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Does accessible product = assessible vendor?

Evaluating usability

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Comment When evaluating how accessible a product is, I do not just look at the product itself but at the whole sales lifecycle. It is not much point having a wonderfully accessible product if the user cannot find out about it or effectively use it.

Also looking at the whole cycle gives me a view as to how committed the company is to the concepts of accessibility and usability and how much they are just trying to get ticks in the right boxes.

So what are the various components of the sales lifecycle to look at? Here is my list:

  • Advertising: Is the advertising in the places the user will look and is it in a suitable format?
  • Web information: Is the product website accessible (if so it is a good sign that the company take the issue seriously)? Is the format suitable for the intended user? I saw a bad example of a website with products for the visually impaired, the main information source was a video not ideal for the target audience, but what was worse was the commentary was nearly drowned out by a drum and bass backing which made it difficult to understand.
  • Web brochure-ware: Very often the website will have product brochures that can be downloaded, these are often in PDF format; this only works if they are accessible as well (see my article "Accessible PDF documents for the blind").
  • VPAT: Does the website give access to a VPAT (Voluntary Product Accessibility Template)? The VPAT should explain how accessible the product is. If it does not exist then I have a question mark over any claims of accessibility.
  • Searching the website: I try searching the product website for terms like accessibility, usability, assistive technology, section 508, disability etc. The information returned often clarifies the commitment of the company.
  • Purchase Requests: If I try and purchase the product can I do it in an accessible manner? See "A form fillers plea".
  • Installation and configuration: Can the product be installed and configured by the intended user without assistance? I was very nearly unable to install my iPod because I could not read the tiny white on silver serial number (see "iPod needs 20/20 vision" ). Not all screen readers have a vocalisation of the installation process see "What should a screen reader do?"
  • Online help and training: Can the user easily access help and training when they need it? It is particularly important that the help and training is available when needed and in context. I was trying to learn how to use a screen reader and the only real training material was a Word document; I had to use the product to read the Word document while learning the short cut keys, I got some of the keys wrong and managed to trash the Word file!
  • Classroom education: If classroom education is available it must be at an accessible site and should provide facilities for students with disabilities.
  • The product: This is obviously the key criteria, is the product itself accessible, but if the answer appears to be yes then all the other criteria become important.
  • The product outputs: In many cases the product will have some form of output. If it is a web development tool then the output is the website, if it is an office product then it is a document etc, if it is a business package there could be invoices, reports, orders. All of these outputs should be accessible in their own right. The ability to produce accessible output varies greatly. The worst products make it impossible to create accessible output. Some products enforce the creation of accessible output, in some case this is a good thing while in others it may limit the power and flexibility of the output. Most products will enable you to produce accessible output but only if you understand how to and have the determination to do so. The best products actually help, guide and encourage you to do so.
  • System management and monitoring: Once a product is in production there is always some need to manage and monitor it. This should also be done in a way that is accessible.

I do not believe this list is unreasonable and I believe that if product vendors would build accessibility into their ethos and into the development process then none of these requirements would be a major hurdle. Thinking through this whole process will improve the quality of the product and its usability for all users.

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