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Eliminate surprises

2 minutes read

I was running a user testing session on a website some years ago, before I had any idea about accessibility and screen readers. This person happened to be blind and they were using a screen reader. They had difficulties finding their way around the website we were testing. The form they had to fill in was specifically problematic.

I instructed them to select the first option in a fancy drop down widget, but they just couldn't get to it with a keyboard.

"But it's right there," I kept saying.

"No, I can't get to it," they said.

What the what!?

I was just a deer in the headlights, completely stunned and utterly surprised by what was happening. Here was this person who was doing me a favour by testing the form on my website and at the end of it all, they were just exhausted. That little widget that I was so proud of was excluding a whole lot of people.

Total surprise!

Why was it a surprise though?

  • I didn't know what I didn't know. I wasn't aware that a lot of people will tab tab tab their way through a website. I had no idea about accessibility, people with disabilities, keyboard navigation - and semantic HTML apparently.
  • I was ignorant. I knew the tester will use a screen reader and still I thought everything will work fine. How different could it be? I did no research.
  • I wasn't prepared. Because I thought everything will go smoothly, I didn't bother to prepare for the what-if. What if something goes wrong and we can't finish the test? No preparation lead to me babbling my way through it all, probably annoying them and running the clock.

Of course I felt frustrated that I wasted their time and that I had to go back to the team and explain what went wrong and that we have to start over on some things.

What's the lesson here?

If you eliminate the surprise and plan for different circumstances your website might be used, your frustration levels will go down.

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