Accessibility: Understanding the end users

On several occasions recently I have been asked about how I fully understand the benefits of accessibility for the end users when I don’t have a disability. It’s a question that has been lingering in my mind for a while. I know that I will never fully understand all types of disabilities but there are ways in which we can all gain a better understanding of these users.

Volunteering hands image

Disability organisations are nearly always looking for volunteers, even if it’s only 2 hours per week on your lunch. Try looking for drop in centres or charities in your area and get in touch with them to see if you can volunteer or even just drop by for an hour.

User testing

user testing

When you are thinking about the user groups you need to recruit for user testing include people with different impairments. Research the charities, organisations, people or companies that could aid finding the users you need. Finding these users will be difficult at first but an organisation will be more willing to help you if you have already worked with them to recruit participants.




There’s loads of cool ebooks, podcasts and videos that can help with understanding accessibility and people with disabilities. Below are just a few that I’ve found recently (add more cool stuff in the comments!):


Events / exhibitions 

speaking up speaking out art show

Speaking up speaking out (SUSO) is a self-help group for adults with learning disabilities and they have a drop-in centre in Macclesfield which is open 4 days a week. A few weeks ago I was invited to an event that was held by SUSO at the ArtSpace in Macclesfield. This event was aimed at challenging misperceptions of learning disability by asking the people who come to the drop-in centre how they feel they are seen by others. Going to the event was very insightful for me and helped me to understand

The website for Speaking up Speaking out:



Another way in which we can try to understand users with disabilities is by using the same technology. Whenever I need to test the keyboard accessibility on a website I will load up NVDA screenreader, turn of my monitor and try to navigate around the website. Or, if I want to understand the affects of colour blindness I use the NoCoffee Chrome add-on. Using the same technology can aid our understanding of how different technologies interact with our websites.

Testing web accessibility using the WCAG 2.0 guidelines

WCAG stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and it was created by The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The guidelines provide different success criteria (A, AA, AAA) and in order to meet the needs of the different disability groups and situations websites should aim to meet the highest criteria (AAA).

The best way to use WCAG 2.0 is to follow the guidelines throughout designing, developing and testing a website. The table shown below  is just one example of how the guidelines can be laid out and used for testing:

Example table for accessibility testing
Example table for accessibility testing

A copy of the blank the table shown in the screen shot above can be found at the following link:

The table in the link above includes all the principles, success criteria and guidelines mentioned in the WCAG 2.0 website.

In WCAG 2.0 there are links provided next to each guideline with guidance on how to meet and understand the criteria. On these links you can find a list of recommended techniques to meet each criteria and if you click on a technique WCAG provide an in-depth description; examples; related techniques; external links and advice on how you can test for that specific guideline.

meeting the guidelines on right side of WCAG site
Right hand side links on WCAG 2.0 site

When carrying out a test and filling in the table it is a good idea to include any tips or external links you find that might aid the developers when they are fixing an accessibility issue. Another good idea is to include link any online tools you have used or would recommend.

When using the WCAG 2.0 guidelines in your company try to get all teams to use it, including designers, developers and those testing the site. You can use any table layout or method that you prefer, but try to include all guidelines even if it is not compulsory for you to pass all of the criteria.


Guest lecture on guerilla usability testing and paper prototyping

I was asked to give a guest lecture about usability testing and paper prototyping at the university I graduated from in May 2013 (UCLan). This lecture included a presentation and a workshop and it was for a class of second year students.

The opening slides included an introduction into usability; usability testing and guerrilla usability testing. After this I asked the lecturer to come up to the front computer that I was presenting from and take part in a (quick and simple) usability test. For the usability test, I was the facilitator and the lecturer was the participant, I carried out 3 tasks with him whilst asking open-ended questions such as “what did you expect on this page?”

The usability test worked well as it let the students watch a live usability test and showed them how easy it is to do. After the test I asked the students how they would improve the website based on the test we had just done and they feed back good suggestions.

Following on from the example usability test, I went more in-depth about usability testing, discussing how to recruit participants; setting up your environment and being a facilitator. I then provided guidance on how to write effective usability testing tasks for your participants before asking the students to choose a website and write 3 tasks for the website they had chosen.

