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The issue is accessibility.

June 14, 2015 • Deirdre Black

Image credit: Jil Wright, Flickr

For all my good intentions to make regular contributions to this blog, I chose instead to forgo posting until I cleared up some accessibility issues that my website was experiencing. When I first set up the site, it tested well for web accessibility, usability, and user experience. Evidently, as time passed, problems developed.

Keep in mind that web accessibility is not the same as web usability, and it’s also not properly considered a user experience issue. It’s odd, I know, but this is the case, nevertheless. Certainly, all three are concerned with human-centered design principles and activities as they pertain to computer-based interactive systems. All three have the best chance of being achieved if identified as a priority before website development even begins. And, given the fluid nature of webtech development and the always expanding demands made of it, neither 100% accessibility nor 100% usability nor 100% positive user experience is ever truly accomplished.

Usability refers to ease of use and can logically be considered an aspect of user experience and of accessibility. The difference between user experience and accessibility ultimately comes down to how a user is identified. User experience is broadly concerned with “ideal” users and their perceptions of things like utility, usability, and efficiency. Web accessibility is specifically concerned with ensuring that the web is usable by people with visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, and neurological disabilities, in which case usability includes things like being able to perceive, understand, navigate, interact with, and contribute to the Web.

And so when I initially set up my website, I had both accessibility and user experience in mind. I didn’t create the code for the website; instead I selected an accessible theme from the WordPress database, one that was responsive and flexible, and I built the website around it. Over the years, I added content in the form of blog posts with links, photos, and videos as well as surveys and work samples. I also modified the theme just a smidgen here and there and eventually even installed a child theme that I thought would improve the aesthetics of the site.

I regularly tested the website for page speed load and for compatibility with mobile devices and received high marks for those priorities and for user experience generally. Unfortunately, I neglected to perform a regular assessment of accessibility, and over time the site became less and less usable by people with disabilities. After I finally noticed that I hadn’t made any effort to maintain web accessibility, I tested it only to discover that it failed miserably across most aspects of accessibility. I then attempted to fix the problems but without success.

These circumstances forced me to renew my search for new “accessibility ready” WordPress theme. Having played around with a few, I finally decided on the Universal theme developed by Joe Dolson. Although initial tests have not come back without problems… which is not surprising since no theme ever does… the results are mostly positive and so quite promising. Although the page speed load is not optimal, the user experience results are excellent and the site remains mobile friendly. Now I just need to devise an accessibility maintenance schedule and implement it.

Categories: Accessibility
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