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Yes, I prefer that web page which is harder to use

From: Scott Luebking <phoenixl@netcom.com>
Date: Thu, 9 Dec 1999 12:05:20 -0800 (PST)
Message-Id: <199912092005.MAA10198@netcom.com>
To: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org
I recently posted this note to some general mailing lists on HCI or
web and have been asked to write a couple of articles for the HCI
world.  Let me know if you have feedback on the web page design or
comments on the issue of usability.




Yesterday, I dropped by the Berkeley campus to look at the projects done
by the students in the undergraduate HCI course during the semester.
(They did a great job setting up the event including a small buffet and
even an expresso bar.  Can't help but wonder what they do for the
graduate course project presentations.  <smile>)

The professor spent a part of the time discussing the key aspects of the
course and then various student projects were presented.  Through the
event there was a strong emphasis on "ease of use" as one would expect
in this type of course.

After talking with the various people attending the event, I started
thinking more about the ease of use issue when I got home.  I've been
running into an interesting contradiction of values in a project I've been
working on concerning designing web pages.  Basically, I've been looking
at what might a web page be like if it were being designed just for a
blind user with the goals of efficiency, ease of use and accurate

After watching and interacting with blind web page users for a couple of
years, I was coming to the conclusion that three useful features, outside
of not including images, would be a very linear presentation of text (no
columns unless needed for data tables etc) in order of importance as
determined by the information / semantic content, a means to get an
overview of the main semantic groupings and a means to
quickly move between the semantic groupings.

As an informal experiment, I took the results of a query to one of my
favorite search engines and rewrote the page incorporating these three aspects.
(The example pages are at http://members.aol.com/criptrip/dynamic_web_pages .)
Almost all of the feedback confirmed my suspicions that web pages structured
along the semantic aspects I discussed could significantly improve
efficiency, ease of use and accuracy of understanding.

While discussing the web page design with some of the blind users, a
number of them  were unclear about what semantic structure meant.  Like
probably most sighted users, they were unaware of the subtlty that when
information is put into HTML, for the most part, the semantic aspects
become unrecognizable to computer technology like browsers, access
technology etc.  Computer technology can perform syntactic
transformation of the web page HTML, but are much more limited in
performing useful transformations in the semantic dimension.

A surprising aspect was a number of blind people who commented on
either not wanting to use web pages designated to be designed for them
or preferring to use the same web pages as sighted people.  These
comments often came after saying how much easier it was to use the web
page incorporating the semantic features with their access technology.
More than one blind user commented that they were concerned that people
might think they need special accomodations in order to get something
done.  Another type of comment was a concern that they wouldn't be getting
the exact information as sighted users.  (This seems somewhat unclear
because many blind people often use alternate material like braille or
sound recordings.)  Because of these types of beliefs, some blind
users would probably be willing to sacrifice efficiency, ease of use
or accuracy of understanding.


PS  In case someone was wondering, I didn't delve much into blind users' views
of the National Federation of the Blind's lawsuit against AOL.
Received on Thursday, 9 December 1999 15:15:56 GMT

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