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Re: A joint seminar with the usability community and the blind community

From: phoenixl <phoenixl@sonic.net>
Date: Wed, 25 Sep 2002 08:35:53 -0700
Message-Id: <200209251535.g8PFZrWI001633@newbolt.sonic.net>
To: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org

Hi, Phill

One of the standard usability test methodologies is called "thinking aloud".
I've found doing distance usability "thinking aloud" testing via
conference call of blind / visually impaired subjects working with web
pages to be quite informative.

In general, conducting research in a usability lab where a blind person
needs their access technology can result in unclear results.  The blind
person should be tested using their access technology they use in their
daily life and with the configuration they've fine tuned for their needs.
Often they cannot readily bring their equipment to usability labs.
As a result, it becomes much harder to accurately determine when there is
a problem with the subject understanding the access technology or with
the interface/application being tested.  An analogy from my life would be
that I am a quadriplegic who drives a modified van.  I have no problems
passing driver's test when using my van.  However, if I had to use a
vehicle I'm not familiar with and which has not been configured to me,
the chances are that I would probably crush anything in my way the first
time I try to turn.

With regards to field methodology, in the particular case of a blind
subject using web pages via access technology, it is not clear that
there is always enough to visually observe.  I've seen usability people
kind of go into shock at this thought, but the reality is that unless
the tester has highly familiar with both the subject's access technology
and also how the subject has configured the access technology, the
usability person ends up repeatedly asking what the blind person is
doing with the various keystrokes controlling the access technology.

One benefit of the methodology is that it minimizes the travel and set
up for field observations.  (This is especially important in these days
of sever budget constraints.)  A second benefit is that people can be
at various locations nationally and still participate.  I've done usability
testing of web pages based in DC with participants in NYC, Chicago, LA,
Dallas without costs of plane travel.  No one methodology is perfect,
but the quality of the information as compared to the cost/resources
expended makes it very attractive in this very specific case of blind
subjects using web pages via their personal technology access.

There are some other benefits to the methodology.  One of the other
benefits is that the observers are given the opportunity to understand
better the personal experiences of blind people using the web pages.
Statistics can sometimes create distance between the experiences of
subjects and the people seeking out the understanding.  The experience of
observers' listening to blind people's use of web pages can also become
motivating forces.  After one "talking aloud" session via a conference
call, a programmer told me that if he were a blind person having those
experiences with web pages, he would be absolutely outraged.  The
experience strongly motivated him to rethink some of his methodologies.

Received on Wednesday, 25 September 2002 11:35:59 UTC

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