Less is more on websites

A computer screen advertising the Jaws for Windows screen reading software.A study of blind users of websites has found that getting straight to the point is better for finding relevant information. Isn’t this a good criteria for everyone? With so much of our lives dependent on digital delivery methods, is it time for writers to carefully edit their work, and for web designers to minimise graphics? The article, Web accessibility: Filtering redundant and irrelevant information improves website usability for blind users, reports on a study of blind users and screen readers. As with captioning for people who are deaf, it is likely that considering blind users will also have benefits for many others. You will need institutional access for a free read.

Abstract: Accessibility norms for the Web are based on the principle that everybody should have access to the same information. Applying these norms enables the oralization of all visual information by screen readers used by people with blindness. However, compliance with accessibility norms does not guarantee that users with blindness can reach their goals with a reasonable amount of time and effort. To improve website usability, it is necessary to take into account the specific needs of users. A previous study revealed that a major need for users with blindness is to quickly reach the information relevant to the task, by filtering redundant and irrelevant information. We conducted three experiments in which seventy-six participants with blindness performed tasks on websites which filtered or not irrelevant and redundant information. Cognitive load was assessed using the dual-task paradigm and the NASA-RTLX questionnaire. The results showed a substantial benefit for information filtering regarding participants’ cognitive load, performance, and satisfaction. Thus, this study provides cogent arguments for improving usability of websites by information filtering for users with blindness.

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Tool to assess usability of smartphones

A black smartphone being held landscape with a blank white screenSmartphones could almost be considered “wearables” given that most people carry one at all times and refer to it often. Whether it is to socialise, get information, shop, or watch entertainment, they are a prominent part of many lives. Having easy to access content is now essential. It is therefore a growing area of universal design. Researchers in South Korea have tested and piloted a Checklist for Assessing Blind Users Usability of Educational Smartphone Applications.  Their paper is a chapter in a SpringerLink publication and requires institutional access for a free read, or it can be purchased. The abstract provides a good overview of the method and the results.

Abstract: The purpose of this study is to develop a checklist which specifically evaluates blind users’ usability of educational smartphone applications. To carry out this task, researchers developed checklist items based on the previous usability literature, evaluation tools, and research on e-learning and Web accessibility for users with/without blindness. As a result, a checklist with 29 items covering three levels of interface design (structure, behavior, presentation) was developed. In order to accomplish this, usability principles were first categorized into these three levels and then transformed to become relevant to the blind user. The initial version of the usability checklist items was reviewed and evaluated for their representativeness and comprehensibility by interface design experts and teachers of blind learners. Content validity index (CVI) and Cronbach αα values were calculated to check the validity and reliability of the tool. The revised second version was reviewed in the same way by a group of blind users, and CVI and Cronbach αα values were calculated as well. The final version was implemented by the blind user group for evaluating two learning applications. Reviewers’ comments were reflected in the second and final version as well. Evaluation results indicated low usability for both applications even when accessibility requirements were met.

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Digital world still scary to some

A close up of an ATM with a person holding their hand over the pin keyboard to hide their numbersOlder adults are still suspicious of digital transactions. This is one of the conclusions from a study in Ireland. It would be interesting to see if we would get similar results in Australia. With institutions such as Centrelink and Medicare going digital, it is important that we don’t leave people behind. This report, “A Social Policy Report of Older People’s Everyday Experiences of Banking and Telecommunication Providers in County Roscommon” gives some good insights into older people’s behaviours in this digital world. Using ATMs was not popular mainly due to concerns over safety, so there is still a preference to physically visit the bank. Online banking and telephone banking was not favoured either, in spite of many people having a smart phone and a computer. At least visiting the bank means an outing and some exercise for people who spend most of their time at home. Perhaps this should be factored into policies as well. The report lists the key findings at the front of the document. The Economist posted an article on a similar theme. Would be good to see an Australian study.

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Inclusive Digital Access: An inclusive training method

A blackboard with the words, I want to learn more about information science and technologyWalking the walk and talking the talk in training sessions is an important factor in adult learning. So when running a course on digital access, the course designer and facilitator needs to think about both their learners as well as the learners of those taking the course. The way to do this was the subject of an interesting Masters study in Canada using ethnographic techniques. The conclusion lists some useful points that every course designer and trainer should think about regardless of the topic.

