User Test Bank

Usability Testing is a Key Component to Business Success

A company providing services to any specific market will do testing with members of that demographic - so why do so few companies test their products and services with users who have disabilities?

The Center for Accessible Technology (CforAT) offers a test bank made up of individuals with disabilities. In our direct service work with clients, we have met many people with a wide range of disabilities, as well as varying technology expertise, age, ethnicity, education etc.

We recognize that these people have developed expertise in working with technology, based on their own level of technical ability and the way they accommodate their own disabilities. We have recruited users to participate in user testing so that companies, government entities and other organizations can learn how their products and services are used by people with disabilities.

Traditional user testing very rarely involves people with disabilities, or, when it does, generally a very small number of people with disabilities are involved. Generally, when a development team brings in users with disabilities, those users are often team members who have disabilities, and cannot be said to be impartial observers. Our experience has been that disability is often the last factor considered in product design, but in fact disability may be one of the most important in successfully creating products and services that are usable by the broadest spectrum of users.

We are great believers in Universal Design: design that considers the broadest spectrum of human ability, and that creates products and services that are adaptable to the widest range of abilities. Our experience is that Universal Design leads to products that are not only more broadly usable by people with disabilities, but are more user friendly to ALL users.

Common User Scenarios

The spectrum of disability experiences is as broad as the spectrum of humanity. The following list is in no way intended to be a comprehensive representation of the disability community. Rather, the goal is to provide an overview of some common user scenarios, so that web teams have at least a basic understanding of how some people with disabilities access the web.

Blind Users

Blind users, who cannot read text no matter how much it is enlarged on a screen, generally access computers by using “screen reader” software. Screen readers convert what is on the screen into a spoken synthesized voice (screen readers can also produce Braille output, but synthesized voice is more commonly used).

While screen reader software is quite powerful and provides many shortcuts for advanced users, blind users face several important challenges when using the web:

  • It is tedious. A blind user cannot scan a page within a couple of seconds and decide what section they want to read or click on in a couple of seconds the way a sighted user can. They have to listen as the screen reader reads through what is on screen from top to bottom.
  • A blind screen reader user doesn’t use a mouse. Most blind users use only the keyboard for navigation, and many websites do not expose all of their functionality to the keyboard, or use keyboard shortcuts that interfere with screen reader keyboard commands.
  • Screen reader software relies on well-structured pages. Pages that don’t use semantic HTML, headings where appropriate, well-labeled form fields, and other best practices of web development are virtually impossible for blind users to use.

Low Vision Users

We use the term low vision to mean anyone who has a significant visual impairment, but still relies on enlarged screens and bigger font, rather than speech or Braille output.

Many low vision users use screen magnification software or handheld magnifying glasses. While there is a wide spectrum of visual abilities, it’s not uncommon for a low vision user to set screen magnification to a level where they’re seeing only one-sixth or one-eighth of a typical screen (because, in enlarging the screen, much of the screen moves out of view, and must be navigated to). In effect, these users are “swimming” around the screen, trying to find key content.

Low vision users often encounter barriers that make web browsing difficult:

  • Long lines of text, where they have to scroll across to read each line, then jump back to start the next line. This makes it hard to find the start of the next line when reading, since it is often far off screen to the left.
  • Inconsistent placement of navigation items or key interface elements. Because of only seeing a small part of the screen at any one time, low vision users often have to hunt for navigation items, if they are not placed in standard locations.
  • Action items (such as form submit buttons) off to the right, which are difficult to locate in what is effectively a large sea of space.
  • Screen magnification users often miss content on the right side of the screen. It is therefore important to place critical information on the left or middle area of the screen.

Users with Mobility Impairments

The term users with mobility impairments also represent a wide range of abilities. For example, this group can be:

  • Sighted users who use the keyboard exclusively because they do not have the dexterity to use a mouse
  • People with temporary injuries who are using assistive technology for the first time
  • People who have difficulty with fine motor control
  • People with severe physical limitations who use input devices such as a mouth stick to control their computer.

Users with Cognitive Impairments

Users with cognitive impairments are probably the largest group percentage-wise, but also the most diverse in their disabilities. Because of their diverse (and sometimes divergent) needs, the techniques that help one person can actually make the experience less accessible for another person.

For this group, there is a real convergence of usability and accessibility. The advice we give includes using clear, direct language; using intuitive interface elements; having a consistent layout for the site with unique page titles. All these not only make the site more usable by people with cognitive disabilities, but in fact make the site more usable by ALL visitors.


Seniors are a large and growing market segment, but their needs are often overlooked in development of new products. Seniors generally do not identify as being “people with disabilities” but their needs are often very much impacted by issues of vision, hearing, mobility and cognition.

For this group, there is a need to not only consider the issues listed above, but also to have a sensitivity to their life experience and their desire not to be identified by their disabilities. Although traditional senior profiles list seniors as having a lack of proficiency with technology, many seniors are very comfortable using technology, and just need to ensure the technology will adapt to their changing abilities.

However, seniors are often people who do not have the wealth of experience in using the Internet, and may be unfamiliar with how websites are designed. In effect, they have a disability that is caused by their lack of knowledge of how websites can be constructed.

By considering the way people with disabilities use technology, development teams will gain a competitive advantage, creating products that are more usable not just by people with disabilities, but by all users. The issues identified by people with disabilities are often the issues that impact many other people who do not have (or do not identify as having) a disability.