PEAT Talks Recap: User Testing for Accessibility

Are we at a tipping point with regards to employer awareness of the importance of accessible technologies in the workplace? In the March PEAT Talks, Sharron Rush, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Knowbility, was optimistic that things are starting to change, and offered several tips for employers.  

First, what do we mean by “accessibility” vs. “usability?” According to Sharron, most people are familiar with accessibility standards, either Section 508 or WCAG. While the International Standards Organization (ISO) has adopted WCAG as the accessibility standard, it also has a usability standard. ISO 9241 defines usability as “…efficiency and satisfaction with which specified users achieve specified goals in particular environments.”

Sharron suggested the term “usable accessibility.” People with disabilities should be able to effectively and efficiently acquire the same information, perform the same interactions, and actively produce and consume content with satisfaction. How can we measure satisfaction?  By asking actual users.

Sharron recommends that employers in the market for accessible technologies recruit a diverse panel of users with disabilities to help guide purchasing decisions. A diverse group would include people with many different disabilities, such as speech, hearing, mobility, vision and cognitive. Indeed, technologies that are accessible to those with cognitive disabilities (such as dyslexia, ADHD, autism) are increasingly recognized as a critical need. It’s also important to recruit outside testers, rather than just your current employees. After all, employees with disabilities who are constantly asked to test are taking time away from doing their jobs. And they may also not be representative of everyone who will use the technology.

Putting together a panel of users is not as daunting as it may sound, and accessibility consultants can help. Making user testing a standard part of technology procurement will improve accessible technology in the workplace, help workers be more productive, and likely save employers money and time in the long run.

One last tip: employers should be cautious of relying heavily on VPATs (Voluntary Product Accessibility Template) when evaluating technologies. While not having a VPAT is a definite red flag, having one doesn’t necessarily mean the technology is accessible–or usable. User testing is really the best way to uncover the actual accessibility–and therefore usability–of a technology.

Check out the PEAT Talks video, and share your thoughts and comments. How important is user testing? Does your employer include user testing when making a technology purchase?

 PEAT Talks is a monthly virtual speaker series to showcase organizations and individuals whose work is advancing accessible technology in the workplace. Held the third Thursday of every month at 2pm ET, these events are designed to be energetic and interactive discussions highlighting a spectrum of exciting work. Featured speakers will deliver a 10- to 15- minute talk and then field questions from attendees. To see upcoming events in this series, please visit our calendar.