In her introduction, Keshia Goodwin makes some pertinent points, “The result of a design is dependent on the outlook of the designer, and the design process they use. In very general terms, standard designs follow the standard design iteration process: define the problem, collect information, brainstorm and analyse, develop, test, revise, repeat. The designer continues this process until the design performs as expected. There may, or there may not be feedback from the potential user of the design while the designer tests for solutions.”
“While developing my design I learned that not only did the learners need to be aware of what an end user may need; I, the instructor, needed to be conscious of, and accommodate learning barriers to my end users. I needed to be inclusive in my instructional approach, and, be accommodating to what my audience may need when I delivered training. The design, at that point, had come full circle, being inclusive and accessible to learners, and to the learner’s future audience”

The title of the study is, Inclusive Access: An Inclusive Design Approach to Digital Accessibility Skills Training

 

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Digital Inclusion: Lessons from Australia

shows corner of a laptop and a smartphone on a deskProfessor Gerard Goggin’s latest publication about internet accessibility covers some history of digital inclusion in Australia as well as related social policy. He and his co-authors discuss how the legal action taken against the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games set a new standard in providing information in accessible formats. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) cites this case as how not to do web accessibility in “A Cautionary Tale of Inaccessibility: Sydney Olympics Website” (W3C, 2009).

However, little progress has been made since the Olympic Games in 2000 as any reporting on web accessibility compliance within the Australian government appears absent. In the United States, legislation is pushing the boundaries, but no such legislation exists in Australia. The article, Internet accessibility and disability policy: lessons for digital inclusion and equality from Australia, also discusses the nexus with the National Broadband Network, the NDIS, and other aspects of social policy. The article concludes, “As the Australian case shows, all these broader social aspects are important coordinates, when it comes to internet policy for digital inclusion to people with disabilities”.

Professor Goggin was a Keynote speaker at the 2nd Australian Universal Design Conference in 2016. You can download an edited transcript.

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Now listen carefully

young girl in a classroom setting looking at an iPadListen closely. To some people, these are words are of little help. No matter how carefully they attend, some of the words go missing. The result is reduced listening comprehension. Hearing aids, FM hearing augmentation systems, and cochlear implants do not provide the speech clarity required to understand every word that is said. This is where captioning comes to the rescue. Research into captioning in learning situations is showing how much students of any age can benefit. This is regardless whether they have good hearing or not.

Anyone who has clicked a YouTube video for Google automated captioning knows it is useless, albeit sometimes funny. Automated captioning programs have improved a lot lately. For example, Interact-AS is designed for school children from about age 7 upwards. The teacher wears a microphone and the in less than two seconds words appear on the student’s computer or tablet. The before and after results show both children and teachers just how much comprehension is being is being lost. 

You can read more about this technology and the benefits to students who didn’t realise how much they were missing. Children who are deaf or hard of hearing are usually diagnosed before they reach the age of 7. Low levels of hearing loss is not always apparent in children who, for example, might have experienced many ear infections. As a consequence they would miss out on the benefits of this technology. Perhaps this further research will reveal the need for routine hearing tests for all school age children. It will be interesting to see how this technology develops and how soon it will become mainstream for all students as an aid to staying focused and learning from both listening and reading. You can read more about the value of captioning in higher education settings for all students.

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Closed captions help all students

YouTube logo and Closed Captions logoWith tertiary education institutions turning to online learning and creating videos of lectures, the need to caption these videos could be more important for all students than first realised. The findings of this study show the need for more work in this area, but early results show that captioning benefits most students, with or without disability. This finding could transfer to the general community. 

“When queried whether captions were helpful, 99% of students reported they were helpful (5% slightly, 10% moderately, 35% very, 49% extremely). We were unable to determine differences among students with and without disabilities, as we did not track individual survey responses.” Interestingly, in this study 13% of respondents indicated having a disability, but only 6% were registered as such.

young female at a desk with laptop, coffee cup and notebookVarious reasons were given for the benefits of closed captioning – noise in their listening environment, unclear speech in the video, spelling of new or unfamiliar words, and being able to take notes just by stopping the video and not needing to rewind to listen again. Students with English as a second language also benefitted. Although these results show the need for more research, they found there was a 7% increase in student results compared to the previous year’s students who did not have captioning. The article also discusses the cost of captioning and other options, such as speech recognition. The title of the article is, Closed Captioning Matters: Examining the Value of Closed Captions for All Students, and is published in the Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 2016.

Editor’s note: Anyone who has seen the results of “automatic” online Google captioning will know that the results are very haphazard. It is good to see how captioning is now being seen within the scope of universal design and could be more widely applied.

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