Accessibility and the User Experience

The development of the Internet and of search engines that can crawl millions of webpages at the snap of a finger have revolutionized the user experience for information seekers. But librarians should not assume that this revolution has benefited all users equally, or even benefited some users at all.

That’s especially true for people who have vision and/or hearing impairments or who are merely experiencing the effects of advancing age. For them, the user experience, whether physical or virtual, can be frustrating and disorienting, if not overwhelming.

Making information accessible to all is often seen as a legal issue, a matter of complying with laws and regulations mandating equal access for those with disabilities. But viewing accessibility solely through a legal lens risks blinding librarians to the challenges facing some information users and makes it more difficult to convey the urgency of addressing these challenges to those who approve library and information center budgets, design library facilities and websites, and purchase library technologies.

Jamie Lin, a multimedia designer for a higher education company, thinks the answer lies in changing the conversation about accessibility—or, more specifically, the conversations. Four of them, to be exact.

“When thinking about the user experience of a product or service or designing for a specific user, accessibility is often seen as something that affects only a small subset of potential users, not as a service directly related to the user experience of everyone,” she writes in the July-August 2018 issue of SLA’s online magazine, Information Outlook. “While I certainly do not want to exclude concepts of civil rights and equity from a discussion about accessibility, I want to bring accessibility into the center of our collective attention by highlighting the logic of it, the business case for it, and the technological inevitability of it.”

Jamie acknowledges that making accessibility a priority is challenging and that even the most well-reasoned arguments can fail to persuade. When that happens, she says, appeal to personal self-interest—and change your vocabulary.

“Call it usability, if you like,” she writes. “Call it user design or universal design or some other buzzword that is more cool or more catchy than accessibility. By any other name, it will still improve access and ease of use for everyone.”

Want to read more? Check out Jamie’s four arguments for accessibility in Information Outlook.

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