Author Archives: Whitney Quesenbery

The latest from Rosenfeld Media

The latest from Rosenfeld Media

  • Meet Vishnu

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    Vishnu  is one of the personas from our book, A Web for Everyone.  Personas have names and personal characteristics and abilities, along with aptitudes for using technology, and attitudes about their experiences. And, they have stories that provide details about their life.

    You can download an overview of all the personas from our Resources page. The personas images, created by Tom Biby,, are available on Flickr. Tune in for a new persona every Tuesday until all eight are posted.

    Vishnu: Engineer, global citizen with low vision

    A man sits at a desk with a computer and engineering equipment. He has a large print keyboard.
    I want to be on the same level as everyone else.

    These days, Singapore is a center of the world, and Vishnu is one of its global citizens. After graduating from one of India’s technology colleges, he went to a postgraduate program at the National University of Malaysia. His work on visualizing data landed him a job with a multinational medical technology company.

    Vishnu was diagnosed with glaucoma and his eyes have been getting steadily worse, despite treatment. He can adjust his monitor and his phone, but many of the technical programs he uses don’t have many options, so he has started using a screen magnifier and high-contrast mode.

    Like everyone in Singapore, he has several mobile phones. One connects him to his family in India, one is for work, and one is for personal use.

    He’s lucky to have good bandwidth at home and at work. Some of his colleagues from the university live in places with much more erratic connections. Even so, downloading large pages from European or U.S. servers can be slow.

    But, if he had one wish, it would be that people would write technical papers and websites more clearly. His English is good, but idiomatic expressions can still be hard.

    If I can adjust my screen, I can read comfortably

    The flexibility of the web helps Vishnu read more easily, especially when the site adjusts (Chapter 7) to his preferences. “I use a smaller window than I used to, because my vision kind of fades out at the edges. When I can, I make the whole page larger, so I can see the details in images better, too. Once I find a site that I can set up to read well, I stick with it—the BBC for international news, a cricket site. What I really want is for the web to look the way I need it to, not just a few favorite sites.”

    Translating in my head is easier with simpler sentences.

    In a global world, Vishnu is often reading in English, a task easier when the content is written clearly (Chapter 7). “In my field—we’re working on medical imaging for diagnostic testing—the professional papers are in English. No matter what language we speak in our daily lives, everyone in my company reads two other languages: software mathematics and English. It’s the international language. The concepts are complicated, so I really appreciate it when I find a paper where they are presented in clear language. It’s not just reading the paper itself—searching and navigating in English can be harder than reading the technical papers, where at least I know the jargon.”

    Snapshot of Vishnu

    • 48 years old
    • Engineering degree
    • Works for a medical software company on projects for international use
    • Born in India, finished graduate school in Malaysia, lives in Singapore
    • High tech all the way at work; two mobile phones and a laptop for personal use

    The A’s: Ability, Aptitude, Attitude

    • Ability: Speaks three languages: Gujarati, Hindi, English, and a little spoken Mandarin. Uses contrast adjustment to see the screen clearly
    • Aptitude: Expert user of technical tools; frustrated searching across languages
    • Attitude: Sees himself as a world citizen, and wants to be able to use any site

    Assistive Technology

    • Contrast adjustments
    • Screen magnification software
    • Personalized stylesheets for colors that make it easier to read text

    The Bigger Picture

    Source: The Lighthouse/WHO

    • An estimated 135 million people have partial sight.
    • Many people in south Asia speak at least three languages: their regional language, Hindi or Mandarin, and English.


    Meet Steven

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    Steven is one of the personas from our book, A Web for Everyone. Including people with disabilities in your research is not as hard as you thing. If you open up your recruiting, you may find people with a variety of abilities who are already part of your audience.

    You can download an overview of all the personas from our Resources page. The personas images, created by Tom Biby,, are available on Flickr. Tune in for a new persona every Tuesday until all eight are posted.

    Steven: Deaf graphic artist and ASL speaker

    A man signing to someone on his phone. Drawing tools are on the table in front of him
    My only disability is that everyone doesn’t sign.

    The nice thing about being a graphic artist is that most of the time his work can speak for itself.

    When he first started working, most reviews were done in meetings, but more and more his agency works with clients using online workspaces. He’s had some projects recently where all of the communication was through the web. Although he likes seeing live reactions, it’s easier for him to participate in the project forum discussions using text rather than audio. His iPhone has also been important. It was his first phone with a good way to do video chat so he could talk to his friends who sign.

    It’s annoying when videos on the web aren’t captioned. How is he supposed to learn about a new app if the only information is an animated video? Or if he’s the only one in the office who doesn’t get the joke?

