Simply Accessible’s approach to testing signifies our commitment to users. Prioritizing users and creating a leadership role focused on testing not only affirms that commitment, but magnifies it.

Joanna Briggs was Simply Accessible’s third employee, after Derek and Jeff. When she joined us in 2009, she started out doing peer review on accessibility issues, then splitting her time between accessibility testing and conducting usability studies. “Joanna’s been with us from the beginning,” Derek says. “She adds another level of rigour with her unrelenting focus on actual test results with real people.”

“What we believe is, if it meets all the technical requirements, but isn’t usable by a person with a disability, then what’s the point?” – Derek Featherstone

For Joanna, the passion for usability testing started off as discomfort. She worked for an agency who spent thousands of hours building huge websites without knowing how people were using the sites, or if they could even get the information they needed. “It kept me up at night,” she says.

Since then, usability became her focus and she worked on teams with people who recognized the importance of testing with real people at various stages of a project, including Simply Accessible. Usability has always been top of our priority list, and we’ve incorporated usability testing in our projects for years because of what we believe about its value.

Recently, the Air Carrier Access Act made user testing a requirement. The law has been around for decades, but the recent amendments included web accessibility for air carriers. “It’s not enough that you hit all the points,” Joanna explains. “They’ve made it a requirement to test sites with people with disabilities–to actually confirm that they were able to do the tasks.”

Usability testing at SA has really ramped up thanks to the new ACAA rules and our own firm commitment, but it’s always been part of who we are. “Rigorous user testing is part of our business development,” Derek explains. “We tell our clients: This is how we do it. We always include people with disabilities. Period. It’s not optional for us.”

Why is usability testing so important?

“You can make a lot of recommendations and hypotheses about how something will be used, but you don’t know for certain if a person is going to be able to use an interface—if it’s going to make sense and be usable. You have to conduct a study.” – Joanna Briggs

Simply Accessible has taken our commitment to user testing one step further by creating a new leadership position: Manager of Accessibility and Usability Testing. A new title and a new level of responsibility for Ms. Joanna Briggs. Joanna now manages a team of folks running usability studies for all our clients. She makes sure everyone’s methods and ways of communicating stay consistent, so we’re always sending a cohesive message to our clients about how their sites and apps work for users. She stays on top of the ongoing changes and updates to assistive technology, which impacts how people are accessing the web.

Our approach to testing signifies our commitment to users. Prioritizing users and creating a leadership role focused on testing not only affirms that commitment, but it magnifies it. “Joanna in this new role allows us to continue to improve our process,” Derek says. “She’s incredibly user-centred, analytical, and intentionally thoughtful.”

He also wasn’t joking about rigour.

For each study, Joanna and her team test our clients’ sites and apps with five to seven people. These participants use a variety assistive technologies customized to their needs, including screen readers, screen magnification, keyboard-only users, and those who use various adaptations for mobility impairments. The testing team conducts several rounds of studies as each project progresses through its lifecycle.

And who are these mysterious study participants? A crew of around 300 people from all over the world.

We don’t test with professional or “power” users; these are regular folks with differing skill levels willing to offer their time to make the web a more useable place. We conduct moderated assessments, so we can see what’s going on, respond in the moment, and probe deeper to understand how someone is using a site, and what they’re experiencing as they work through it.

“Non-expert users are important to me,” Derek says. “You shouldn’t have to be an expert with a piece assistive technology to complete simple tasks.”

We also don’t have folks with disabilities perform disability-related tasks—they’re working with websites the way anyone would interact with them. “Everyone is just trying to get on the bus or book a plane ticket,” Joanna says. Making sure websites are usable for people with disabilities simply makes them more usable for everyone.

Congrats Joanna, and keep up the good work, usability team!