2011 Conference

Twin Red-Headed Stepchildren Of A Different Mother: The Usability of Accessibility #heweb11

View Session Details and Presenter’s Bio.

Ted Drake@flickr

The two screaming monkeys sitting by the lectern, the jokes about the wince-inducing audio screeches, and the cartoon stickers on the presentation laptop set the tone for Michael Fienen and Dylan Wilbanks’ spunky, fervent presentation about usability and accessibility.


In the Web development process, both usability and accessibility are invariably left for later. The attitude is “We can’t spare any design or development time on usability and accessibility.” But in most cases, later never comes. In other cases, later comes in like gangbusters, and you have to worry a lot about usability and accessibility.

We’ve all heard the talk many times over. After a conference, we return to our institutions energized to move forward with usability and accessibility–only to hit brick walls.

Administrators and other stakeholders maintain the “let’s think about that later” approach. We never get a chance to make a difference. This time hopes to be different.

Stop Chasing the Veggie Peeler

The OXO veggie peeler was born out of a request for a peeler that was comfortable for people with arthritis. OXO responded to the challenge and designed a veggie peeler that makes peeling veggies a much more comfortable, enjoyable experience for everyone—not just arthritis sufferers.

With a wink and chuckle, Dylan compared OXO’s peeler to the curb cut example from Shawn Henry’s Monday keynote. Curb cuts benefit both wheelchairs and baby strollers, cyclists, etc.

Both of these examples are frequently considered tide-turners for accessibility. And the Web seems to be waiting for its own tide-turner.

However, if we continually sell curb cuts for strollers, then curb cuts are no longer about the wheelchairs. In other words, while usability and accessibility are congruent, they aren’t the same thing. Usability can help accessibility, but the two are different.


Fienen presented three things you can do for accessibility right now.

  1. Your Templates
    1. Ask your CMS vendor about accessibility features.
      Example questions:
    2. Are ARIA and WCAG checks baked in?
    3. Can you require alt attributes and table summaries?
    4. Is the CMS back end usable by someone who’s blind? (This may be required in your state.)
    5. Mind Your CSS: Good sematic coding is your first line of defense when it comes to usability and accessibility.
  1. Your Forms
    Forms are often one of the most interactive and pervasive elements on many schools’ websites.
    Yes, you can use JavaScript and AJAX when developing forms. Use JavaScript to enhance your forms, but if your form breaks when JavaScript isn’t enabled, you’ve gone too far.
    Label all fields.
  1. Your Video (lecture capture as well as marketing video)
    Captions help more audiences than the deaf:

    1. SEO: YouTube has become one of the top search engines. The indexing and metadata YouTube adds make your video content findable
    2. International Users: Captions make content accessible to those who may not be able to understand rapid-fire spoken language but who can follow written language.
    3. Normal people, too!:
      Maybe you are multi-tasking and don’t want the sound but want to keep up with a video.
      Maybe you are in a loud place and can’t hear or are in a quiet place and can’t make noise.
      Don’t rely on machine transcription. You can engage transcription services at reasonable rates, such as $1/hour. $60 for transcribing an hour’s worth of video is cheaper than the hourly rate of an attorney!Produced video has an advantage: A script has already been written, so a transcriber need only add the unscripted bits.YouTube is a fine example of the power of accessibility and video:
      – Auto-timing vs. machine transcription
      – Familiar interface
      – Consistency in caption tool
      – Keyboard accessible player


Test, test, test.

Test qualitatively.

Test quantitatively.

Don’t be afraid to iterate; move forward piece by piece.

When told, “We can’t make it accessible. There’s just too much to change!” consider that Mount Everest is not a day hike. Pick what you can do now to move forward. It is a continuous process. Forward movement is what counts.

Find an accessibility technology lab on your campus.

  • Make friends with the facilitators and users.
  • Ask them to help test.
  • Listen to them.
    If you work in concert with the accessibility lab, and if you have the experiences of people with disabilities to underpin what you are saying about accessibility, then maybe you will no longer be viewed as the enemy and your website will be friendlier to more users.
  • Follow Steve Krug’s usability process to test for accessibility. Engage people with disabilities for the testing.

Dylan offered his rough three-fold test

  1. Colorblindness test
    (Note: Photoshop CS5 allows you to change the environment to test for two kinds of colorblindness.)
  2. Keyboard test
    Unplug your mouse, try to navigate your web page, and fail.  Not ideal, but it’s something.
  3. Voice browser test
    Windows users: NVDA
    Mac users: VoiceOver


We know the how behind accessibility. The challenge is getting buy-in.

We are in the middle: We sell “up” to administrators, and we sell “down” to those who may not be as strong in things technical.

The “Down”

While non-technical people understand the importance of accessibility, they may lack the skills to implement what seems (and often is) technical and complex.

Address accessibility practices in chunks they can process.

When you teach a technique, teach the accessibility piece as simply a part of the process. Do not point it out as something different.

Offer to do handle the accessibility pieces yourself. While this might seem like taking on more work, it may be more efficient than retrofitting something later on.

The “Up”

Managing up is sometimes less difficult because administrators tend to be sensitive to the legal aspect.

Try being proactive.

One example: Instead of pointing out the threat, encourage building in accessibility from the ground up.

Building a website is like building a house. If you build a house without following plumbing and electricity codes, then when the house is inspected, you have to go back and fix the violations. If you had adhered to the code when you built it, the process would have been less trouble and much less expensive.


  • Bake in accessibility early and often.
  • Grill your CMS vendor early and often.
  • Test for accessibility in the design process early and often.
  • Listen to people with disabilities early and often.

Back to the Twin Red-Headed Stepchildren

Usability and accessibility come together in Universal Design: Build with everyone in mind.

Build right the first time.

The Web is for everyone; we all have the same abilities on the Web.

You can do it!

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2 replies on “Twin Red-Headed Stepchildren Of A Different Mother: The Usability of Accessibility #heweb11”

Melissa, on the transcription rates, you say they can be as little as $1/hour. I think you mean $1/minute (of soundtrack transcribed). That would make your comparison of $60/hour for transcription to whatever an attorney charges per hour make more sense.

And thanks for this summary!

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