    Like many people who learned ASL as their first language, Steven prefers sign, but reads text, since that’s most of what the web is. If a site is just a big wall of text, he’s likely to leave unless he knows it’s got the information he needs.

    Without captions, it’s meaningless to me

    There’s not much more to say about audio without video. Steven explains in Chapter 9 why captions are so important to him.”I love that there is so much visual information on the web, but when it comes to videos, why can’t people take the time to include me? For example, I was trying to learn how to use a new application, and the only instructions were in a screencast. I could sort of follow what they were doing, but when someone interpreted for me, I found out that I misunderstood an important point. It makes me so frustrated. I’m good at what I do, and don’t like being left out or having to ask someone to interpret information for me.”

    Snapshot of Steven

    • 38 years old
    • Art school
    • Graphic artist in a small ad agency
    • iPad, iPhone, MacBook Pro; good computer at work

    The A’s: Ability, Aptitude, Attitude

    • Ability: Native language is ASL; can speak and read lips; uses SMS/IM, Skype, and video chat
    • Aptitude: Good with graphic tools, and prefers visuals to text; poorspelling makes searching more difficult
    • Attitude: Can be annoyed about accessibility, like lack of captions

    Assistive Technology

    • Sign language
    • CART—Communication Access Real-Time Transcription—captions for meetings and phone calls
    • Captions
    • Video chat

    The Bigger Picture

    Source: Gallaudet University/U.S. Census,, Hearing Loss Association of America

    • 10.5 million (3.5%) people in the U.S. are deaf or have a significant hearing loss and 48 million people in the U.S. report some degree of hearing loss.
    •  500,000 to 2 million people use American Sign Language (ASL).
    • Sign is not a universal language. There are national versions around the world, such as Auslan (Australian Sign Language) and three different sign languages in Japan.


    Finding the “right” statistics

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    The personas in A Web for Everyone, like all personas, put a face on data and user research, showing examples of how real people with real disabilities use technology and the web.  But we also wanted to show how these personas fit into a bigger view of the audience for a web site or mobile app, so we also included statistics about how many people are similar to them.

    When we started our research, this seemed like a pretty simple task. All we wanted was some quantitative statistics on disability from a reliable source. It didn’t turn out to be that easy.

    Different methods, different numbers

    First, it turns out that different countries collect disability statistics in different ways, making them difficult to compare and consolidate. We decided to concentrate on the United States, both for consistency and because we could find resources easily.

    The U.S. Bureau of the Census seemed like a pretty solid source. We used the annual Facts for Features  issued on the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In 2011, it reported 36 million people with a disability (12% of the population) including:

    • 10.2 million people with a hearing difficulty
    • 6.5 million people with a vision difficulty
    • 13.5 million people who have difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions
    • 19.4 million people who have difficult walking or climbing stairs

    Then, we learned that the way the Census reports disability has changed over the years. For example the total number of people with a disability in the U.S. has varied from 33 million to 57 million. Apparently it’s not a simple question to ask, even when experts are asking the questions.

    And it gets even more complex. Advocacy groups use other research sources to estimate the number of people with specific disabilities. The Hearing Loss Association of America, for example, estimates that 48 million adults in the U.S. report some degree of hearing loss. That adds up to 19% of the population.

    How does this apply to UX?

    The simplest lesson is that these numbers are very big. Even if only 10% of the overall population has one type of disability, that’s a lot. Are you prepared to tell your company that an accessibility problem might be making it impossible for 10% (or even 20%) of the audience to use your site? That could be a lot of lost business.

    A more nuanced answer is that disability is not a clear bright line. Like so many other things about human beings, it’s a spectrum.  People not only have different degrees of disability, but are equally diverse in other ways, like how well they use technology to make the web easier to use or their preferences for how to get information. Maybe broader definitions are more valuable in thinking about the audience for a web site or app because it makes a better case for paying attention all the ways a site should support accessibility:

    • Some things are like an on-off switch: your site either has them or it doesn’t. If images do not have alt text, they are invisible to people who can’t see them. If video doesn’t have captions, the greatest audio track in the world is useless to someone with hearing loss.
    • Some are the kind where improving usability and the user experience helps everyone. Clear communication is easier for everyone to understand and can make all the difference to someone who doesn’t read well. Minimizing the effort it takes to interact with a form helps people with limited dexterity or who live with chronic fatigue and pain, and people using mobile phones on the go.

    We shouldn’t minimize the importance of statistics. They are the analytics of public policy and the numbers can matter.  But it’s easy to get caught up in quantifying a problem precisely when the real message is, “It’s big.”

    What we really need to do is start designing for everyone. So no one is left out.

    Meet Lea

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    Lea is one of the personas from our book, A Web for Everyone.  Personas are used as stand-ins for all of the real users during the design process so that we remember to put people first, considering how we can make their experience an excellent one.

