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Support And Educate

Grant Broome has recently expressed some reservations over the suggestion that site developers abandon text-sizing widgits in favour of educating users instead. He’s worried that this approach is overly biased

Personally, I don’t see this discussion as particularly biased. More of a natural maturing within the web accessibility development sector. For years, we’ve been aware that effective accessibility involves three groups – site developers, user agent producers and the users.

Whilst we’ve happily moaned and complained about the middle group, there’s been a real reluctance to look at the user’s responsibility within the mix. As a result, the developers have often tried to “do everything” for the user. Laudable but not such a good idea longer term. However, I’d agree that just taking our ball back and announcing that we’re not playing any more isn’t going to help either.

When I first got onto the ‘Net, things were still pretty new and many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) provided guides and “how to” resources. Nowadays, such guides are rare. There’s an assumption that all users know all of the basics and are confident enough to use the right tools etc. That’s patently not true. There are new users arriving on the Web every day. Including those who are trying to cope with new disabilities. And those who are plain technophobic. I’ve come across a fair number of the latter – which is why I started the Imp Guide about 8 years ago. It was an attempt to fill the educational gap left by the ISPs and support those around me who were plainly struggling with new technology. The aim of the guide is to assume that the user knows nothing and then build from there.

Ideally,we need more guides like this and we need to promote them as much as possible.

In the meantime, if we want users who can share the accessibility responsibility, we need to do as Ian Lyoyd suggested and educate them. We can make a start using a site’s accessibility pages. Earlier this year, Rosie Sherry questioned the need for accessibility statements. She argued that most were too technical and of limited user to the average visitor. However, I think we can enlarge on the standard, and often technical, accessibility page by turning it into two pages.

The first page should focus on teaching the user how to increase font size, change text & background colours, use a keyboard to navigate and what the access keys are available. The comprehensive and technical statement can then be made available by a simple link from this page so those who do want access to this level of information can reach it quickly and easily. If this kind of resource was made available on every site, we’d stand a fighting chance of educating people longer term and potentially reducing user reliance on site widgits.

In the meantime, if you’re debating on whether to add a text size increase widgit to your site, consider the font size of your main page content. Have you significantly reduced it to, say, 86%? if you have, then there’s a good chance that some people may have problems reading and may not, yet, be able to increase text size in their own web browser. So add the widgit for the time being. It can’t hurt anyone by simply being available. Just don’t use it as an excuse to avoid the chance to teach as well.

The safest way of approaching this problem for the next few years is to support users while educating them. My only outstanding concern is how to we label these pages on a site menu? The average non-disabled user is unlikely to follow a link that says “Accessibility” compared to one that just says “Help”. However, the more experienced disabled users may actively look for an “Accessibility” link as they know that it offers the best chance of giving them the additional information that they may need to use the site effectively.

So how do we tackle that problem?

Published: October 5th 2007

2 Comments

  1. JBot

    Maybe something that says “adjust this site”.

  2. Black Widow

    Ideally it’s more than that though, isn’t it? It’s about adjusting your browser preferences/configuration so that more than just “this site” is affected.

    I’d seriously consider “Adjust your viewing” if only it weren’t so long.