“Can I get your take as an end user?” This is a question I hear from my colleagues on a regular basis. It’s also a fair question, as my firsthand experience with document accessibility is one of the things I bring to Crawford Technologies. Having said this, the issue is not always as straightforward as it may seem.
Those in the field of document accessibility are becoming increasingly aware of the need to seek input from end users. Whether you are planning to hire an end user to work on document accessibility or you are looking for third-party testers, there are a few things you should consider.
While personal experience is often a factor when determining the most suitable candidate for any position it is rarely enough on its own to ensure success on the job.
Creating and proofing accessible documents requires specific skills and knowledge. A good example is braille proofreading. Not everyone who reads print should be a proof reader, and not all braille readers should proof braille output. This is also true for testing web sites or PDF files for accessibility. Not all blind or partially sighted individuals are subject matter experts in assistive technology and accessibility standards. Where a certification exists, such as those for braille transcribers and proofreaders, this should be a requirement for the job.
Personal versus professional opinion is another factor that you should bear in mind. The blind and partially sighted community, like every other group of people, is made up of individuals with vastly different opinions. When asked to provide professional advice I must put aside my own preferences and consider the community as a whole. For example, I am a braille reader, but large print is by far the most widely-requested accessible format. I do not retain information well when it is presented in an auditory format, but many people are very good at this, and it is their preference. Furthermore, although I use my iPhone for numerous tasks, a significant percentage of the blind and partially sighted population are seniors, who do not necessarily want a technology-based solution to their accessibility needs.
I also have to consider legislative requirements. While I may personally not have difficulty accessing a document or web site, this does not automatically guarantee compliance with accessibility standards and legislation. I would be doing my employer a disservice if I only focussed on what Jen Goulden likes and doesn’t like.
Instead of “Can I get your take as an end user?” maybe a better question is simply: “Can I get your take on this?” For an answer, you should expect professional advice just as you would from any other colleague. If the “end user” is doing their job well, this is exactly what you will get.