RE: Research for Visual Indicators

Going back to the question on research to support the need for visual indicators for people with cognitive  disabilities, it is well known within the group that there is a significant lack of research in this area. When we attempt to identify research for specific interface/interaction requirements, we have to infer from the documented needs of users and the limited studies available. And in the area of visual indicators studies struggle to keep up with the quickly changing interface paradigms and designs trends. This is underlined by the recent 2019  literature review into Mobile Devices and People with Learning [intellectual] Disabilities by Williams and Shekhar [1] which concluded:

 "Surprisingly, very little research appears to have been undertaken on screen manipulation – the actions of tapping, swiping or pinching... Perhaps in keeping with the lack of a rigorous and cumulative body of research, findings from the limited research undertaken make very few suggestions as to how devices could be made easier; only larger "buttons" (virtual, one assumes), a simplified interface, more training and simpler vocabulary being prominent. More research is clearly needed in both the touch element of data and command input, and issues around menu placement, length and hierarchy in a mobile environment. There is virtually nothing in the literature on this – only Kumin et al remark that "drop-down" menus were difficult for their cohort of adults with Down syndrome to navigate."

In 2019 Williams also published a literature review on how people with learning disabilities interacted with web pages but this only covered interacting with links in menu and not interactive elements within content or forms [2] and again concluding there are few systematic studies with these users.

In non-disability focussed research, a literature review on touchscreen interfaces found that for all users "Visual cues on icons assist with targeting tasks" and "Icon depth cues equal to 10% of target size suggested". For users with motor-controlled disabilities (MCD) they found: "Overall performance is lower among  MCD users than general population" "Interface changes that improve performance for the general population will likely improve performance for MCD users as well".

A study into older users [4] concluded "Although textual buttons are common, they might not always convey the right affordances to older adults, and can mislead users to regard those buttons as non-actionable information. Consequently, also make sure that both the icon and the text trigger the same action; they should be working as a single element

On the point of whether it is appropriate to recommend a new SC when there is little research, I have always approached this proposal as closing a gap in the current WCAG 2.1 which has become more vital now that the majority of web interactions are undertaken on touch screen devices. This is because:

1. Users with disabilities who do not use sophisticated assistive technologies are unable to access information on the role of interactive elements which is provided to other users. That is they are unable to access the information that is provided through complying with 4.1.2 Name, Role, Value. In reality this means that a screen reader users gains more information about how to interact with an item that a visual impaired or dyslexic user relying on text to speech. I've seen this happen in user research sessions where screen reader users have been able to access a form field which lacked any border when other users with moderate visual impairment or cognitive disabilities were not aware that the element was a form field.

2. A strict reading of WCAG 2.1 does not require text links to have any indicators (only that they do not rely on colour). This seems to be gap that should be resolved. The current proposals for the visual indicators SC only require content creators to use what is common best practice such as using underline or bold with colour to indicate a link.

3. For desktop users, it is possible to move focus and identify which elements are interactive. For example they can tab to a link in text or an icon and find it is interactive. There may also be contextual support through hovering to see tooltips. However, touch screen users do not have access to these functions and are reliant on visual indicators. We do not provide similar support to focus indicators for touch screen users, despite the majority of users using these devices to access web content and apps.

4. Non-text contrast (1.4.11) states that "For active controls any visual information provided that is necessary for a user to identify that a control is present" has contrast. First, this means that in WCAG 2.1 we have pretty much defined visual indicators and second, this has lead to a situation where designers are actively encourages them not to provide them as they then must make sure they contrast. I have had this conversation with a number of designers, particularly as iOS and Android own indicators do not comply with 1.4.11.

On the points Patrick raised about the implications of adding SCs which then become law, outside of the US, most regulations and jurisdictions take into accounts that it is challenging for complex websites to meet all accessibility requirements. Instead they encourage transparency through providing accessible alternatives and ongoing improvements while working towards full compliance. As US legal cases are nearly all still referring to WCAG 2.0, it would be very disappointing that the AG felt unable to fulfil its remits to widen support for users with cognitive disabilities due to concerns that this could be interpreted as a legal design requirement.

Best wishes

Abi James
University of Southampton

[1] Williams, P., & Shekhar, S. (2019). Mobile devices and people with learning disabilities: a literature review. International Journal of Computer Science and Mobile Computing, 8(2), 34-43.
[2] Williams, P. (2019). A Tangled Web? How People with Learning Disabilities Negotiate the World Wide Web: The Accumulating Evidence.
[3] Orphanides, A. K., & Nam, C. S. (2017). Touchscreen interfaces in context: A systematic review of research into touchscreens across settings, populations, and implementations. Applied ergonomics, 61, 116-143.
[4] A. C. De Barros, R. Leitao, and J. Ribeiro, “Design and evaluation of a mobile user interface for older adults: navigation, interaction and visual design recommendations,” Procedia
Computer Science, vol. 27, pp. 369–378, 2014

-----Original Message-----
From: Patrick H. Lauke <> 
Sent: 26 April 2020 11:14
Subject: Re: Research for Visual Indicators

On 26/04/2020 00:04, David Fazio wrote:
> We can simply give a list in addition to Rachael’s suggestion, that 
> gives designers room for creativity. It feels like this proposed SC is 
> being scrutinized to an unreasonable degree.

Purely from my perspective, I'd say that this is because for better or worse, WCAG is now essentially pulled into legislation, wholesale, in many places. So essentially, saying something normatively fails results in AGWG effectively saying that it should be "illegal" to do something. 
To me, there's a much heavier burden now on not just compiling SCs that are flawed/leave gaps, but also in not defining SCs that are unnecessarily restrictive. We've already seen many of the gaps/ambiguities from 2.0 and 2.1 (in SCs themselves, and in how there can be unexpected interactions between different SCs). This is particularly true when SCs are targetted to Level A or AA (less so with AAA).

And of course, the fundamental tension that seems to always persist between needing to be specific enough so that normative definitions are clear-cut enough, and the sisyphean task of trying to explicitly provide (often pseudo-scientific) hard threshold values and complete lists of "dos" and "don'ts" that are measurable. Versus more "human judgement" 
subjectivity which is easier to define but leaves a lot of gray area.

While I'm generally critical of SCs that are too handwavy and leave too much room for interpretation, I can also see how trying to be over-specific is problematic, particularly when it starts to try and make judgements on things like visual design (coming from a group whose membership is, admittedly, not made up of visual design practitioners or experts in the field, and where decisions on things like cut-off-values for things are often just kind of fudged - thinking for instance of how we arrived to the CSS px value for Target Size, or the discussions around those timing thresholds in various 2.0 SCs, etc).

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Received on Sunday, 26 April 2020 20:56:49 UTC