Once the students had wrote 3 tasks for their chosen website I asked them to get into pairs with someone who had used a different website and take turns to be the facilitator and do a usability test. The pairs then swapped so they both got an opportunity to be the participant and the facilitator.

For this workshop the students were given a copy of the tasks and a script framework which can be viewed here (on Dropbox as PDF’s):

The next topic was paper prototyping which I explained briefly before showing the following YouTube video to the students to help explain it in more detail:

After watching the video I gave the students iPhone templates (from UX sticky notes – and pencils. I then asked the students to individually re-design a mobile version of the website they choose earlier and use their usability test findings to aid the designs.

Once they had completed the designs the students were asked to download POP paper prototyping application on their phones ( The students then used the POP application to take photos of the different screens they had designed and link it up so that they could click through it. Everyone at the lecture engaged with the tasks and said they enjoyed using the POP paper prototyping application.

Using personas to influence your competitor analysis

A recent project I was involved in required a competitor analysis that was based around the persona’s needs and motivators.

Below is a suggested process for doing a competitor analysis:

  1. Look over your user testing questions and create tasks from them to carry out on all the competitor websites (e.g. sign up to email alerts)
  2. Next go over your persona’s goals and motivators, if any of them are not included also add them as tasks.
  3. If you are creating a competitor analysis for a client, make sure you take into account what they want to find out and try to accommodate this with a task.
  4. Use XMind or Microsoft Excel to write down each task and website name (see examples below)
  5. After this do one website at a time and go through your spreadsheet or XMind and carry out each task whilst writing down your findings (see example below)
  6. When carrying out these tasks remember to think about both the user experience side as well as a functional view
  7. Present your findings on a PowerPoint or word document. Include each task on a separate page/slide including evidence using screenshots of each webpage placed next to each other. Below this create a list of what worked and what didn’t work (i.e.  what was good on the website and what wasn’t).
  8. If done correctly you should find good points and bad points about the different websites. It is unlikely that you will be able to choose your favourite website once you have completed the analysis.

There is a vast range of ways in which a competitor analysis can be carried out. The way I have explained is concentrating on persona’s and user experience more so than marketing strategies.

Accessibility websites and online tools

My research for accessibility in terms of users with cognitive disabilities for a university project included looking at various available testing tools. I spoke with digital companies and professionals about what tools they use; and sourced information on all the tools available. Instead of just reading about it, I also used all the tools found on websites I had created and current online sites. Tools and guidance online help with creating accessible websites more quickly because you are able to view the errors straight away whilst also understanding what may be missing on the current design/development.

The list below includes the main accessibility guidance and tools I used to build a website for people with cognitive disabilities; however, it does cross over with hearing and sight impairments:

  • W3C validator: The obvious website to use, if your site doesn’t validate then these errors could affect the functionality, making it difficult to use.
  • W3C WAI: A website all about accessibility, including a very large list of online tools and guidance for developers.
  • WAVE: One of my personal favourites, it tells you if there are any errors and exactly where these errors are. It also tells you what you are doing right in terms of structure and HTML5.
  • JUICY Studio: They provide various different testing tools, including looking at the readability; contrast and ARIA controls.
  • Snook contrast checker: This page let’s you try different colours using HEX codes or their colour slider and helps you choose colours which contrast significantly against each other.
  • Responsinator: Not known for being an accessibility tool, but with responsive design becoming more popular, it’s important. This tool shows you your site on a large number of different devices.
  • WebAim: A great resource for accessibility tools; information; case studies and examples of how users with different disabilities interact and view the web.
  • Fangs screen reader emulator (free Firefox add-on): When it came to looking at cognitive disabilities, I found that many users who have severe dyslexia often use a screen reader to view the web. This tool allowed to me to view how websites would be read by a screen reader – it’s an eye opener and very interesting to use.
  • Browser stack: View your website in various different browsers – this is a paid service but you can get a free trail. It is the best cross-browser tool I could found which also let you interact with your site inside the browser chosen.

