Usability Testing for Accessible Web Sites

May 2006

Fidelity Investments on Accessibility User Testing (May 10, 2006)

On Wednesday, May 10, 2006, Fidelity Investments hosted a Boston-IA meeting featuring Marguerite Bergel, Ann Chadwick-Dias, and Alison Savery of the eBusiness Design group describing the exemplary work being done at Fidelity to test Web site usability with blind and low vision users.

Margy and Ann reported on the results of a study that demonstrated four different Web navigation styles employed by people using the JAWS screen reader, and Alison described an accessibility overhaul of a job opportunity web site. Finally, Margy and Ann discussed the results of some preliminary studies on Flash accessibility. The evening also included a tour of Fidelity's state-of-the-art user testing facility conducted by Tom Tullis, Senior Vice President of User Experience. (Part 1 of 4)

This article is divided into the following sections:

Topic: "Usability Testing for Accessible Web Sites"

Date: May 10, 2006

Location: Fidelity Center for Applied Technology
Fidelity Investments
Boston, Massachusetts

The Fidelity Investments eBusiness Design team treated their guests to a full evening of learning, including a tour, three presentations, and enthusiastic discussions. Of particular interest was the correlation they made between usability and accessibility, and the design decisions that affect both.

Usability Tour

Prior to the evening's presentations, Tom Tullis, Senior Vice President of Human Interface Design at Fidelity Investments, led tours of the state-of-the-art Fidelity user testing labs where Fidelity conducted its recent tests with people using the JAWS screen reader.

There are two labs, set up so tests with users can be run simultaneously, each with a soundproof room, where two designers prompt the user, and a monitor room, where the technical team monitors the user's interactions. A video camera records user interactions, such as body language and facial expressions, and an eye-tracking capability shows how users scan a page.

Tom described some of the team's work with typical user behaviors. Previous studies, for example, have shown that elderly users frequently employ "cautious clicking", since they tend to deliberate more on content and are less willing to explore different features, as younger users do. Solutions currently being tested include context-sensitive help using mouseovers for links that provide an overview of the link destination.

The team's studies with eye tracking have shown that links receive the most attention, while graphics are typically overlooked. Tom also showed us an authentication technique the team is studying, which uses photo recognition as a way for users to log into a system, as a possible replacement for user passwords.


Good design is often easy to recognize and feel, although the process for creating it can be complicated. Web site users pose a challenge to information architects and developers who create sites, since users' approaches, varying needs, experience levels, and objectives require an all-encompassing design.

"Good design is just good design."

—Ann Chadwick-Dias, eBusiness Design team

It can't be stated any simpler than this, but the process of creating good design can be complicated. With so many users approaching web sites with varying needs, experience levels, and objectives, finding a design that is-all encompassing poses a challenge to information architects and web designers. Marguerite Bergel and Ann Chadwick-Dias offered case studies, findings, and possible solutions for this challenge in their presentation, "Usability Testing for Accessible Web Sites." Alison Savery of the eBusiness Design team addressed the challenge of accessibility in her presentation, "Accessibility Redesign of the Fidelity Job Opportunities Site", and Marguerite and Ann considered Web enhancements in their presentation, "Results of Preliminary Studies about Flash Accessibility." Case studies of vision-impaired users in all of the studies confirmed that adherence to a universal design is key.

Case studies of vision-impaired users in all of the studies confirmed that adherence to a universal design is key.

Anne Savitsky-Blondin is an information architect specializing in content development for intranets and training.

Continue to Part 2

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