In Mobile Usability Testing, Who Accesses Accessibility?
I have two stories of people I know who have had acessability concerns. Here is how they relate to us as mobile testers.
One of my most interesting students is blind and about 60 percent deaf. He uses many high-tech devices that allow him to function in society and in the world. He has phone systems, OCR-Braille reading systems, and computer acessability devices. He says they help, but not as much as his “low-tech” dog helps. He is studying IT/computer programming, and I told him he should consider becoming a tester inside of IT. Read on to find out why.
I write and present on usability testing, including accessing accessibility. I think of myself as a reasonable tester, but, recently, I found out how inadequate I really am.
My mother has late-stage Parkinson’s. She depends on phones for communication, and for years she has used cellular devices. Recently, her vision, speech, and dexterity have gotten to the point where traditional cell devices are not working for her anymore. I thought a mobile smartphone device running a special accessibility program might help. It worked well for me when I tested it (and I am such a great tester). Well, when she, as an actual user, went to “test it,” the system did not meet her needs. The test failed.
Moral of the stories: As testers, we need to recognize our own biases and limitations when we are testing so that we do not fool ourselves. Intellectually, I know about these limitations, but I still fall prey to them.
When I talk about usability testing and aspects of game testing, I emphasize the importance of recruiting test users other than just a formal test team. I like approaches including “dog fooding,” development team testing, alpha-beta testing, and crowdsourced testing. In part, these approaches can overcome some tester bias limitations. Additionally, these approaches must be selected using the right players. The blind student and my mother are examples of what I mean by the right players.
We techno geeks tend to forget how diverse the world is and how biased we can become. It is misjudgment to think that we can just close our eyes to be blind or to believe that we understand how someone with Parkinson’s disease functions. I recommend checklists in usability and game tests, which include checks that we involve diverse tester-users in our test strategy. Years ago, this method was called “human factors,” a term and a specialty that is hardly used in our high-tech world today.
Not every test strategy for every mobile app needs to consider such usability and accessibility issues. As testers, we need to understand the risks different uses and users bring. My mother really does not care about playing games, and the blind student likely does not care about the latest video apps. We probably should not address high levels of accessability in these cases, but other apps might pose risk.
Mobile device risks include accessibility, legal implications (e.g., the Americans with Disabilities Act), security qualities, environmental issues, time to market, and many others. However, my personal experience, as the two stories indicate, is that I need a lot more understanding and skill in usability and accessibility testing. Training and conferences can help build skill, but sometimes you need the right users to really access accessibility.
Happy skill building.