Please feel free to comment on this article with any useful accessibility tools and websites you have used or know of 🙂

Why I want to work in UX

Recently I have been asked on multiple occasions about the reasons for my decision to go into user experience as my future career – therefore, I have decided to write this post about just that.

It started around a year ago when I witnessed my younger sister, who has learning difficulties, struggling using various websites. Whilst watching her it made me wonder if there was a way which these sites could be improved for users with different abilities.

After searching online, I soon found out more information on accessibility, but even then I noticed that the majority of the content was for the visually and hearing impaired more than cognitive impairments. When doing this research, I also found out more about user experience and how different UX methods can create websites which are built around the users – resulting in a big improvement in terms of the usability on websites, especially for users with cognitive disabilities.

From this I found out there is a large UX community, who are also very passionate about ensuring all websites are accessible to users with all abilities. With a big intrigue in the community, I began to attend UX events, mainly in Manchester, at the first event I attended (NUX) everyone I met was friendly and very passionate about user experience.

The helpful and approachable community of people was one of the main reasons I decided UX was a career I wanted to go into. Since my first event I have learnt a large amount about the subject in such a short space of time thanks to fantastic books; speaking to industry professionals and reading online articles.

All this has resulted in my university project idea “creating content-rich and accessible websites for users with cognitive disabilities” which I am currently working on and my current pursue for a UX career once I graduate.

Students aspiring to work in user experience

In three months time I will have completed my university course in web and multimedia, then another two months after that I will (hopefully) be attending my graduation ceremony.

I’d be lieing if I said I’m not currently stressed and worried.

However, following/contacting companies on Twitter and attending events such as the Manchester digital talent day has made me more confident that I will find the right job for me after university.

Due to user experience being such a specific job role, I often get advised to say I will work in various different sectors to make me more employable. Although this is good advice, if you have a passion for a certain role and you know a lot about it, isn’t it better to aspire to work in that sector?

It is more difficult to find graduate schemes offered by companies for user experience and I have found it is best to contact companies directly to ask about working in this area. Another option is to look at Junior UX positions, as these positions will usually ask for recent graduates.

Below is a short selection of sources I have found over the past year which will hopefully help other students and graduates:

Free events (mainly based around North West)
– Keep a look out on Manchester Digital events page
– Northern user experience
– UXPA events
– UXPA jobs event
– HCI events in London
– Camp Digital

Selection of companies (mainly based around North West)
– Code Computerlove
– We are sigma
– BBC UXD / Design team
– Amaze
– Numiko
– What users do
– Simple usability
– Keep it usable
– (For the girls): Lady Geek
– Manchester Digital
– Foolproof
– IC Creative

Tips / Advice
– Make it clear on social media that you are aspiring to work in user experience – at first I was worried that not knowing everything about UX meant I couldn’t say I wanted to work within that area only.

– Go to as many UX, creative and digital events as possible: you will always meet new people and gain more knowledge at every event.

– Look out for relevant graduate/job fairs: They are awesome and you meet a large variety of different companies.

– Get professional on LinkedIn and Twitter: Fill out all your work experience; don’t be afraid to add other UX professionals and tweet good UX stuff.

– Start a blog: My blog isn’t only about user experience, but it’s always good to write about your projects and you.

– Create a print and web portfolio: this is where I went wrong, I didn’t spend enough time on my portfolio’s early enough – start it early; tell a story with your work and why it works for the user.

Please let me know if you have any sources, events, etc which can go onto this list.

Design meets disability; The Undateables and BCUR

Recently my project about creating accessible websites for people with cognitive disabilities has taken a slight break due to the holidays. I started January of by buying the book ‘Design meets disability’ which is about how design and disabilities have influenced each other. It is very interesting, discussing all types of disabilities and iconic moments in fashion, whilst using striking images that compliment the text. One iconic moment which the book brought to my attention was a photo shoot called ‘Fashion-able’ in the magazine ‘Dazed and confused’ which used disabled models for their article.

Last week I began watching the series ‘The Undateables’, a programme on Channel 4 which follows people with challenging conditions (such as learning difficulties and cognitive disabilities) on their search to find love. It is sensitive, kind and an eye opener as it gives you an insight as to how these people struggle when put under the pressure of dating. In one episode a gentleman with aspergers has to use an online map to find out the location for a date he’s going in a few days later. Unable to use the map easily he gets very frustrated with the application; so much that he walks away from the computer and gives up trying to use the map.