    You can download all eight personas from our Resources page. The personas images, created by Tom Biby,, are available on Flickr.

    Lea: Editor, living with fatigue and pain

    A woman sits at a desk. She's wearing a mic and earphone and leaning on her arm.
    No one gets that this really is a disability.

    Lea was on track to become the editor of the magazine she worked for when she started having numbness in her hands and feeling completely fatigued by the middle of the afternoon. She tried medications and exercise and getting enough sleep, but finally she had to make a change in her life.

    She found a job where she could work from home, on her own schedule. When she has good days, it’s like nothing is wrong. But on bad days, she measures every action so she can make it through the day. Sometimes that important editorial meeting is all she can manage.

    She had to adjust her computer: a new keyboard and trackball make it easier to type, and a good chair helps her avoid tender muscles. The biggest change was learning to write and edit using speech recognition software, Dragon Naturally Speaking.

    She’s lucky: the company understands that it’s a real disability. With an invisible disability like fibromyalgia, some people just don’t get it.

    Don’t make me work so hard

    A mouse may look simple, but Lea prefers to interact though the keyboard, as she explains in Chapter 5. “I love my keyboard. I tried dozens until I found one that fits my hands perfectly, so I hardly have to move to type. Maybe you think I’m a bit over the top, but it makes a difference for me by the end of the day. Using a mouse takes more energy than you think, and I have to conserve mine if I’m going to make it through the day. So do me a favor and let me use my keyboard for everything. OK?”

    Links at the top of the page make navigation easier for me

    Little things can make a difference. Good navigation (Chapter 6) can make using the web easier for Lea. “I like pages with links at the top of the page. It’s really helpful on long pages with a lot of sections. I can figure out what’s on the page without a lot of work. When I first saw a link to jump to the content, I didn’t know what it was for, but it sure made navigating with a keyboard easier.”

    Snapshot of Lea

    • 35 years old
    • Masters degree
    • Writes for a trade publication; works from home

    The A’s: Ability, Aptitude, Attitude

    • Ability: Fatigue from fibromyalgia, trackball, and special keyboard
    • Aptitude: Average user
    • Attitude: Wishes people would understand how hard it can be for her to make it through the day

    Assistive Technology

    • Split keyboard for less strain on her wrists

    • Keyboard controls to minimize arm movement
    • Dragon Naturally Speaking

    The Bigger Picture

    Source: National Institutes of Health

    • 5 million people in the U.S. have fibromyalgia, 80–90% of them are women.
    • People with fibromyalgia and related diseases like lupus, ankylosing spondylitis, and rheumatoid arthritis have increased sensitivity to pain.

    Meet Jacob

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    Jacob is one  of the personas from our book, A Web for Everyone. It can be hard to think about using the web in ways that are different from your own experience. These personas helped us think about all the  different people who are served by innovative, accessible, universal design.

    You can download an overview of all eight personas from our Resources page. The personas images, created by Tom Biby,, are available on Flickr. Tune in for a new persona every Tuesday until all eight are posted.

    Jacob: Blind paralegal and a bit of a geek

    A man sits at a computer with headphones and a Braille keyboard
    The right technology lets me do anything.

    Jacob is a paralegal in a large law firm. He reviews cases and writes summaries, cross-referencing them to the firm’s own cases and clients. He’s building expertise in his area of law and is hoping to go to law school in a year or so.

    As far as Jacob is concerned, it’s the technology that’s handicapped, not him. When everything is in place, he can work just as fast and just as effectively as anyone in his office.

    He’s a bit of a gadget geek, always trying out new tools, looking for a little edge and something new. The last few years have been a lot of fun with all the new apps, and VoiceOver on his Mac and phone lets him use most of them pretty well. He likes the challenge of learning new tools.

    His other challenge is running. He’s training for a 10K run, running with a club in his neighborhood and using an app to plan his routes and track his distance.

    He’s just started to use The iPhone app, Passbook, and uses it to get train tickets and other travel. The regional rail system has an app, so he can just pull up the barcode and scan it at the ticket office. No fumbling for the right printed card—total independence. Same phone as everyone. Same app as everyone, and it all just works.

    This makes it possible to do my job

    Jacob relies on sites and apps that are built well, in this story from Chapter 4. “They say that on the Internet, no one knows who you are. That’s really true for me. I think there are people in my company who don’t know I’m blind—they only see me through email or the case summaries I write. When a site works with my screen reader, I have control over my own experience. I can preview the content on the page by listening to all the headings on the page. I’m confident I know I’m putting the right information in the right field on a form. Best of all, I’m no different from anyone else—and I’m faster than some of my co-workers, if you want to know the truth.

