CUA of the Month – February, 2015

James Green
“Removing obstacles is what draws me to improving UX, and also to accessibility where the stakes are higher: the problems we’re solving often go beyond making it easier to do something to making it possible.”
 
James Green

Senior Director of Usability and Accessibility
Visa Inc.

The UX Heart of Accessibility

by Jim Garrett

It is rewarding to see when major companies not only work to improve usability for the majority of their users, but put forth the extra effort to give access and a quality user experience to their users with disabilities. Our Certified Usability Analyst of the Month, James Green, is leading that effort at Visa Inc. James is Senior Director of Usability and Accessibility on Visa’s Enterprise User Experience Team, the company’s in-house “agency” that provides UX services to projects across the company and globally.

What is your role at Visa?

While my group consists mainly of analysts, the team also has visual designers and front-end engineers, allowing us to provide a complete range of UX services. We all work very closely on projects, typically assigning a few staff to a cross-functional UX team that plugs into the various projects we support. While I am responsible for Usability and Accessibility at Visa and my focus is naturally in those areas, there are two distinct facets to my focus.

The first can be described as internal to my team: Providing leadership and subject matter expertise to projects we are working on.  In a given week I may line up work for the team and manage tasks while also facilitating a user test or providing accessibility consulting to a development team.

The second facet of my role could be seen as external to the team and also arguably more important: Institutionalizing UX at Visa. I spend a lot of time evangelizing and educating staff about usability and especially accessibility, a field that is unfortunately not well understood by many in the IT industry.

We have been fortunate to make a lot of great progress in both of those areas over the 9 years I’ve been here. In fact, we’ve reached two big milestones this month: as we speak I’m sitting in Visa’s brand new, first and only in-house Usability Lab, located in Visa’s Austin, Texas office. Going forward, the teams we support have access to a fully outfitted 3-room lab, complete with HD cameras, one-way mirrors, and user eye tracking. Not only will this allow far more projects to take advantage of user testing, but the lab will serve as a tangible symbol of Visa’s decision to put users first.

Our second milestone is about scaling an important capability for Visa. We are a few weeks from releasing a global accessibility methodology to Visa. We have a complete set of requirements for designers and developers that will produce WCAG 2.0 AA conformant code as well as a testing methodology to confirm conformance. We applied UX principles to the development of these tools - they are designed to be easily consumed by staff and painlessly plugged into their existing processes. All of these materials will be placed on our intranet in a searchable documentation website with illustrations, videos, code examples, and an online training module.

What is the difference between usability and accessibility?

Accessibility is simply usability for users who have disabilities. In usability, we work to reduce the mental, memory, visual, and motor effort asked of users. In accessibility, we deal with the same goals; our users may just have different and/or greater challenges in those areas. Additionally, many users with disabilities use tools (known collectively as Assistive Technology) that often rely on special code to provide users with equivalent information and functionality.

The most common use case that comes to mind when people think about accessibility is that of a blind user interacting with a website while using a screen reader.  A screen reader is a piece of assistive technology that converts a visual experience (e.g., text, forms, tables, images) into an auditory experience by reading the content (and context) shown onscreen aloud.  Now, blind users don’t just have it read every screen from top to bottom – that would take forever. They actually approach a page the same way a sighted user does – they start by deciding if they are on the right page (a good page title is important here), then they “look the page over” to get a feel of the content and structure by using the screen reader to bring up lists of key elements like content headings, landmark regions, links, etc. After this “skimming” they will typically jump to the part of the page they are interested in and begin listening to every word.

At this point, context becomes very important – for example, if they land on a form control they need to hear details like the label and if it is required or invalid, as well as any related helper text. Likewise, if they are in a table, they need to hear the table header cells read along with the data cells or they won’t be able to follow the table. Imagine looking at a table through a tiny hole in a piece of blank paper, seeing only one cell at a time. It wouldn’t make sense. There is specific code (not typically included by developers) that must be present for these types of context to be available.

Another big area is keyboard focus.  Try to go a day without using your mouse. You’ll quickly find that designers and developers often forget this use case. Mouse events that lack a corresponding keyboard event (or even the ability for keyboard focus) are common, and can easily lock users out of key functionality.

This type of behind-the-scenes coding takes up the lion’s share of accessibility work, though there is still a whole host of other considerations – color contrast, video captions, and warnings about timeouts, to name a few.

When did you take your CUA?

I took the CUA in 2004 and then the CXA in 2012. The CUA has helped tremendously over the years. In fact, in preparation for the opening of our new usability lab we had HFI come out and do a CUA training onsite. Most of our team, even the visual designers and the engineers, now have the certification. We can all speak the same language and now that we have this lab with three rooms that need staffing, they all have the requisite knowledge to chip in when needed. It has been really good for the team.

Where do you find the passion, the fulfillment in your work?

I am a problem solver at heart, constantly seeking to understand how things work so I can figure out how to improve them. This perspective applies to how I view almost everything, not just user interfaces, but physical products, processes, even relationships between people. I’m always thinking about the optimal scenario and the barriers that exist – how do we remove them and get to that ideal state? Obviously, this mindset is what draws me to usability and improving UX. This mindset also strongly draws me to accessibility, because the stakes are higher. The problems we’re solving often go beyond making it easier to do something to making it possible.

For thousands of years, many people with disabilities have been kept at the fringes of society, as outsiders who couldn’t participate in society. They just got support from society if they were lucky and less if they weren’t.

Thanks to technology now, many people with disabilities are finding that they are not only finally able to fully participate in society, but that they can truly contribute to society as well – and we all benefit immensely from it. My small efforts at removing barriers and spreading the word are helping make that happen. I get really excited about that.

CUA of the Month

Each month we highlight the successes and achievements of a different member of our CUA community. If you are a Certified Usability Analyst and would like to be considered for CUA of the Month recognition, please send a brief professional bio to hfi@humanfactors.com

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