Program’s like The Undateables and magazine shoots such as ‘Fashion-able’ are helping to put people with disabilities right into the public spot light; which I think it a massive positive. Many people have a fear of things they do not know much about or understand and this can come across as judgemental. Personally, before this project I did not know a great deal about disabilities, especially ones which affect the mind such as autism. As I am finding new research I become even more intrigued about how people’s minds can work differently, I find it fascinating. Therefore, I think making the public aware of the different types of disabilities and how they affect an individual could help to educate and remove any stereotypes surrounding them.

In December I entered my project into the British Conference of Undergraduate Research. This is a large conference, held at the end of March, where students from various different universities come together and share each other’s projects using posters; presentation and essays. If I’m honest I viewed the other projects which entered in the past and they were mainly scientific based subjects which made me think I wouldn’t be accepted, however, I still put my project forward. Recently they got back to me to tell me that my project has been accepted and I will be giving a 10 minute presentation at the conference.



Post-it notes and card sorting

Card sorting is a user experience technique which has interested me for a while,  however, I have never had the opportunity to try it out within a project. When it comes to card sorting I have often thought – what are the benefits? is it a useful technique?

Within a company created for a university module, myself and the website sub-group came together to decide on what our main site navigation names will be.
Of course, the post-it notes came out.
Using post-it notes allowed us to work together as a team, creating different possible names, moving them around, creating a post-it styled site map. It took longer than expected (one hour) and we only finished up with very basic navigation names which we still wasn’t 100% sure off.

At all times I kept asking the group “will the user understand this name” and “we don’t want to make them confused or have to think about what the page will include” – with this in mind our navigation names and structure changed several times. If we had more time in the project it would have been good to get users to come visit us and watch how they structured the post it notes or ask them to come up with possible names.

However, due to time constraints, I decided to use Bagel Hint to create an online card sorting survey. I was lost when I first approached it considering I’m still learning what all the terminology means. The two types of tests I used included ‘Link naming’ (creating a question such as “where would you go to find children’s clothing” and writing in many different possible names for the user to choose from) and ‘closed card sorting’ (giving the user your categories on the website with sub-category names and asking the user to drag these names into the category they feel is best suited).

You can pay more for lots of extra features on Bagel Hint – I will definitely be purchasing it once I’m no longer a poor student. For the free option you can create a survey and only 5 people can respond – but we have only had 3 results so far and already I am getting a good understanding of which names need to be re-considered and which names are fully understood by the users.

Useful resources 

  • If you want to know more in-depth information on card sorting here’s a good article:
  • For the card-sorting online software I used visit: Bagel Hint
  • Also, the book ‘A project guide to UX Design’ has a great section on card-sorting and it speaks about many other UX Research techniques in-depth: Book on Amazon

Looking for user testing participants isn’t easy

Or at least, I haven’t found it easy.

For my final year project I am currently looking for user testing participants who have a cognitive disability. I am lucky enough to know many great people and friends who fit my participant criteria and who are happy to take part in the user testing. However, I still need more people to make sure my results are reliable and that I am able to compare my findings.

I have found a small range of people already but it has been a lot of working including: contacting around 20 different local disability organisations; posting onto accessibility forums (a good one is Accessify Forum); and constantly contacting different relevant schools within my university. With all this, three organisations got back in touch and only one organisation were happy to get on board and get involved with my project.

User testing will always be a large amount of work. But by doing them I will gain a primary insight about my audience and how they use certain sites, which will shape how I create the final project website. These findings will also be noted down into a usability report for other designers to view, and hopefully change their views on accessibility. The findings from previous user testing I have conducted has been highly valuable and it changed the opinion of the designer I was working with at that time who previously didn’t see the benefit of user testing.

– If you are currently looking for participants with the same criteria yourself and need guidance on user testing a great website is UI Access, they explain the whole process from finding participants to conducting the tests.

– If you or anyone you know are interested in taking part in my project please email: