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Accessible does not imply usable (was International Web Access Guidelines "Ineffective", PhD thesis Claims)

From: Ian Sharpe <themanxsharpy@gmail.com>
Date: Sun, 2 Jun 2013 01:11:20 +0100
To: "'Gregg Vanderheiden'" <gv@trace.wisc.edu>, "'Jorge Fernandes'" <jorge.f@netcabo.pt>
Cc: <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Message-ID: <0EAF9140A5904E5BADC83CE248CEC836@BLACKBOX>
Hi Greg
I really like how you have explained the difference between usability and
accessibility in your first two points below as I feel these terms are often
incorrectly considered synonymous. Indeed, I would emphasise this
distinction by adding that accessibility does not imply usability and that
when we talk about inclusive design or universal design we should be aiming
to achieve usability, not just accessibility. 
Ironically, I believe it is an unfortunate consequence of the communities
excellent work and success promoting the wide-spread acceptance, recognition
and adoption of WCAG   which has led to this confusion as I feel
organisations now think that in order to make their sites and services
satisfy any legislative obligations, all they need to do is ensure their
sites and services are accessible as defined by WCAG: Despite the fact that
the guidelines say that WCAG should be thought of not as making things
accessible,  but as a minimum accessibility standard as you point out.
While for the most part it is true that compliance to WCAG is likely to
mitigate the potential risk of litigation under antidiscrimination
legislation and result in a more usable site or service than a site or
service which does not conform to WCAG, it is absolutely not the case that
the site or service will be "usable".
The problem is that it is harder to test usability and as far as I'm aware,
the process cannot be automated.
This is why I feel that it is important to make this distinction between
usability and accessibility and why testing with real users should form part
of level AA conformance.  
 From: Gregg Vanderheiden [mailto:gv@trace.wisc.edu] 
Sent: 01 June 2013 19:53
To: Jorge Fernandes
Cc: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org
Subject: Re: International Web Access Guidelines “Ineffective”, PhD thesis

On Jun 1, 2013, at 12:11 PM, Jorge Fernandes <jorge.f@netcabo.pt> wrote:

A recent published PhD thesis of York University [1] wrote the follow
statement in the abstract:
"Comparisons between user problems and WCAG 1.0 and WCAG 2.0 did not show
any significant relationship between user-based measures of accessibility
and most measures based on technical guidelines."
I have difficulty mostly to understand what this kind of statements means.
- it's means that there aren't significative relationship between WCAG and
user problems? or;
- it's means that there aren't significative relationship between WCAG and
the way we are trying to measure the WCAG? 
[1]  Freire, André Pimenta. (2012). Disabled people and the Web: User-based
measurement of accessibility. PhD thesis, University of York.
Jorge Fernandes

Hi Jorge, 

Not sure - but It sounds like it says that there is not significant
relationship between what users think is accessible and what WCAG (a
technical guideline) says is accessible. 

Of course unless you look at the study - you don't know what the data really
say -- or if they were collected properly etc.  So I would read the whole
thesis before drawing  any conclusions.

I find it hard to believe that there is no relationship between WCAG
conformance and usability by people who are blind for example. 

On a related note...

I also read a study that showed that conforming to WCAG didn’t make a page
usable by PWD (or to anyone).   What they were looking at was pages that
were basically badly designed and unusable (or very poor usability) by
everyone -- and WCAG didn’t fix the pages.      This is no surprise since
one of the precepts in WCAG was that it only focus on things that were a
problem ONLY for people with disabilities - or that affect them in greatly
disproportionate wasy.    That is WCAG was restrictued to focusing on
"accessibility" (discriminating against people with disabilities)  vs
general usability (bad design in general for all users)  problems.
The moral here is that if pages aren't usable in general -- they will never
be very usable by people with disabilities -- since they must navigate the
non-usability through reduced access.     So to make pages usable by people
with disabilities,  make them both usable by all and WCAG conformant. 


One that had me thinking was another study that showed that certain
usability problems slowed users WITHOUT disabilities down by X seconds  but
it slowed people who were blind down by (I think it was)  5x seconds.
This sounded like disproportionate - and an accessibility problem.   Then
elsewhere in the paper it reported that these same subject who were blind
took  5 times as long to complete all of their tasks.     So this made me
think.    If it slowed regular uses down by  Y%  and it slowed blind users
down by the same Y%    (the blind users taking 5 times longer in general)
then maybe it wasn’t disproportionate because is slowed everyone down by the
same percent.   Now I had two different conclusions from the same data.   


At any rate - a few things seem clear to me.

1.	Usability is critical to accessibility.   In fact Accessibility is
just a dimension of Usability.   It is Usability to certain groups.   Is the
page easily used, hard to use, or unusable.   Pages can be all three for
people with and without disabilities.   An advanced Genetics site for
example may be completely unusable by anyone without advance genetics
background.   And in a way it does discriminate against all of us who do not
understand advanced genetics.  But this is legal.  It is only illegal to
discriminate (make pages that cannot be used - or used effectively) by
people on the basis of race, creed, color, religion, and with the ADA,
disability  (If you are among those that think the ADA was intended to
include all public places including the Internet - even though the internet
was not such a common public place when the ADA was written so was not
mentioned specifically).   But whether you believe this or the opposite,  a
page that is unusable can't be made usable by just fixing the parts that are
a problem ONLY for people with disabilities (WCAG).  The rest of the
unusable still remains. 

2.	WCAG conformance does not make things accessible to all.  In fact is
says this right in the WCAG intro.   WCAG should be thought of not as making
things accessible,  but as a minimum accessibility standard.  Not the end of
what one should do but the beginning.     Even doing all three levels (which
can be very hard on some specific types of pages) will not make pages that
everyone with every type, degree and combination of disabilities can use.
The advisory techniques are a good place to start to look for more things
that can be done.  Then read books and papers on still more.  Finally, work
side by side with people who have disabilities (a wide variety) and come to
understand the disabilities and the impact of web design on them.   There
are so many things that can be done in the design of a specific web site --
to make it more USABLE by people with disabilities;  things that cannot be
boiled down to rules and are different from site to site or type of page to
different type of page. 

3.	We need to READ papers and understand them.   We can't just pull
conclusions from them.  People who do research know that in all fields there
is an amazing number (and percent) of papers published that state
conclusions that are not supported by their data and design.  This is not
done out of malice by authors -- just oversight or weak design.   Good
research is very hard to do.  And doing it in areas that have direct
implications on daily life I even harder (extremely difficult)  to do in a
controlled and valid way.    Really good papers are actually relatively rare
overall and rarer in areas of applied research.    

1.	By the way this is no comment on this particular thesis !   I have
not had the time to read it -- so make no comment on it specifically !
(though I am going to pull a copy and try to read it this summer to see what
is to be learned from his work). 




Received on Sunday, 2 June 2013 00:11:52 UTC

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