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Accessibility: Useful Content - Part I: Defining the Problem

If you’ve written an email or posted a web page with content, you’ve probably received an email or phone call back asking you about something that email or web page already answered.

If only they read what you wrote, they wouldn’t have asked the question!

As you recall the moments you were pulling your hair out, you’ve probably also asked yourself the question, “Why didn’t they read it?”

It actually happens to all of us, at one time or another, and it can be simply described as a temporary mental disability. This is similar to an example I gave earlier of other temporary disabilities we’ve experienced, such as temporary deafness when we turn our TV on mute.

In layman’s terms, what would be a temporary mental disability? Let’s call it a distraction.

Texting and driving is a recent example. You are supposed to be focused on driving doing the following:

  • You use your eyes to look around for cars, signs, and road directions.
  • You use your ears to listen for other traffic signals or emergency vehicles.
  • You use your brain to determine what reactions you will have to what you see and hear.
  • You use your arms and legs, and feet, to tell your car what you will do to handle the changes around you.

But when you add texting to the mix, your focus is now impaired because you are also doing the following:

  • You use your eyes to read the text message or ears to listen to the text message read out to you.
  • You use your ears to listen for new text messages or your sense of touch, if you have your phone set on vibrate.
  • You use your brain to determine your reaction to the text message.
  • You use your hands or mouth to respond to the text message.

What did you notice here? The same resources are being used to do two completely different things. Your brain is very busy trying to accomplish and prioritize all of it, and it is not good at doing more than two tasks at a time.

Similarly, with all the technology we have at our fingertips and all the hustle and bustle in our lives, we are more and more distracted from the task of reading and comprehending content in emails and on websites. What are we doing while surfing the Internet?

  • Listening to music
  • Watching (or listening) to the TV
  • Talking to someone
  • Texting someone
  • Listening to loud/crying spouses/children
  • Listening to or watching pets
  • Playing a game on our computer / phone
  • Doing office work

We can’t ask people to quit these other activities and focus only on your content, so how can we better reach them with the content they were supposed to understand?

I’ve learned some easy – and some thought provoking – solutions at recent accessibility and writing conferences I’d like to share with you to improve the usability and accessibility of your websites – and maybe even your emails! Read future posts to find out more*, or go to the Cascade Server Tutorial website’s Tips and Tricks section for a head start on everyone else.

*Thank you to Johnny Robinson for giving me permission to use some of the content on his website as an example for these future posts.