Resources for Web and Mobile accessibility

Derek Wilson, a Career Development Practitioner with the Neil Squire Society, visited the Okanagan Developer’s Group yesterday to discuss with local devs accessibility online and on mobile. He gave us a demonstration of various assistive technologies such as VoiceOver and the Rotor on iPhone, and JAWS a popular (and expensive) screen reader application.

It was very enlightening to the designers and developers in the room, most who have never seen a visually impaired person use a computer, nevermind a touchscreen device.

I think it was enlightening for Derek as well. He got some insight into how real developers work, and was surprised that only one person in the room was a formally trained programmer (and his background was still unconventional, with much of his training in mathematical programming).

The fact that the web can work without knowing anything about standards is a boon to permissionless innovation, but a bane to users that require adherence to standards.

Below is a list of resources that Derek shared with the audience at OKDG to help them be more inclusive in their work. Follow him on Twitter @culturemate for more resources.

WAI Specs diagram


Other Resources



Videos and Audio

Screen Readers and the Web (YouTube)

See Web Accessibility Training Day, put on by The National Federation of the Blind Center of Excellence and the Maryland Technology Assistance Program. Below is a selection recommended by Derek. All links to the MP3 files are on the NFB site.

  • Accessibility: The Natural Outcome of Innovative and Inclusive Business, Eve Hill (Department of Justice)
  • Panel on Enterprise Implementation of Accessibility, Tony Olivero (Humana), Peter Wallack (Oracle), Steve Sawczyn (Deque)
  • Panel on Education Implementation of Accessibility, Kara Zirkle (George Mason University), Janna Cameron (Desire2Learn), Cheryl Pruitt, Susan Cullen (California State University)
  • The Trusted Tester Program, Bill Peterson (Department of Homeland Security)
  • PDF Accessibility in an Enterprise Setting, Shannon Kelly (Actuate)
  • HTML5 Accessible Design, Paul Bohman, Preety Kumar (Deque Systems)
  • Google MOOC Introduction to Web Accessibility, Louis Cheng (Google)

Why don’t women get drag-and-drop?

I have noticed over the past few years that new or novice computer users that fail in certain types of drag-and-drop operations are overwhelmingly female. This is purely anecdotal, and I may be suffering from confirmation bias, but I find this an interesting path of investigation. Hopefully someone out there can draw some light on this topic.

Advanced D&D

Typical drag-and-drop operations involve clicking and dragging one object (eg. a file) onto another object (eg. a folder). When the dragged object is correctly positioned over the target object, the pointer usually displays a “+” symbol and the target object is highlighted. It is critical that the mouse pointer is on top of the target object before releasing the mouse button.

New users often find this final point challenging, particularly when dragging large objects to smaller ones. For example, when dragging an image from Safari to a folder on the desktop Mac OS X represents the dragged image at full size and half opacity. If the image is large, new users might let go when they perceive a part of the image touching the target object, letting go of the mouse button too early and failing the operation. Users concentrate on the position of the dragged object on screen, rather than the position of the pointer. It only takes a moment to — ahem — “point out the pointer“ to the new user and they get it.

I am not sexist

So why is it that I am always pointing this out to female users? Like I said before, this is simply anecdotal so I tried to find some proper research.

A cursory search on the internet did not bring up any specific research, but I did find this study on large, hi-res displays which suggests some gender bias in clicking and drag-and-drop skills. According to the study’s findings, in a clicking task males performed 8% faster (on average 3.1 seconds faster) than women (pp. 6), and in a drag-and-drop task males performed 12% faster (13.7 seconds) (pp. 7). The study was not directly about gender bias in drag-and-drop operations, but the data suggested something is going on.

Does it matter (you sexist)?

As someone with (somewhat of) a cognitive science background, I find this line of inquiry a potential window into the structure and operation of the human brain, particularly the differences between male and female brains. Is it related to differences in spatial cognition? Does interacting with a touch interface elicit the same responses? Had women a dominant role in the computer industry during the genesis of the GUI, would they have designed drag-and-drop differently? What other gender biases are there in usability?

I can only hope there is a graduate student out there looking for a usability or cogsci thesis topic, and has the spare time and funding to tackle these burning questions.

When folks need an elevator, we should give them an elevator, not an airplane. We’ve been giving them airplanes for 30 years, and then laughing at them for being too stupid to fly them right.

It’s like… Like if you asked a friend if there was a Starbucks in his neighborhood and he said, yeah I think there’s one half a mile down, maybe. And you drive half a mile and see a big carwash place, and you park and walk in and ask to speak to the manager. And you tell the carwash manager how unhappy you are with this terrible new Starbucks redesign.

Part of Neven Mrgan’s hilarious explanation of this (via marco)

The simple version of the above is not knowing the difference between the browser’s Address field and Search field, or, searching for the site URL that you visit every day. This is a widespread problem. I have spent the better part of three years watching people do this. Despite my admonitions my wife does this. I know PhD’s that do this. It is like never remembering any phone numbers and calling the operator every time you want to talk to one of your friends (which makes me think: what if there was a charge for search like the connection charge for 411?).

Is this error the user’s fault? Maybe, but due to its ubiquity I think it is a usability problem. Google Chrome’s unified address bar may be one solution. But even then false positives like the RWW case can happen. For most people, the internet is still hard.