    “When a website is not accessible, or I run into broken links or forms, it’s really frustrating. Sometimes I miss important information because it’s hidden from my screen reader. Or I have to spend a lot of time figuring out what’s going on. I just want to be able to do things for myself, and when sites are broken, I can’t.”

    “Seeing color”

    A good app can provide information Jacob need. Like color. “You might wonder why a blind person needs to know about colors. I can put labels in my clothes so I don’t end up with clashing colors, but sometimes I need to know what color something is, like when someone tells me to get the “red folder.” One of the coolest apps I’ve found recently lets me point my phone’s camera at anything and then it reads the color name back to me. Is that a red pepper or a green pepper? It’s a whole new kind of independence. That’s a practical use, but I learned about this app from an article that had this poetic description of walking around a garden hearing all the different colors described. He called it mind-blowing. I agree.”

    Snapshot of Jacob

    • 32 years old
    • College graduate, legal training courses
    • Shares an apartment with a friend
    • Paralegal, reviews cases and writes case summaries
    • Laptop, braille display, iPhone

    The A’s: Ability, Aptitude, Attitude

    • Ability: Blind since birth with some light perception
    • Aptitude: Skilled technology user
    • Attitude: Digital native, early adopter, persists until he gets it

    Assistive Technology

    • Screen reader (JAWS on his laptop, VoiceOver on his phone)
    • Audio recorder (to take notes)
    • Braille display

    The Bigger Picture

    Source: World Health Organization, Census

    • People with visual disabilities make up about 2.6% of the world’s population (about 0.6% are blind).
    • In the U.S., about 1.8 million people can’t easily see printed words.
    • Only about 10% of people who are blind can read and write braille.

    Accessibility Standards: An interview with Mike Paciello

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    An edited version of this interview appears in Chapter 4 of A Web for Everyone.

    Photo of MikeMike Paciello has been a leader in promoting information and communication technology accessibility since the 1980s. He helped launch the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), was an author on the first version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), and co-led the 2008 rewrite of the Section 508/Section 255 standards.

    He’s also the founder and president of The Paciello Group (TPG), a consultancy working with software companies to make their products accessible, which means he’s also Sarah’s boss.

    We wanted to learn from Mike about the making of accessibility standards, and whether future iterations might be more “user-friendly.”

    An early commitment to people and technology

    Michael Paciello is founder and president of The Paciello Group (TPG), a software consultancy concerned with web and software accessibility. Mike has been closely involved with information and communication technology accessibility since the 1980s and played a lead role in developing accessibility standards for industry and government. He helped launch the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) within the Worldwide Web Consortium, was an author on the first version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), and co-led the 2008 rewrite of the Section 508/Section 255 standards. From early in his career, Mike saw technology as a powerful enabler, and was compelled to make that potential available to everyone. “I feel an incredible obligation and responsibility to people—particularly, people with disabilities—and to technology.” His commitment is evidenced by his work.

    Mike began his technology career in the stockroom at Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). At the time, DEC still had a paper-based process for managing stockroom transactions, which was somewhat ironic for a technology company. Curious and industrious by nature, Mike taught himself enough programming to design and build a stockroom inventory database, and he moved the stockroom processes online.

    Beginning to explore accessible electronic documents

    Mike’s talents were quickly recognized, and Mike moved to a new position as technical writer. As part of DEC’s documentation team, Mike was responsible for preparing technical guides for operating systems such as RSX, RT-11, and VMS, and software products written in COBOL, FORTRAN, Basic, and C. In this role, Mike became involved with making electronic documents accessible to blind and low-vision users.

    DEC had a long-standing relationship with the National Braille Press. DEC provided NBP with technical guides, which they converted to braille. This was before Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs), and computer interaction was text based. Text-to-speech was a relatively common and usable interface for blind and low vision users, and there was a demand for braille versions of operating system and software guides. At DEC, Mike volunteered as the liaison with the National Braille Press, and with this task, he began his quest to make information and communication technologies accessible for people with disabilities.

    “The moment I take something on, I want to really understand it and figure out what it’s all about.” What he learned in visiting the braille production facilities at National Braille Press was astounding. To convert the documentation, people retyped the text into a “braille typewriter” of sorts, and the text was then output to braille. Bear in mind that a single page of text equals about three pages of braille. “It would take them a year to produce one book.” The typical DEC documentation usually spanned several volumes and was regularly updated. “I asked, why not convert everything electronically? But they said there was no way to do that.”

    Mike’s interest was piqued. How to make large, complex documents usable and accessible generally, and specifically, how to provide usability to blind and low vision users? Fortunately, his timing was good. Mike started to explore electronic document accessibility right around the birth of the web.

