working of democracy, though this one doesn’t mean much anymore because an informed public by any other name is still as stupid and cares more about celebrities anyway
the power of knowledge (huge amounts and mostly free!), while for us it just means access to more cat pictures

Hm which reminds me, I’m running low on cat pictures. Time to stock up.

By research, do you mean academic research?

Universities do research on usability engineering (I considered that when I finished my last degree, but the fees did the first of the two big jumps in the UK that year, and as I was doing it for fun, I thought it too costly a hobby degree.). It’s been done for many years.

Accessibility research, I suspect, is not as common as usability research. For usability, you can use a sample of test volunteers by advertising “help my research, earn £5 / $10” and get a fair number of low cost volunteers. For accessibility research you need a set of volunteers with specific needs / abilities or lack of abilities. Also, in usability engineering, you are doing research where you yourself may be able to spot an engineering problem and go for it as a side project to your main work, but with accessibility, there are a smaller number of researchers with a disability themselves, making it harder for the average researcher to spot new problems of accessibility themselves. (Unless they have a relative or friend with a disability who complains a lot to them - I knew a lecturer in this situation, he could test things on his relative or ask if they thought something was likely to be a problem.)

I’ve read accessibility research papers where they tested on five or seven people. I’ve read usability research papers where they tested on 20, 40, or more, which makes it easier to prove your research / solution is valid. And researchers like to know if their work is correct.

PS Sites offering Usability consultations could easily be run by individuals like me who read up on things and then just sort the most obvious usability problems - tiny text, low contrast text vs background, bad placement of items, silly animations on the home page, too many steps in a process, too many font faces, bad use of colour (all genuine problems, not snake oil at all). Only a few I suspect would be run by people with a research background in usability engineering, and their fees would be rather high, and they would be used by big companies where a lot of money could be gained by improvements, and not used your average 10 - 20 page site.

Usability research is pretty big, and big money. Nielsen Group does very large clients (even if the usability ultimately doesn’t improve, they did still pay big money for someone to test their sites on real people, who as Dr John mentioned, get recruited for the tests). Baymard Institute is another place who gets paid by large clients to do usability studies. In the cases of these two companies, regular people can fork over a lot of money to read the reports (with testers’ personal information removed, and you still mostly get meta-analysis and percentages rather than the raw data).

There are academic papers on accessibility testing, but they are almost always behind a paywall if available at all. There’s a thread here on SitePoint where a study (on whether WCAG2 has actually made real changes for real users) which, after just a few days of being released, fell behind a paywall. They are more often conducted on government sites for government compliance, and those reports usually are filled with law-specific jargon rather than something general web developers could read and make sense of.

Lastly, I need to link to this because it depressed me and you all need to be depressed too: http://inclusivesociety.wordpress.com/2013/01/11/stop-it-might-be-the-medics-who-end-up-fixing-my-website-problems/

I wonder if accessibility will ever catch up with the fancy stuff that is appearing on the web these days. It still hasn’t caught up with things from many years ago, like drop down menus …