Usability Exchange Website Launched to Provide Instant Accessibility Testing with Disabled Users

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Usability Exchange website launched to provide instant user testing with disabled users. Organisations can now find out what disabled people think of their website by logging on to http://www.usabilityexchange.com

The Usability Exchange website launches today to provide instant user testing with disabled users. Organisations can now find out what disabled people think of their website by logging on to http://www.usabilityexchange.com. This launch comes just as the British Standards Institution (BSI) published new guidance last week (PAS 78) for those who commission or maintain websites, to ensure that any site they make or maintain is user-friendly for disabled people.

The Usability Exchange allows website developers to receive direct feedback from disabled people regarding the accessibility and usability of their websites - developers can even watch testers attempt to navigate their website through the use of remote viewing software.

According to the BSI's new guidelines ('Guide to good practice in commissioning accessible websites', PAS 78), website managers should conduct regular user testing with disabled people to ensure their websites are accessible. The PAS 78 guidelines stress the importance of disabled user involvement when developing and testing an accessible website: "User testing...provides the best evidence of (a) website's accessibility".

Julie Howell, RNIB Digital Policy Development Manager, said: "PAS 78 reminds website designers to consult disabled people and involve them in testing their designs at every stage of the site development cycle. Research published by the Disability Rights Commission in 2004 showed that testing with disabled users may uncover 45% more accessibility problems than testing with software alone."

However, finding a range of disabled testers to perform user testing can be difficult, and administering usability tests and collecting feedback can be extremely time-consuming. The Usability Exchange website provides a pool of testers and manages the entire testing and feedback process - it therefore offers website developers the first simple, fast and cost-effective way to include disabled people in the website development process.

The Usability Exchange website has been tested with both disabled users and public and private sector organisations including Royal Mail, Orange, Fortune-Cookie, Adult Dyslexia Organisation, Scottish Parliament, Wandsworth Council and Leicestershire Council. The Disability Rights Commission will also be trialling the Usability Exchange service from April this year.

David Burden, Royal Mail Group Chief Information Officer, said: "We're delighted to have had the opportunity to work with the Usability Exchange to help shape the development of its new web-based service. Our goal is make our products and services as easy to use for all our customers as possible, and the hands-on usability testing of our sites by disabled users that the Usability Exchange product offers will be invaluable in helping achieve this."

Bill Wessel, Usability Analyst at Orange UK said: "We are keen to ensure our products are accessible by all users. The Usability Exchange offers a simple and effective way for us to test our products with users who are disabled."

The Usability Exchange website will be particularly relevant to public sector bodies who will have a duty to consult disabled people under the new Disability Equality Duty. Simon Whitworth of Wandsworth Council said: "Like other public sector organisations, Wandsworth Council is constantly working to improve the accessibility of our information. While automated accessibility testing is useful in this regard, there can be no substitute for testing a website with disabled users. The Usability Exchange provides a fast and effective way for us to hear what disabled users think of our websites – we get real users' feedback directly and can work with these users to identify and resolve any accessibility or usability issues that might arise."

Through the Usability Exchange, website developers can create simple or complex usability tests and submit them to a range of disabled users. Once a test has been submitted to testers, organisations can monitor users' feedback in real time, with some testers providing feedback within hours of being contacted. All testers receive payment for testing websites, offering a flexible source of income for disabled testers.

The service is aimed at organisations who want to conduct usability testing of their websites with disabled users, as well as charities and consultancies who require an effective platform for conducting disabled user testing on behalf of clients. Organisations or consultancies intending to submit large numbers of tests can sign up as 'premium partners' to receive volume discounts.

The Usability Exchange has been set up by 'PhoneAnything', the award-winning phone information service. Stefan Haselwimmer, Managing Director of PhoneAnything, said: "The idea behind the Usability Exchange is to create a platform where organisations can communicate directly with disabled people to improve website accessibility."

To register with the Usability Exchange for free, go to http://www.usabilityexchange.com

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Stefan Haselwimmer
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