    Markup languages bring meaning to electronic documents

    In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Mike started working with SGML. “I thought, how about we use a markup language on an electronic document, and then a braille translator can read the markup language and produce braille?” He also realized that accessibility for blind and low vision users meant more than braille—that large text and listening to text were also commonly used, and a markup language had the potential of providing accessibility in those contexts as well.

    Others concerned with accessibility were also exploring SGML. “Markup languages such as SGML were starting to become a common denominator for designing electronic documents for the blind and low-vision community.” At the first World Congress on Accessibility in 1991, Mike joined forces with colleagues to create the International Committee for Accessible Document Design (ICADD). This group created the first international specification for accessible electronic documents: ICADD-22. An “annex” to the ISO 12083 standard, it included 22 tags that could be used to map information elements in any document. ICADD-22 was to become an important contribution to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and accessibility elements in HTML.

    Accessible electronic documentation helps everyone

    Back at DEC, Mike was getting good support for his efforts. “Digital [DEC] was a fantastic company to work for because they encouraged that kind of emerging technology involvement.” Mike started a new program called the Vision Impaired Information Services. VIIS produced the first mass-produced CD-ROM of electronic documentation, built using SGML and the ICADD-22 standard. The documentation could be read by screen readers, magnified on the screen, and output to braille. He had come full circle, solving the challenge of converting DEC’s technical guides to braille that had set him out on this path.

    Interestingly, the VIIS CD-ROM also became popular in the sighted community. DEC’s standard documentation was available in a propriety format that could only be read using their Bookreader software. Since the VIIS documentation was built using SGML, an open, nonproprietary format, people soon realized they could read the guides using their preferred software. Sales for the VIIS documentation went up and began to adversely impact sales for DEC’s Bookreader version—another instance of design for disabilities benefitting everyone.

    A pioneer for web accessibility

    In 1995, Mike launched WebABLE, the first website dedicated to web accessibility for people with disabilities. The Worldwide Web Consortium had started up in 1994, and Mike got involved, creating the accessibility web pages for the W3C. He and other accessibility colleagues started an informal W3C working group called the Web Accessibility Project, focused on integrating accessibility into HTML. “The groundwork we started back then, in 1994 and 1995, ultimately became what most people know as the first Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.” They used the ICADD-22 specification and several documents including the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Trace Center and WGBH’s National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) web accessibility guidelines as the basis for extending HTML for accessibility. Since HTML derives from SGML, key elements were in the standard. However, none was connected to accessibility. “The alt attribute didn’t come out until later versions of HTML.”

    In 1995, Jim Miller and Tim Berners-Lee at the W3C asked Mike to help create a more formal and extensive accessibility effort within the W3C. “The conversation went something like, ‘We’ve been contacted by the federal government and asked to consider creating a formalized program in the W3C to deal with accessibility and disabilities. We would like you to do it. Are you interested?’” Mike, Jim Miller, and Daniel Dardailler of the W3C designed the program and named it the Web Accessibility Initiative, or WAI. In April of 1997, the initiative was announced at the Worldwide Web Conference in Santa Clara, California. By this time, Mike had been asked to direct the Yuri Rubinsky Insight Foundation (YRIF). Yuri Rubinsky, a well-respected advocate of SGML and accessibility, had been a close colleague and a key collaborator on ICADD-22 and the Web Accessibility Project. With WAI designed and launched, Mike continued his work with W3C on HTML specifications and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines as Executive Director of the Yuri Rubinsky Insight Foundation.

    During the next years, Mike was involved with several accessibility initiatives, including the Section 508 working group in 1998, his own WebABLE site and consultancy, and the first book on web accessibility, Web Accessibility for People with Disabilities, published in 2000. In 2002, Mike launched The Paciello Group (TPG), a business specializing in web and software accessibility. He could see the lines blurring between the web and software and wanted to improve accessibility for both. “I was convinced that eventually everything on the desktop was going to move to the web—imagine that.”

    Helping set standards for web accessibility

    In 2006, the Access Board asked Mike to co-chair a new Section 508/Section 255 Advisory Committee. He and Jim Tobias led the effort to create a series of recommended guidelines that encompassed both Section 255, or the Disabled Persons’ Telecommunications Access, and Section 508. They also broadened involvement in the process to include international participation. The committee was composed of 41 organizations, from disability groups and technology companies, and included participants from Canada, Europe, Asia, and Australia.

    They took a different approach with the new guidelines. “We turned it from a product-based standard into a characteristic-based standard, so it would be completely platform neutral.” In addition, they broadened the guidelines to include themes from usability and interoperability, and to address concerns of other disabilities, including issues around cognition. The group benefited from the work on version two of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. They were able to incorporate WCAG standards in areas of Section 508 that pertain to the web. In April 2008, the group presented the new, improved Section 508 to the Access Board. As of this writing (in 2013), the new rules are (still) working their way through the federal rule-making process.

