Just Ask - Integrating Accessibility Throughout Design (Book review)

It is, slowly but surely, becoming well-known that websites should be accessible to all people, regardless of any disabilities they might have. Many blogs, such as this one, contain lots of information about techniques for improving accessibility, as do the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

However, I don't see a whole lot of talk about usability testing with disabled users, and how to interact with disabled people when you actually do usability testing. And many Web professionals, including myself, who value accessibility highly don't always include people with disabilities in their projects, and don't necessarily test all websites they design and build with disabled users.

But of course we really should, and Shawn Lawton Henry's book Just Ask - Integrating Accessibility Throughout Design explains how by focusing on the importance of including people with disabilities throughout the design process.

The book has two parts. The first part explains the basics of why, and perhaps more importantly how to involve people with disabilities in your projects. This includes tips on how to find people with disabilities, some notes on various assistive technology, and how we can learn from people with disabilities.

After that, Shawn provides some very useful advice on how to interact with people with disabilities. This is great, since one of the things I notice when I do talks and workshops on Web standards and accessibility is that many feel uncomfortable talking to (or even about) people with disabilities. Shawn mentions some of the reasons people have for feeling uncomfortable, and then shares the following tips:

  • Don't make assumptions about people or their disabilities
  • Ask before you help
  • Talk directly to the user, not to the interpreter, attendant, or friend
  • Speak normally
  • Use "people-first" language when referring to people with disabilities
  • Avoid potentially offensive terms or euphemisms
  • Be aware of personal space

All very good advice.

The second part of the book is focused on how to integrate accessibility in user-centered design. Much of it is not particularly new to anyone who practices user-centered design, but the important difference is that Shawn describes how to perform user-centered design and usability testing that specifically includes people with disabilities.

It's hard to find anything to complain about with this book. It's easy to read, clearly structured, and contains very useful tips that will help you make sure your websites, software, or hardware does not have significant accessibility barriers.

The book is available for free online, but if you want to have a printed copy you can buy it from the author directly.

Regardless of whether you read it online or want to pay for a paper copy, do take the time to read Just Ask - Integrating Accessibility Throughout Design. Doing so is definitely worth your time.

Just Ask - Integrating Accessibility Throughout Design
Author: Shawn Lawton Henry
ISBN-10: 1430319526
ISBN-13: 978-1430319528

Posted on August 20, 2007 in Reviews, Accessibility