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User Research with Bentley University Helps EBSCO Understand the Needs of Visually Impaired Users

Posted June 7, 2017 in Insights & Research

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There are days when you show up for work at the library and the daily grind wears on you— complaints about the noise or temperature, dealing with student workers who don’t show up for shifts, cleaning up a messy workspace, to name a few. Then you get a question from a student that challenges you, and you work together to find just the right nugget of information for their assignment. You learn something new, the student is happily on their way to writing a top-notch paper, and you have another reason that you love your job as a librarian.

Working as a librarian on the vendor side, direct interaction with end users isn’t an everyday opportunity. However, once in a while you get to participate in an extraordinary experience with users, and this makes it all worthwhile.

Recently, EBSCO had the opportunity to experience one of these moments when we conducted a usability study, focusing on visually impaired students. With the help of the User Experience Center at Bentley University and The Carroll Center for the Blind, we recruited a talented and diverse group of students who participated in the study.

Here is what we learned:

Similar Preferences between sighted and non-sighted users: Visually impaired students visit the same websites as their peers (Google, Wikipedia, Amazon, etc.). Their wants and needs are also similar—- they hope to find a simple search page, relevant resources and an easy way to save documents. When considering web accessibility, software engineers need to create these same designs, taking into consideration the ways in which assistive technology can help low and no vision users to achieve the same experience.

Thorough Usability Testing of Your Site: It’s important to become familiar with assistive technology, as it provides insight into how visually impaired users navigate website content. However, it can be challenging to completely replicate the way a visually impaired user accesses web content. Always have an actual user run through the page to ensure success.

Accessible does not equal compliance: We were delighted to find that students had a positive experience and would use EBSCO databases for their research. That said, there are enhancements that can be implemented to provide a truly compliant user experience. We identified product features that were deemed compliant, yet still challenging for students to navigate.

At EBSCO, we are grateful for the opportunity to learn about the needs of our low and no vision users, and we look forward to continuing to meet their needs as they continue their search journeys.

Watch our video with highlights from our user experience study, and meet some incredible students who helped us on this journey.

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