Did you know that up to 25% of all visitors on your website have some kind of accessibility problem. Some of your users may be blind, deaf, dyslectic, has learning disabilities or motoric disabilities such as schlerosis, parkinson’s disease, etc. A so-called functional disability.
But how about users with a technical disability: Wireless devices, slow internet connections, old browsers, feed readers, etc. These should be considered as well, as there are probably more people with technological disability than functional disability.
25% of all web users have some kind of accessibility problem. That is a claim from the Danish Center for Accesibility. Here is my translation:
Acessibility on the internet affects many different user groups. An accessible website pays attention to users that for instance:
- Uses earlier versions of a browser or uses another browser than the website is tested with.
- Has a slow internet connection or has a smal screen
- Uses new technical platforms for instance mobile and wireless devices
- Has age related functional disabilities and has difficulties seeing, hearing, or has difficulties using a mouse
- Is color blind
- Is blind and therefore needs assistive technology for reading aloud (such as a screenreader).
- Is visually impaired and therefore has a need to enlarge text without loosing track of things
- Is motor impaired and therefore has difficulties using mouse and keyboard
- Is hearing impaired or deaf and therefore has dificulties understanding digitized sound and speech if there is no text version available
- Has cognitive functional disabilities and have problems with complexity and information overload.
Up to 25% of all webusers are affected by accessibility problems.
Source: Danish Center for Accessibility, 2004. For those of you fluent in Danish I have included a copy of the original article.
What is new to me is users with “technological disabilities” as well as users with “traditional” functional disabilities are taken into account here. According to US resources, about 12% has a functional disability (disabilitystatistics.org).
According to these numbers, at least 13% of the population have technological disabilities (the number is likely higher as some users have probably both a functional and a technological disability).
Controversial or conservative?
25% seems like a lot of users to have problems on a website. I expect you to be thinking “that number is simply too high”. But as I think about it, I wonder if it’s really high enough.
First of all, the 12% of users with a functional disability has been known for ages. Low vision users must be able to enlarge text. Blind users must be able to use screenreaders. Motor impaired users can be helped by providing larger active zones (easier to target). And so on and so forth.
The users with technical disabilities are extremely interesting to me. Often we design and test for specific browsers, specific screen resolutions, specific screens, and specific internet connections. Often these combination grows and requires tremendous testing efforts.
Obviously we can never test for any combination of these.
What if your user decides to connect a laptop in his car via a slow cell-phone connection and have a screenreader reading your content aloud? This is of course an extreme situation, and you should never design a website for extreme situations only.
Jakob Nielsen recently connected accessibility issues with usability issues as he compared the user experience between mobile users and low-vision users:
An analogy: if you are working on your company’s mobile strategy, it’s not enough to ensure that your Web pages display on a cell phone screen. Such technical accessibility will do nothing to make mobile users use your site. We know from our study of early WAP phones that users refuse to use content and services that aren’t designed for optimal usability on the small screen. Unless you ensure that people can easily use your site’s mobile version, your efforts will be a complete failure. If it takes them forever to get content or if they constantly get lost, you won’t be on their phones anymore.
As with low-vision users, mobile devices can offer only a limited amount of information at any one time. And, while exact design guidelines differ according to the context, user reactions are the same: if it’s too cumbersome to navigate the site or understand the content, people will leave. The simple fact that it displays correctly in a screen magnifier is not nearly enough to make people use the site and read your information.
Also in the Danish study, I miss two important user groups:
RSS feed readers have gained a tremendous popularity. Back in November, we discovered that most of our traffic came from feed readers.
The other user group is a particular blind user: Google. Google knows only of the text in our pages. For a typical e-commerce site, search engines will generate approximately half of the traffic and revenue.
Nobody sees your web site the way you expect.
Few use your content the way you intend.
Everything you create online is being ripped apart and recombined with other stuff by thousands of curious geeks.
Or at least, it should be.