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 Accessibility, Reviews


  1. What I have read of that (on-line) book so far, makes perfect sense.

    Being somewhat handicapped myself and having friends with different handicaps, I find most accessibility issues in web design to be non-issues, and most attempts to solve “accessibility problems” to be counter-productive.

    Based on my own discussions with my friends about web design, I’ve found the ones with some kind of handicap the easiest ones to please. They’ve got their own solutions - AT and preferred UA options, and rarely ever need any of mine.

    Usability/accessibility should be the basis, upon which one can add more or less whatever one like (and can get away with) design wise. As long as nothing regarding the visual design gets in the way, the user (handicapped or not) is likely to find what s/he is looking for and make use of whatever functionality s/he needs.

  2. Ok will read the ‘free’ version :) or am I just being a cheapie??

  3. Free book? Score! :)

  4. Thanks for the pointer to the book. I hadn’t come across this one, will read later today! I still dream that one day no matter what - all websites will be accessible and usable to all. (and that browsers would refuse to work on an inaccessible site - but that is my dream, not a reality!) People are becoming more aware, but still not fully working towards making the web a better place for all.

  5. I try and cater for disabled users but I have no means of testing. All I can do at this point in time is do the basic stuff and hope that it helps.

  6. I often see that we should also include testing with disabled users, but really no pointers in how to do that.

    One suggestion for you is to research the area you live in and see if there is a retirement community that you could solicit volunteers. Older folks that use the internet could be a great resource for visual testing, and dexterity issue testing.

    As for other users, research your area and look for community support services agencies that offer services to the disabled community. Contact them and ask for assistance. Trust me, they are probably just as interested in making the web more accessible and usable as you are!

  7. It is a great book! I highly recommend that everyone checks it out.

  8. August 21, 2007 by Nick Saxton

    It really shows how important this is to the author that he makes it available for free. He obviously wants to get the info out to all. Good job!

  9. You wrote: “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.”

    Last year we have in our forum posted a site, which have get awards from the government in germany for excellent accessibility for persons with disabilities.

    After some very bad postings follow for this site, like table layout, many images, not readable for normal peoples, the webmaster of this site ask the forum members why the criticism is so hard.

    In this moment, all posters begin to use their brain and help with good suggestions.

    A few months later, the webmaster of this site post that the site relaunch is finished. And she tell us, that most persons with disabilities have done what they can do for this site.

    Here is this site (german only): Lebenshilfe Angesagt

    I think, that you will have no problems on this site. It is made from and with persons with disabilities.

    Hope that’s a great example for your book review.

  10. Free always sounds great :) I’ll have to take a look at it. I wish more people would do sample chapters or online versions like this. I am definitely one of those people who will buy the printed book if I like the preview/online version.

Comments are disabled for this post (read why), but if you have spotted an error or have additional info that you think should be in this post, feel free to contact me.