Forms [as of now] still a half-solved problem

[This message has been posted to the PF list earlier, but it is really in GL
territory.  This is a documented example of a page that sits astride the
make-or-break boundary on forms; it pretty much split the intended audience
down the middle as to who could and could not cope with it.  I am attaching a
rapid analysis of what is wrong slash could be better about it.  -Al]

Kelly Ford recently had a bad experience where a service he put up was
as not usable enough by a large fraction of his customers.  Now, his customers
for this particular football pool are predominantly screen-reader users.  That
makes it an interesting field assessment of forms usability.

His description of what happened is quoted below.

Reviewing the signup form 
that the users decided they couldn't bother with, several broad handwaves come
to mind:

The eyes-free user pretty much focuses on one field at a time.  Recollections
as to what the other fields were earlier in the sequence may linger, but the
visual form designer is likely to be relying on context to explain the fields
in a way which does not carry over into the eyes-free interaction domain.  So,
the eyes-free user needs each entry blank or form control to be at the center
of a multi-level explanation.  The default presentation can use a terse label
such as is used in the GUI interaction, but there needs to be a standard way
that the user can get a expansion of this into the full, pedantic explanation
of a) what is being asked?  What is the question?  b) any restrictions or
suggestions for what may be entered in this field and c) why the service
guarded by this form needs this information.  A simple example implementation
in HTML 2 would be by a hyperlink from the tax form to the related
paragraph in
the tax form instructions.

Two themes or dominant facts emerge:  (1) The eyes-free user requires
access to
a more verbose presentation of the form field than the GUI designer will
tolerate as the usual GUI layout. (2) Even the eyes-free user doesn't always
need this, as Scott Luebking found out with his experiements with tables.  The
approach that seems to hold the most promise is that there is user control of
level of detail filtering, but that enough detail and logical connectivity is
there so that the "instructions" level of detail is available whenever the
wishes it.

In structural navigation we are trying to make sure that a highly filtered
of the contents is available.  Here we have to be concerned that a
expanded, not filtered, view of the question is available.  This appears to
require some adjustability in the view, and user control of this


>X-Sender: (Unverified)
>Date: Sat, 02 Sep 2000 22:51:57 -0700
>To: "webwatch" <>
>From: Kelly Ford <>
>Subject: [webwatch] How Do You Address User Skill?
>Reply-To: "webwatch" <>
>Hi All,
>Earlier I made passing reference to the fact that my family's football pool 
>was now being conducted on the web.  That along with other factors caused 
>me to move a football pool I administer to the web as well.
>After hunting around a bit I selected
<<>> to host my 
>pool.  The web site, like most, has certain accessibility challenges.  Yet 
>it seemed workable to me.
>In the pool I administer, most of the people use screen readers.  It has 
>been an interesting experience trying to migrate people from an email-based 
>pool to one requiring use of the web.
>More than 10 people wrote me saying that they couldn't even complete the 
>registration form for  In all cases they said that they found 
>it too confusing to know what to enter.  This form can be found at 
>With either JFW or Window-Eyes most of the prompts on this form speak 
>automatically.  The few that don't are readily obvious when you read around 
>the edit box or other form control.
>I'm not commenting on whether the form meets accessibility 
>standards.  Rather I'm saying that it speaks pretty well with a screen
>I'm not offering this as any sort of scientific study or anything of that 
>nature.  I do find it interesting that of the 40 or so people registered in 
>my family's pool, not a single person had so much trouble getting signed up 
>with that he or she left the pool.  Yet of 28 people who 
>initially indicated an interest in my personal pool, 10 had too much 
>trouble signing up to the point where they quit.
>I fully understand that being blind makes using some web sites, heck I'll 
>go out and say most, more of a challenge.  Yet I think there's more at play 
>here.  I suppose it would take a researcher to quantify and study the issue 
>in depth.  But I think that for some folks who are blind trying to use the 
>web is like putting a square peg through a round hole.  It does just 
>doesn't click in their minds and building a awareness of what's happening 
>on a web page just doesn't happen.
>Now I'm not speaking of knowing what's on the top of the page or the 
>bottom.  But rather just feeling comfortable in getting around and entering 
>information.  I don't know how to get people over that situation.  Training 
>is one answer, better web design another but I wonder if there's something 
>else that can be done.
>I know that when I teach people to use web pages for the first time where 
>they are giving information, some find it a challenge.  They would have no 
>trouble giving the correct responses if they were asked the questions and 
>responding verbally.  But the duel process of reading the questions for 
>themselves and being responsible for manipulation of the computer to 
>properly enter the answers is too complicated.
>Please don't take any of this the wrong way.  I'm not implying that these 
>people are in anyway less intelligent or anything of that nature.
>I come back to the fact that at least 40 out of 40 people who are sighted 
>who tried had no trouble signing up.  Yet at least 10 of 21 
>people who are blind had serious trouble on the same web site.  I say 21 
>because 11 people did complete at least the registration process.
>By the way, for anyone who wants to join the football pool, you need to 
>register with, login to your account and select Pro Picks from 
>the list of Fantasy games displayed in a combo box.  Once you are in the 
>Pro Picks screen, indicate that you want to join a group by selecting the 
>Groups link.  The group you want to join will be a private group with the 
>name out-of-sight and a password of accessibility.  You make your picks 
>with a series of radio buttons, with the home team for each game being the 
>default choice.  If you want more info on the pool, write me privately, not 
>on Webwatch.

Received on Thursday, 7 September 2000 11:56:30 UTC