    From Mike’s perspective, the current process of creating technology and legal standards is flawed. “It takes years for the formalization and acceptance of standards.” He advocates a rolling process, where elements can be added and changed more readily to keep the standards viable. But Mike is hopeful about the potential impact of the new Section 508. Awareness about accessibility is at an all-time high, as is government recognition of the need for accessibility standards. Mike predicts that once the Section 508 standards become law, they will be used as “the model for all other major government mandates worldwide.”

    Meet Emily

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    Emily is one of the personas from our book, A Web for Everyone. Personas combine research data from many sources into a fictional but realistic character. They are a great way to make sure your team considers the diversity of needs among visitors to your site.

    You can download an overview of all eight personas from our Resources page. The personas images, created by Tom Biby,, are available on Flickr. Tune in for a new persona every Tuesday until all eight are posted.

    Emily: Cerebral palsy, living independently

    A young woman in a motorized wheelchair, walks with a service dog.
    “I want to do everything for myself.”

    Emily is determined to do things for herself, so she’s tried a lot of different keyboards and joysticks over the years, looking for the right kind of interaction. Speech is difficult for her, so she uses a communications program with speech output.

    It’s slow for her to type with limited use of her fingers. She has stored many phrases and sentences, and can make the program speak for her more easily.

    The iPad turned out to be one of the best solutions. Mounted on the scooter, it’s always within reach, and touch works better than a keyboard and a joystick. In some situations, it can replace her older communications program.

    Instant messaging and social media have also been great. The short formats work well for her, and text can be a more comfortable way to communicate than speech. Her latest discovery is an app that scans the area to show her what shops and restaurants are in each direction. “I look like a dancing fool spinning my scooter around, but it saves me a lot of time finding someplace new.”

    Simpler screens are easier screens

    For Emily, simplicity isn’t just a nice-to-have, as she explains in Chapter 3. “I love having a tablet computer. It’s small enough to go everywhere with me. However, being small can also mean that the whole page gets small and crowded, and that makes it harder for me to use the site. I can’t tell you how often I’ve gone zooming off to the wrong link or couldn’t hit the right button. The ones I like seem to have everything in the right place. It’s like they read my mind and put the things I need on the screen when I need them.”

    Tell me what I need in advance

    It’s not that hard to delight Emily. Just don’t disappoint her, as happened in this story from Chapter 9. “When I go online, I just want to do things like everyone else. Most of the time, my disability doesn’t slow me down, but when you mix having to get around in the real world with online forms, it can be a perfect storm of annoying barriers. Today, I’m trying to sign up for a seminar at my college. Why can’t they tell me all the documents I’ll need before I start this process? I got the form filled out, but when I went into the office this morning, I discovered that I needed to bring other documents with me. The online form didn’t say anything about it. The whole trip was a big waste.”

    Snapshot of Emily

    • 24 years old
    • Graduated from high school and working on a college degree
    • Lives in a small independent living facility
    • Works part-time at a local community center

    The A’s: Ability, Aptitude, Attitude

    • Ability: Cerebral palsy, difficult to use hands and has some difficulty speaking clearly; uses a motorized wheel chair
    • Aptitude: Uses the computer well, with the right input device; good at finding efficient search terms
    • Attitude: Wants to do everything for herself; can be impatient

    Assistive Technology

    • Augmented & Alternative Communication (AAC) with speech generator
    • iPad
    • Scooter with joystick control

    The Bigger Picture

    Source: Harris Interactive/National Association on Disability, “The ADA, 20 Years Later” July 2010, United Cerebral Palsy/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

    • 800,000 children and adults in the U.S. have one of the forms of cerebral palsy.
    • People with disabilities are often unemployed or underemployed. Among all U.S. working age (18–64) people with disabilities, only 21% are employed full- or part-time.


    Simple and Usable: An interview with Giles Colborne

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    An edited version of this interview appears in Chapter 3 of A Web for Everyone.

    Photo of GilesGiles Colborne is co-founder of cxpartners, a design consultancy specializing in strategy- and research-driven approaches for designing websites and web applications. With a rigorous practice of user research and usability testing, cxpartners creates simple, easy-to-use designs, paying particular attention to global accessibility.

    In his book Simple and Usable: Web, Mobile, and Interaction Design, Giles teaches the art and science of achieving simplicity in interface design. We wanted to learn from Giles how accessibility can impact a simple, purposeful design approach, and vice versa.

    Simplicity is good science, and good interface design

    Giles comes to interface design from a background in science. As a physics student, simplicity was impressed on him as the mark of good science. “The whole purpose of the scientific endeavor is to pack reality back down into a handful of equations.” He credits his background for his enthusiasm for approaching a seemingly complex interface challenge and seeking the path to the simplest solution. “It doesn’t strike me as paradoxical, it strikes me as rather beautiful that you can do that.”

