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Web Accessibility User Testing "Nightmares"

By Michael Taylor on Oct 3, 2023
Topics: Web Accessibility


As someone who relies on using web accessibility solutions for nearly every aspect of my life, I’ve had firsthand experience with the good, the bad, and the downright scary of both digital and physical accessibility.

Since we are officially in the month of Halloween, I'll examine the "nightmarish" results of poorly planned accessibility efforts—and how to avoid them. 

→ Want to learn more about what automated accessibility testing tools don’t  catch? Read our Ultimate Guide to Accessibility Testing.

Great Ideas, Terrible Execution

A well-intentioned web accessibility effort often goes wrong due to poor planning and implementation. When this happens, the result is often frustrating and even laughable for users with disabilities. The main causes of these shortcomings are:

  • A lack of proper and effective accessibility user testing.
  • The failure to implement common sense and logic during the planning and execution.

This blog will help you understand the importance of conducting real-world accessibility user testing when working on a project—especially before the final result is deployed. 

Full-time assistive technology users like myself are well-equipped to detect accessibility flaws that a website, webpage, video, or social media post may contain. It’s also necessary to ensure that an accessibility solution makes sense and is easy to adopt for the person using it. An automatic door will do nothing for a person in a wheelchair if it opens directly onto a flight of stairs. Now, let’s take a closer look at a few real-world examples of accessibility gone wrong.

Braille Signs in College Gone Wrong

While this example may not directly involve digital accessibility, I believe it’s still important to share and will help further illustrate my point.

While I was in college, a new academic building was constructed to hold some of the overflow classes that resulted from a continuous expansion of the course catalog. 

Upon the initial opening of the building, I was told that the structure contained state-of-the-art accessibility features—including Braille signage on every door in the facility. Great! If I had to visit one of my professors, finding the right office would be a breeze, thanks to the guidance of the Braille signage.

Well, it wasn’t quite that easy. When I entered the building for the first time, I immediately began looking for the Braille signs—and I couldn’t find them. I must have inspected fifteen different doors, none of which contained even a trace of Braille.

After further exploration and consultation with a sighted person, I discovered that the Braille labels had been placed above the top jamb of the door, directly beside the corresponding print signs. To add insult to injury, the doors in this building were around eight feet tall. I was flabbergasted. The implementation of accessibility was horribly done and made absolutely no sense.

Unless the system designers expected blind people to carry step ladders with them, the Braille sign positioning was thoroughly impractical and completely inaccessible. Yes, Braille signs were technically present, but they were positioned in a way that made them useless to anyone who actually needed them. This example illustrates a classic case of good intentions paired with abysmal planning and execution. The building designers clearly failed to consult any actual Braille users on the ideal placement of Braille markers. Furthermore, common sense was clearly not used here—placing anything that’s designed to be touched above a door that’s eight feet high is incredibly pointless.

Doctors Office Kiosks Gone Wrong 

I recently went to a doctor’s office that I’ve visited many times in the past. Upon entering the office, patients are required to fill out some basic paperwork—their name, address, current medical conditions, prior surgeries, medications, etc. Due to the accessibility limitations of the patient questionnaire, the receptionist would typically help me complete the paperwork in the past.

During my recent visit, the receptionist informed me that the paperwork is now accessible digitally and can be completed without any assistance. She then directed me to a tablet kiosk that was mounted on the wall. I quickly discovered that the tablet was made by an obscure brand and had no built-in screen reader. I let the receptionist know that even though the doctor’s office had made the process digital, it was no more accessible than the original paperwork forms.

While the doctor’s office employees clearly had good intentions, they lacked the knowledge and resources to implement the solution correctly. If they had properly utilized accessibility user testing with members of the disability community, they likely would have discovered the importance of using a kiosk tablet that includes an optional screen reader—like an Apple iPad. If a digital product isn’t optimized for assistive technology use, making an experience digital won’t be helpful to a blind user.

Accessibility in Restaurants Gone Wrong

Many restaurants—especially national chains—have added tablet-like devices to each table. These devices can be used to order food and pay your bill. While recently dining at a restaurant that used these tablets, I had to explain to the server that I was unable to place an order because I couldn’t see the screen. She told me that by getting rid of paper menus and cash payments, this technology was specifically implemented by the restaurant to help people like me.

After consulting an accessible online menu, the server finally agreed to take my order verbally. At the end of our meal, I ran into trouble again when trying to pay the bill.

Once again, the server insisted that I pay using the tablet device. After reminding her that I wasn’t able to use it, she finally allowed me to scan a QR code on the back of the tablet. I was then directed to a website that could take my payment. Unfortunately, the payment webpage was not accessible to screen readers and clearly hadn’t incorporated accessibility user testing before its launch. When I mentioned the difficulties I was having, she admitted that nobody ever used the online payment system; it was only there for if the device on a customer’s table broke. Sigh. This is yet another example of good intentions but lackluster implementation. The restaurant clearly thought they were doing the right thing in terms of accessibility, but never bothered to ensure that their efforts were yielding a usable final product.

The Value of Accessibility User Testing

When good motives and altruistic intentions are not supported by careful and thorough planning and execution, accessibility can go horribly wrong. This happens all the time in both the physical and digital worlds.

However, one of the most effective ways to prevent these mishaps involves accessibility user testing—obtaining and considering the valuable feedback of people with disabilities. In the three examples discussed above, I am confident that user testing and common sense would have gone a very long way in ensuring that the actual results matched the intended outcomes.

Download Now: The Ultimate Guide to Accessibility Testing

Regardless of your industry, maintaining a commitment to digital accessibility for all people can open your business to millions of potentially untapped customers and help you avoid expensive lawsuits.

To ensure that your website and digital assets are truly accessible, you must conduct regular and rigorous accessibility user testing. This helpful guide will give you the tools to create a comprehensive and successful accessibility user testing program, offering important considerations for every step of the testing journey—from the planning and coding stages to user testing and remediation. Click here to download the free web accessibility guide now.

accessibility testing

Michael Taylor

Michael Taylor

My name is Michael Taylor and I am a marketing intern at Usablenet. I graduated from Hofstra University with a bachelors of business administration in marketing. I am blind, and use assistive technology each and every day to access the digital world. As a result, I am very passionate about web accessibility and usability. My experiences with the good and bad of accessible technology give me a unique perspective that allows me to make meaningful contributions in the digital accessibility field. During my marketing internship at Usablenet, I hope to raise awareness about digital accessibility by providing accounts of my personal experiences and suggestions and recommendations about what works well and what does not. Though I am only beginning on my professional journey, I aim to pursue a long-term career in the digital accessibility field.

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