Content Copyright © 2006 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.
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 that the user
will look and is it in a suitable format?
- Web information: is the product web site 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 web
site with products for the vision 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 web site 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
documents for the blind’ ).
- VPAT: does the web site 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 web site: I try searching the product web site
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
- Installation and configuration: Can the product be installed
and configured by the intended use 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
- On-line 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 whilst 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 web site, if it is an office product then it is a document
etc., if it is a business package there could be invoices, reports,
orders etc. 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 whilst in others it may limit the power and
flexibility of the output. Most product 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 the usability of it for all users.