    In practice, most interfaces we encounter don’t reflect Giles’ enthusiasm for simplicity. “People make software very difficult to use by loading on features.” The result is software that requires its users to practice and reuse the tool before they are able to become proficient.

    Giles uses kitchen gadgets to illustrate the simple and usable spectrum:

    On the one end you have a kitchen you need to wade through because you have a specialist tool for every task. On the other, you have a powerful, flexible, general-purpose tool, but you have to put in thought and time to become proficient with it. When people design software they tend create specialist tools or general-purpose tools. What we need are tools that fall into the happy medium.

    Simple designs put complexity in its place

    In one project, Giles worked on improving the interface for a travel planner. The software tapped into a vast store of data, of places to see and things to do. Each item had layers of related and potentially pertinent information, such as location, time to get there, time needed to visit, hours of operation, and more. The wealth of data powering the travel planner would allow for incredible accuracy, allowing users to plan their travel down to the minute. “When we put the interface together, it totally bombed. The app was constantly saying, ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that, you haven’t done enough of this.’ It was so hard to use, and so unforgiving.”

    Giles went back to the drawing board and reworked the fundamental approach. Rather than have the software identify possible options, he had users create lists of locations and places that were of interest to them. The computer didn’t try to work out whether or not the itinerary was practical—though it did give people enough data to figure that out for themselves, if they wanted to. “People are good at imagining the future. Computers are good at remembering stuff. By handing off the task of imagining to the user and the task of remembering to the computer, it all worked out.”

    The initial software approach was feature rich, and resulted in what Giles calls “a magnificent soufflé” of an interface, in keeping with his kitchen metaphor. In seeking the happy medium of simple and usable, he needed to adjust the overall approach to better fit the nature of the task. “The process taught me a powerful lesson about where complexity belongs, who should own it.”

    Observe real people to learn what’s needed

    Giles’ practice is informed by user research. From his perspective, it’s not possible to create effective designs without learning from people. “You can’t make safe predictions about how things are going to work until you engage with the audience.” And engaging with real people, not through imagined personas or user stories.

    People fall in love with pen portraits of their users. Not their real users—the users they’d like to have: young, attractive, happy, active, outdoorsy, not distracted, completely able-bodied. When you bring real users to the testing and design process, the reality is that there’s much more variability.

    Giles finds that some of the greatest insights come from studying how people work in extreme circumstances. For one project, Giles investigated how people with ADHD manage their condition as a way of understanding more broadly how to design for distracted users. “Everyone operates under some kind of duress that degrades their performance, and yet we design stuff in nice quiet offices and reflect on the design and interface and take a long time discussing something that a user needs to do in a fraction of a second.” By asking therapists how people with attention issues manage to keep focus, Giles generalized simple and usable designs that would work for anyone who was distracted when using the software.

    Giles also does a great deal of testing with users across the globe. “We haven’t tested in Antarctica yet, but we’ve tested pretty much everywhere else.” Testing with global users yields insights that also resonate with accessibility. For example, creating a design that can adapt when changing the language from English to Chinese. The design must be flexible enough to enlarge the Chinese characters about 20 percent, so the many small details in the characters are legible. “That sense of flexibility in presentation is at the core of what you’re thinking about when you’re thinking about designing for accessibility.”

    Designing for multiple devices supports accessibility

    Given all he has learned from observing global users with a wide range of abilities, Giles does not believe it’s possible to create a single design that works for everyone. “Everyone who has a disability comes up with their own method for accessing technology. You can’t say, ‘Disabled people do this’, or, ‘This is what’s happening.’ In the end, we need to fall back on generalities, and design solutions that work for the maximum number of people.” However, new design approaches might change his thinking.

    In the past years Giles has seen significant change in how design is done, in large part due to the diversity of devices and platforms. In the past he would have done detailed wireframes and mockups before handing the design over to be coded. Now, to accommodate the full range of devices, design involves creating information hierarchies rather than layout of pages. Instead of Photoshop mockups, prototypes are done in code, with designs and layouts that respond to different viewports. He believes this change in practice may move us closer to designs that are simple and usable, for everyone.

    As soon as you start to think about how navigation appears on a small screen, you start to focus on information hierarchies that also work well for accessibility. On a small screen you don’t want navigation, and then you scroll down and there’s content. You want content and then scroll down and there’s navigation. And of course that’s what you want for a screen reader as well.  This discipline of designing for multiple platforms and environments makes you start to think in useful ways about accessibility.


