Initial Thoughts on Accessibility and Usability (Blog 1)

At the end of last summer, I had the opportunity to observe a few usability tests of the University of Minnesota Libraries’ website (where I work). The Libraries’ new website had been live for over half a year, and the web development team wanted to continue testing and improving the site.

The usability tests I observed occurred in a permanent usability lab that had a one-way mirror, recording, eye-tracking technology, and more. As someone new to usability testing (I was representing front-line staff), I learned so much about our website just by watching two people work through different tasks that helped me work with patrons in the future I was even more impressed by the more detailed observations experienced usability testers made.

I think understanding accessibility and usability is vital in being able to provide the best and most equitable access to information to our patrons. Since watching these usability tests and doing some of the first readings, I am excited to learn more. I keep identifying additional ways the knowledge will be useful, even as someone who is not a web developer.

No Accessibility Checklist

One idea that was new to me that I had not considered was that accessibility is not something you can make a checklist for. While there are automated accessibility checkers available, they cannot test for everything (e.g., the quality and usefulness of the alt text provided). Accessibility seems to be more about an attitude and understanding you bring to design instead of something you check off your to-do list.

Consider Accessibility and Usability from the Start

Along with the last concept, that accessibility isn’t as black and white as many seem to think, the other idea that stood out to me from the readings was that we will be much more successful if we consider accessibility and usability from the start, not as something to add-on at the end. Additionally, I love the idea (or argument for considering accessibility more holistically) that a more accessible design is often a more usable, flexible design for everyone. As we talked about in class, we often believe that accessibility is a trade-off with catchy design. I wonder how much of that is true. I’d love to see examples of sites that are modern and eye-catching, while also fully accessible.

Originally cross-posted from St. Kate’s MLIS WordPress.

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