Only pairing ‘usability’ with ‘diversity’ will narrow digital divides

“Don’t only do accessibility testing with content; do usability testing with users with disabilities.” I picked up this Tweet via Nomensa and on the surface the link looked interesting. The principles are great. Don’t adopt an accessibility tick box approach to online content, and rely on automated code checkers, use real people; in particular those who are web users rather than web designers or developers. It’s not rocket science or rocket surgery as described by Steve Krug  author of Rocket Surgery Made Easy: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems.

However, on closer examination, the word disabilities is missing from the original source materials, as are assistive technologies, screen readers, impairment or sight loss. Neither the 23 minute video nor the sample chapter mention disability. I think Nomensa added the word because it is integral to their philosophies but in doing so they’ve misrepresented the core message of the book. Steve Krug’s focus is on too narrow a range of access criteria. He is assuming the user is a mouse user and can see the screen.

The concept of usability testing deserves recognition, but the concept of the user has to be broadened to include – in Nomensa’s words – users with disabilities – or in my words – users disabled by society; in particular one which doesn’t recognise a broad enough range of diversity or difference. This failure to look outside the box is the stuff of which digital divides are constructed. ‘Test User Usability’  (TUU? too? Two? the possibilities for a neat acronym are endless) should be a stock mantra for the web world. But the concept of ‘Users’ must representative and has to include everyone if the true meaning of accessibiltity is to be achieved.