Often web teams spend a lot of effort on making a website accessible but don’t really know if they are making a difference. The problem is that user testing often does not include people with special needs.

Recently, we had the chance to include participants with special needs as part of usability testing for the City of Melbourne, and we saw up-close the impact that content issues can have on usability.

While the common thinking is that people scan webpages rather than read them, the situation for vision impaired people is quite different.

For a participant using a screen reader, a key strategy is to read out all the heading 2s to try to understand the structure and focus of the page. But if the content page is poorly structured, then it’s impossible to do this.

Similarly, we saw participants stymied by maps that didn’t contain clear textual pointers to the information in table format.

The results of research like this can have a profound and positive effect on content writers and the whole team. Instead of accessibility being a list of technical checkpoints, the team now thinks about the people they are trying to serve.