    Meet Trevor

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    Trevor is one of the personas from our book, A Web for Everyone.  The first step in creating an accessible user experience – as with any UX work – is to know your audience. And that includes people with disabilities. People are the first consideration, so you can design needs of everyone in the audience in mind.

    You can download an overview of all eight personas from our Resources page. The personas images, created by Tom Biby,, are available on Flickr. Tune in for a new persona every Tuesday until all eight are posted.

    Trevor:  High school student with autism

    A young man reads a tablet. Three pencils are neatly lined up on the table near him.
    “I like consistent, familiar places on the web.”

    Trevor is a bright 18-year-old who plays games and watches music videos on his laptop. He lives at home with his parents and younger sister. He attends a special school where the teachers and staff can help with his social and communication challenges from his Autism Spectrum Disorder, while he works to pass his high school exams.

    He has problems with visual information and recognizing things on the page, and his reading skills are not helped by his trouble concentrating on the page or screen long enough to read. His teachers showed him how to make the text bigger on the page, and told him how to use a printable view to hide all the ads with moving images that distract him, because he reads every word on the page very carefully and literally. He can be easily confused by colloquialisms and metaphors. He can also be overwhelmed by sites that offer too many choices.

    He likes using the school’s forum to talk to his friends. It’s easier to just read what they want to say than to listen and try to figure out their facial expressions.

    He shares a laptop with the family, but has first dibs on it because his parents want him to get his schoolwork done. He uses it for homework, but he really likes games with repetitive actions. He doesn’t like new sites much, in the same way that he doesn’t like any changes in his routine: they are tolerated, but not encouraged.

    When I can learn the pattern, I can find my way.

    Talking about wayfinding (in Chapter 6), Trevor says, “I like games. The ones where you have to find your way around a maze are good because I can go over them, and I can learn how they work. It’s OK to get lost and have to figure out a game.

    “But when I’m trying to find something, like an assignment for school, I don’t like getting lost. I want to know where I’m going—because it’s easier, and it’s easier to find things again when I need them. When it’s clear and I can tell where I am, I like the site. It’s like learning how to walk to school on my own. I practiced finding my landmarks, so I would know where to turn. I know that it’s 500 steps from 1st Avenue to the first street I have to cross. Just like I know what to click on to get to my history class page on my school’s website.”

    Reading is hard for me

    He also talks about how hard reading is for him (in Chapter 8). It takes me a long time to read things. My teachers want me to work on my vocabulary, but I’d rather just find easier pages to read. Instructions are really hard for me. Going back and forth between the instructions and what I have to do is very, very distracting. Sometimes I’m trying to read, and I get interested in something on the side of the page and forget what I’m supposed to be doing. But sometimes, I get really involved in what I’m reading and keep going, even after I found what I’m looking up. It can take me a very long time to do any homework assignment. I wish websites were more like books, with nothing to distract me.”

    Snapshot of Trevor

    • 18 years old
    • Lives with family
    • Goes to high school
    • Computers at school; laptop at home; basic mobile phone with SMS

    The A’s: Ability, Aptitude, Attitude

    • Ability: Autism Spectrum Disorder. Uses larger text and a program that hides everything but the text, so he doesn’t get distracted
    • Aptitude: Uses the computer well for games, but doesn’t learn new sites easily
    • Attitude: Prefers familiar sites in an established routine

    Assistive Technology

    • Text preference settings
    • Chat and forums
    • Power keyboard user

    The Bigger Picture

    Source: Autism & Developmental Disability Monitoring Network/CDC

    • 1 in 88 children in the U.S. have Autism Spectrum Disorder, ranging from severe to mild social and communications challenges, from classic autism to Asperger’s.
    • 5 times more boys than girls are diagnosed with ASDs.
    • The majority do not have an intellectual disability.

    Happy Birthday!

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    The launch of a book is like a birthday. Something new to celebrate.  On their birthdays, hobbits are expected to give gifts to their friends. In that tradition, we have posted some things we hope you will find useful:

    • The Accessible UX principles and guidelines – the heart of the book
    • A cross-reference between the WCAG 2.0 and the AUX principles and guidelines
    • An overview of the eight personas we created to illustrate the diverse ways people use the web

    You can read or download them from the Resources page in printable and accessible formats.

    Each chapter in the book includes a profile of someone whose work helped make the web more accessible. Sarah recorded deep, thoughtful conversations, and, naturally, we had more material than fit in the printed pages. We hated leaving so much goodness on the cutting room floor, so we will post a longer version of each interview here every week or so until they are all online.

    We will also post the full version of the personas, so you can use them in your own work. We hope they will help you think about the many different people in your audience and how to make the web work for them.

    So, happy birthday to A Web for Everyone. One stage ends, and the next adventure begins.

    Whitney (@whitneyq) and Sarah (@gradualclearing)