In countries such as Japan, parts of Europe and the USA. the age of those using technology is shifting with older people (those over 65) making up nearly a quarter of the population. This has an impact on the way we present technology as well as the content. Many people develop dexterity, visual, hearing and understanding difficulties with old age and need the support of assistive technologies. When one includes those who have developmental disabilities some say over 25% of the population in these countries need personalised technologies suiting their language skills and individual environment.
The Nielsen Norman Group: ‘Beyond ALT Text’ research (2001) with disabled individuals found that “the usability issues relating to accessibility are so strong that they dominate the findings and turn out much the same in different countries.” The research showed that when surfing for particular websites sighted participants who use no assistive technology were:
- about six times more successful at completing tasks than people using screen readers
- three times more successful than people using screen magnifiers
Providing good usability alongside accurate localisation can aid accessibility and address many individual needs. Examples of good practice when building products and web based services include:
- good contrast levels of text on background colours and avoiding busy backgrounds for important text is often mentioned under accessibility, but it helps readability for all.
- avoiding the need for users to travel through many web pages, links or menu items to get to their goal. Keep navigation clear, quick and easy and make buttons and links clearly visible by shape, colour and consistent style.
- always offering the ability for someone to search for items not just browse lists etc. It is possible to use the Browser search when working on the web but only for that page and not all individuals know this is possible.
- including headings and making them relevant in the local language as well as easy to see alongside other text with good spacing.
- avoiding anything that moves or blinks on a page as this can be a distractor and it is important to avoid bright and conspicuous advertisements that can be distracting. It is important to check the type of advertisements that are appropriate at a local level.
- tests to see how quickly a page loads and the impact it might have on older computers and poor connection speeds as well as checking individual frustration levels!
- letter spacing and easy to read text which has been discussed in Language impact on Layout
- Clear information on the first page of the online service or web page or instruction manual to tell the user what to expect.
- checks for how many windows are going to open with the use of extraneous links and plugins – too many not only cause confusion but they can be slow to open and hard to use with some assistive technologies.
- testing time to check broken links or pop-up dialog boxes that return a message that is not easy to understand or appears in another language such as a ‘404 error page’ on a website.
- easy to reach contact information with an address in the correct international layout and an international telephone number – preferably in addition to any free number, as this may not work from outside the country. Links to a map can also help in some circumstances.
Accessibility, usability and assistive technology led localisation does not mean ‘dull and without interaction’. It is still important to work with vibrant, colourful websites containing multimedia and exciting content as these features can come with alternative formats and hidden hooks for screen reader and keyboard only users that often help others.
Small byte sized chunks of clear information with good graphics (with alt tags) can help everyone and with responsive design techniques this should be possible in any cultural environment using any type of technology.
- Nielsen Norman Group (2001) Usability Guidelines for Accessible Web Design http://media.nngroup.com/media/reports/free/Usability_Guidelines_for_Accesible_Web_Design.pdf