Search, navigation and clarity of content revealed as key usability issues for disabled web users

The increased sophistication of web sites has changed the priorities of web accessibility – with effective in-site search, good navigation, and clear, well-constructed content now the three most important usability issues for disabled internet users - according to new research from leading user experience consultancy User Vision.

The research asked a cross section of more than 200 web users with various impairments to rank, in terms of importance, the factors which aid their ease of use when online. Clarity of content – using straightforward language and a clear, simple layout – was regarded by 88% as ‘very important’. Good navigation – the ability to know where you are within a site – was regarded as very important by 65%, followed by the use of meaningful and clear hyperlinks (63%).

Factors traditionally perceived as the fundamental accessibility issues have become comparatively less significant. Good use of ‘alt tags’, for example, was only regarded as ‘very important’ by a third of respondents - while among the visually impaired users, a surprising 25% found alt tags not important at all.

Respondents were also asked to rank the most annoying and most useful features of web sites. Elements that aid users in finding content easily and navigating around sites came up high on the lists, whilst avoiding pop-ups was only fourth in the list of top five annoyances thanks mainly to the increased use of blockers which eliminate them before they appear. Inevitably scalable text remains an important issue, particularly for visually impaired users.

Top five annoyances
1. Not having in-site search
2. No sitemap
3. No internal page navigation/skip to content/back to top links
4. Pop-ups
5. Inability to change font size/colour contrast

Top five most useful features
1. Having in-site search
2. Having a sitemap
3. Clear, well labelled links
4. Having internal page navigation
5. Ability to personalise page view/font size

Chris Rourke, Director of User Vision comments:

“The broadband revolution has led to web sites becoming more sophisticated and content-rich, which inevitably increases the risk of creating barriers for impaired users. As a result factors such as an effective in-site search and navigation are becoming increasingly significant considerations which need to be moved up the development agenda. Overall web designers must consider how changes in functionality affect accessibility, and ensure that sites are regularly tested using the wide array of devices which those with impairments are using to access the internet.”

Other barriers to good usability for impaired users, according to the research; include Flash Movies, the necessity to ‘sign-in’, too many hyperlinks and online forms where fields/labels have not been marked up properly.

The research also asked respondents to name the web sites which they found most and least usable. Google was unanimously voted as easiest to use – thanks mainly to its clear layout and uncluttered design – followed by Yahoo! and BBC News Online. Educational sites, webmail and travel sites all featured heavily in the ‘least usable’ category.

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For further information on User Vision, members of the media should contact Richard Leonard at Brazil PR on Tel: 01865 725 269; email: uservision@agencybrazil.com.

Notes to Editors

RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

The research questioned a cross section of 208 internet users throughout the UK with impairments which affect the way they use the internet; comprising the visually impaired/blind, hearing impaired/deaf, physically disabled, and those with dyslexia/learning difficulties. The research was carried out by email/postal questionnaire during October 2005.

About User Vision

User Vision is a consultancy dedicated to improving the user experience of everyday products and websites. We offer a wide range of services including consulting, testing, reviewing, evaluation and training to help clients produce better products that customers find easier to use. We take a straightforward, practical approach to user needs analysis, problem solving and usability testing, leading to effective design solutions.

Whether we become involved at the design stage, or after a system has been in use for some time, we never lose sight of the user's needs. We can help you to:

reduce development and support costs
reduce the need for expensive redevelopment
increase sales

Our usability consulting and services are the ideal way to enhance your brand, improve your company's competitive position, and increase revenues and loyalty. User Vision was established in 2000, and provides services throughout the UK and Europe for many leading brands and public sector organisations.

Published on: 12:00AM on 8th November 2005