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Disabled web users rank their usability priorities

Effective in-site search, good navigation, and clear, well-constructed content are the most important usability issues for disabled internet users, according to new research which also found many visually impaired users rejecting the importance of ALT tags.

Advert: A risk-E-business: free seminar on protecting your website. Manchester, 17th November 2005. Offsite link to the Pinsent Masons websiteUser experience consultancy User Vision surveyed a cross section of 208 internet users throughout the UK with impairments which affect the way they use the internet, comprising the visually impaired/blind, hearing impaired/deaf, physically disabled, and those with dyslexia/learning difficulties.

The users were asked to rank, in terms of importance, the factors which aid their ease of use when online. Clarity of content – using straightforward language and a clear, simple layout – was regarded by 88% as ‘very important’. Good navigation – the ability to know where you are within a site – was regarded as very important by 65%, followed by the use of meaningful and clear hyperlinks (63%).

Two of the three factors traditionally perceived as the fundamental accessibility issues have become comparatively less significant. Good use of ALT tags – which provide text alternatives for images – was only regarded as ‘very important’ by a third of respondents Surprisingly, among the visually impaired users, 25% found ALT tags not important at all. 

Respondents were also asked to rank the most annoying features on websites and most useful features.  Elements that aid users in finding content easily and navigating round sites came up high on the lists, whilst avoiding pop-ups was only fourth in the list of top five annoyances thanks mainly to the increased use of blockers which eliminate them before they appear. Inevitably scalable text remains an important issue, particularly for visually impaired users.

Top 5 annoyances

  1. Not having in-site search
  2. No sitemap
  3. No internal page navigation/skip to content/back to top links
  4. Pop-ups
  5. Inability to change font zie/colour contrast

Top 5 most useful features

  1. Having in-site search
  2. Having a sitemap
  3. Clear, well labelled links
  4. Having internal page navigation
  5. Ability to personalise page view/font size

Chris Rourke, Director of User Vision, said: "The broadband revolution has led to web sites becoming more sophisticated and content-rich, which inevitably increases the risk of creating barriers for impaired users. As a result factors such as an effective in-site search and navigation are becoming increasingly significant considerations which need to be moved up the development agenda."

He added that web designers must consider how changes in functionality affect accessibility, and ensure that sites are regularly tested using the wide array of devices which those with impairments are using to access the internet.

Other barriers to good usability for impaired users, according to the research, include: Flash movies; the necessity to ‘sign-in’; too many hyperlinks; and online forms where fields/labels have not been marked up properly.

The research also asked respondents to name the web sites which they found most and least usable. Google was unanimously voted as easiest to use – thanks mainly to its clear layout and uncluttered design – followed by Yahoo! and BBC News Online. Educational sites, webmail and travel sites all featured heavily in the ‘least usable’ category.

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