Standards.Next – Cognition and accessibility

On Saturday, 2009-09-19, the second Standards.Next event took place at City University in London, organised by Henny Swan and Bruce Lawson. This time the subject was ‘Cognition and accessibility’, a much overlooked topic.

I had the distinct pleasure of speaking along side some remarkable and talented people: Antonia Hyde, Jamie Knight and David Owens.

There have been several good write ups of the event already, but I’ll add my thoughts as well. The ‘key points’ are what I took from each speaker, not necessarily what they intended to be the most important.

Antonia Hyde – Accessibility beyond code

Antonia has rare access to testing time with users with learning difficulties, people who benefit tremendously from the internet. The work she does is invaluable in teaching us how we, as developers, can help. As you may be able to tell I’m a big fan!

Key points:

  • Describe content and controls literally – ambiguity is a barrier to comprehension
  • Combine icons with text to re-enforce messages
  • Colour coded blocks of content or sections of a site can enhance structure

Jamie Knight and Lion – Autism, the Internet and Antelopes

Before Standards.Next Jamie was interviewed by Henny about his experience of being a web developer / designer with autism. This was eyeopening and truly astonishing – the idea that stress could affect a person’s ability to talk for the next seven months came as a shock to me.

On the day he added to this with an entertaining talk and further Q&A.

Key points:

  • Fast paced action and speech in video can be hard to follow
  • Screen readers can help process content
  • Instructions must be in a literal form

David Owens – Lessons Learned Doing Usability Testing

David has recently been involved in user testing, something that few developers are able to do enough of. It is great that he works for a company that sees the value in this, because it is something that even big organisations often skip.

Key points:

  • Users can’t always remember how to do things that they have done before
  • Font re-size widgets still have a place, even though they duplicate browser functionality
  • Put flash controls before the flash so that users are made aware of them before they give up

Me! – Content and Cognition

It has been very interesting to read what other people took from my talk. In a way I felt that I was giving a summary of many of the points the other speakers had made. It reinforced my opinion that so many of the things we need to do to make our sites usable applies to most of the groups that we, rightly or wrongly, put users in.

The points I was trying to make were:

  • Avoid distractions
  • Mix content types to reach a wider audience
  • Provide feeds or APIs to allow others to transform your content in to new forms

It also kicked off a number of interesting discussions.

  1. I advised that popup windows should be avoided. Kath Moonan added that lightboxes, which are like in-page popups, also test badly with users. It appears that Alastair Campbell may be planning some research on this matter.
  2. I advised to not create elastic layouts, because this makes font-resize work like page-zoom rather than these being separate things. This removes choice from users. Some may disagree with me but I think it is a valid argument. Mike Davies has asked me to write more about this for one of his sites, so there will opportunity to flame me at a later time.

My slides are available online.

Other posts

8 thoughts on “Standards.Next – Cognition and accessibility”

  1. Ian,
    thanks for your write up – really wish I’d had time to write a blog post about the standards.next myself (too snowed under though).

    It was another great event — really enjoyed all the talks though I was surprised to hear about the lightboxes. I like them personally – and they are very popular for creative portfolios… so I will be following any news on that front 😉

    Thanks again for great talk 🙂

  2. Great summary, Ian. Thank you for sharing. I’ve also read through the other writeups, from the likes of Henny Swan, Bruce Lawson, et al, and it sounded like an amazing, informative event.

    In particular, the insights shared by Jamie Knight, both in the interview you referenced and his presentation at Standards.Next, were eye-opening.

    Great stuff — I’ll continue to dream up a way to get to some of these events on the other side of the pond!

  3. Thank you very much for the write-up! I read your point on elastic-layouts on a few write-ups but it was so brief that I didn’t really get it, honestly. I wish I could have been there but I’m from Argentina (and we don’t have web-related conferences, unfortunately). I would love if you could make a blog post or comment a little more about that. Thanks again 🙂

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