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While user research and role-based design are essential to a good user experience, accessibility gives us a range of simple and effective ways we can lift user experience from good to great.
To help our people reach their personal productive best we need to think like an Olympic coach training elite athletes. We seek out ways to fine tune both body and mind for best performance.
Accessibility shows us how to augment performance and reduces barriers for all users – enabling them to “Go for Gold”.
A few days ago on a solution review of a large Australian banking customer’s Fiori implementation I was interested and encouraged to hear our sponsor say…
“We want this review to make sure [our Fiori apps and Fiori Launchpad dashboards] are tuned to maximize user performance, not just system performance”
Another local customer in the mining industry expressed their goal for user experience as
“bringing out the best that is already in our people”
These are enlightened viewpoints that go to the heart of great enterprise user experience – hitting the sweet spot between:
- Viability – what works for the business
- Feasibility – what works for IT
- Desirability – what works for real users
Getting those right at least gets our team an entry into the productivity race. Getting those right ensures users, business, and IT are all focussed on the same goal.
Getting a medal takes more. We need to remove barriers that can get in the way of user performance. This is exactly where accessibility augments user experience design and development.
Let’s look at 3 examples of how accessibility helps us remove barriers that get in people’s way. Making a better and more productive user experience for everyone.
Don’t Make Me Think
READABILITY: Make the phrases, statements, and questions in your apps and dashboards easy to understand. Accessibility explains that reading complex text requires additional mental processing effort.
“Text that uses short, common words and short sentences is easier to decode and usually requires less advanced reading ability than text that uses long sentences and long or unfamiliar words.” WCAG 2.0 Success Criteria 3.1.5 Reading Level
Improving readability leads to:
- Faster comprehension
- Quicker reaction time
- Greater accuracy
- Fewer errors
Readability tests, such as Flesch-Kincaid, commonly used in accessibility today were commissioned by the U.S. Military to improve the readability of technical manuals.
Here are a couple of questions I have seen recently in productive apps on actual SAP customer sites:
1. “Are any of the children you’re claiming for under the age of 18, (or a child of an adult child maintenance court order) and unmarried, and not living in a de facto relationship?”
2. “Is the new business that’s been trading less than 12 months?”
Question 1 was created by a business expert with deep knowledge of the business process. They want to reduce the number of questions so they came up with this complicated multi-part question. This measures are Flesch-Kincaid grade level 12.7 – 12th Grade (Senior year high school – 17-18 years old) and Gunning-Fog index 15.3, i.e. College Junior level.
And it’s the first question on the form! I’m guessing quite a few people give up at this point and ring the support desk contact number instead. If the aim was to engage more people to use online services instead of calling the support desk, a bad question like this could kill the goal.
Question 2 was created by someone who had English as their second language. While automated readability scores are low (Flesh-Kincaid grade level 1.3, Gunning-Fog 4) the strange and awkward grammar of the sentence makes it difficult to comprehend quickly.
Both of these are easily fixed. Question 1 could be fixed by decomposing a complex question into a series of simpler questions. Question 2 could be resolved with a simple grammar check or review by a native English Language speaker.
Accessibility guidelines such as WCAG 2.0 Success Criteria 3.1.5 Reading Level suggest aiming readability at lower secondary school education level. Given that less than 1/3 of Americans reach university level, this seems reasonable.
Make sure your apps use simple language. Using simple to understand language makes it easy for your users to understand more quickly and react faster. Even if all of your users are university educated, don’t make them feel that using your app is like taking a university exam…. or reading mis-translated assembly instructions from IKEA.
Don’t Make Me Remember
VISIBILITY: Make sure everything on your app or dashboard is easy to see regardless of eyesight or lighting conditions. What users cannot see clearly they have to learn and remember – that adds to cognitive load and increases error rates.
“A contrast ratio of 3:1 is the minimum level recommended by [ISO-9241-3] and [ANSI-HFES-100-1988] for standard text and vision. The 4.5:1 ratio is used in this provision to account for the loss in contrast that results from moderately low visual acuity, congenital or acquired color deficiencies, or the loss of contrast sensitivity that typically accompanies aging.”
Providing good contrast enables people to:
- Rapidly read and scan content
- Be confident they have entered values and selected options correctly
- Work faster by using recognition rather than recall to process tasks
- Learn new tasks more quickly
Approximately 75% of Americans admit to wearing corrective lenses such as spectacles or contact lenses. Just like knee replacements and hip replacements, while corrective lens are a big help they aren’t quite as good as the real thing.
Don’t let your corporate theme slow your users down. Too often I have seen inappropriately applied corporate themes badly compromise the visibility in screens. Be especially careful if your theme largely consists of:
- Highlight colours – such as yellow
- Christmas colours – red/green combinations
8% of males and 0.5% females have red/green colour blindness which makes it difficult for them to tell those colours apart even if they have 20/20 vision in every other respect.
Here’s an extreme example. That white text on yellow has a very poor contrast ratio of only that tests at Contrast Ratio 1.51:1.
This is almost always a misunderstanding of how to apply the theme. After all your corporate theme wouldn’t be much good if consumers couldn’t read your web site or use their apps.
Here’s the same corporate theme applied very differently to an element on the same company’s consumer web apps. Swapping to black text on yellow has a far better contrast ratio of 13.89:1.
Colour contrast is easy to check. Accessibility has brought us many tools to check contrast ratios such as this popular Colour Contrast Analyser
You’ll find more in my previous blog Testing Fast and Slow – Accessibility & Fiori
Make sure your apps and dashboards are easy to see. Good colour contrast makes it easy for your users to act confidently and learn faster. With the retirement age increasing in many countries, don’t let poor colour choices exclude you from taking advantage of years of gathered wisdom and experience.
Don’t Slow Me Down
KEYBOARD EFFICIENCY: Providing for keyboard only navigation enables power users to act at maximum efficiency.
“All functionality of the content is operable through a keyboard interface”
Keyboards enable expert users to:
- Move through desktop apps with maximum efficiency
With the increasing number of devices has come an increase in the number of ways we can operate those devices, with the current top winners being keyboard, mouse, and touch… although voice recognition is another growing area thanks to Siri.
Advantages/disadvantages and the comparative performance efficiency of each have been hotly contested and the subject of more than one study. For now, the desktop device remains the primary context of the expert user, and on desktop at least keyboard wins out over mouse for practiced users.
Or as one UX designer puts it…
Expert users are reluctant to use the mouse for repetitive and frequent tasks. It is simply too slow (and not very good for the hands). They will rather learn a set of shortcuts and keyboard commands – even though these can be complex and hard to memorize.
With the increase in Internet of Things one of the side benefits of providing keyboard navigation is that it permits a wide variety of devices to access your app by emulating the keyboard via the operating system’s accessibility API. There are a small but dedicated number of us who have for instance been testing Fiori with Amazon Echo, Dragon Naturally Speaking, and eye tracking software to name just a few.
For Fiori apps and dashboards, the SAPUI5 framework gives you keyboard navigation by default. All you have to do to take advantage of this is to:
a) Make sure you don’t block the built-in features
b) Let your users know the keyboard shortcuts
You can find more information on both of those in my blog Keyboard Navigation enables the cool toys – Accessibility & Fiori
Support your power users by making sure they are aware of keyboard navigation options.
Accessibility show us how to make user interfaces that proactively support the better productivity from the widest possible range of users and abilities. I’ve covered just a few examples of ways in which accessibility helps but there are many more such as error handling, working with Audio/Video, efficiently designing to support all sorts of software and devices.
Certainly accessibility lifts those who have specific challenges to overcome – so they can join the race and stay the distance.
The same techniques and guidelines help lift the productivity of all users by removing unintentional barriers that are too often overlooked in even the best user experience designs…..
So that the potential medal winners are given their best chance to “Go for Gold”.
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