Marcy Sutton is working on making the web faster. But she found research on methods to improve accessibility lacking. She enlisted Fable to help her get real results.

Imagine that you are building a framework to dramatically speed up the entire web. You want to help billions of people access a faster internet, to make it more accessible. But, there’s a critical piece missing: research with real users who – faster speeds aside – already have accessibility issues. And that’s where Marcy Sutton found herself. 

Marcy Sutton is head of learning at Gatsby, an open source Javascript framework that helps developers build faster apps and websites. Marcy met our lead front end developer, Perry Trinier, at the CSUN accessibility conference in early 2019. By June 2019, we decided to work together. 

One of the challenges in the modern web is making changes to a website accessible. For example, if a user clicks on a button and something changes on the website, will it render in an accessible way? Or will the user be bombarded with a pop-up, a dialog box, or something unreadable? Marcy had realized that, while there are multiple recommendations to make web pages render more accessibility-friendly changes, there was very little user research on the effectiveness of these methods. This is a classic problem in technology – building a product or feature that hasn’t been properly tested by its intended users.

Let’s backtrack for a moment: how big of a problem is accessibility? In short – accessibility is a major, not a niche, problem. 1.3 billion people, a market roughly the size of China, have a disability, ranging from physical, sensory and cognitive disabilities. As an example, consider how visual the web is – ever more so with photos and videos – and then realize that there are 285 million people living with visual impairment. Also, from a business perspective: people living with disabilities possess over $1.2 trillion in annual disposable income. So companies that miss out on serving the world’s largest minority will miss out on a ton of revenue.

Back to Marcy and Gatsby: they recognized the problem at hand and decided to deal with it. She wanted to find out “which techniques [for showing changes to web pages] are the most ergonomic and intuitive to users with disabilities, and if any of the techniques presented barriers”. So she did her research. Working with our team of on-demand accessibility user testers, Marcy was able to run 5 user testing sessions. Here were a few of the users that she tested with using Fable’s platform:

  • Sam using NVDA and Chrome on Windows 10
  • Ka using JAWS and Firefox on Windows
  • Yvone using screen magnification in Chrome on a Samsung Note 9, and ZoomText for Chrome on Mac

As you can see, they were users living with different disabilities, and each had different browsers and use cases. Some used screen magnification to assist them. In each case, Gatsby learned about the tester’s browsing method and in almost all cases was able to watch them browse through the prototypes. They also asked questions to gain even deeper detail, for example “what makes that indicator confusing to you?” and were able to get valuable insights in return.  

Marcy and her team found a number of takeaways to improve their product, whether in screen magnification, switch access, keyboard-only navigation, or voice navigation. Then, they put these findings into an overall set of recommendations to improve the product.

It’s clear from Marcy’s experience that the authentic user testing made a big difference to having qualitative data to validate her assumptions in product development. Marcy remarked that the “experience of testing with people with disabilities and the results that followed felt very important, and something product teams should seek out regularly.” She also recommended this process for anyone working in digital experience design and development so that product teams can test prototypes early and implement findings into the process.

Ultimately, it’s clear from working with Gatsby that web professionals should look to users with disabilities to share what works for them – rather than building a product based on their own assumptions. Working this way can help ensure that an accessible product is built from the start that serves 15% more of the population. 

Thank you so much to Marcy and Gatsby for sharing your great story and insights. 

And of course, if you’re looking to work with a fantastic, on-demand team of user testers to improve your product’s accessibility – or scale your accessibility efforts – we’re here. Contact Fable now and we’ll get back to you today.