COVID-19 forced the government to operate much faster than usual. New benefits were designed and developed in record time, to support people during the pandemic.
Across government, it was clear that we need to work together so that everyone who needs these new programs can find, understand, and use them. That includes people with physical or cognitive disabilities.
Usability testing with assistive technology users
To support this work, the Digital Transformation Office (DTO) conducted dozens of usability tests. Usability testing can help find problems that might affect many people. They are a key part of our toolkit in improving digital services.
One of the studies the DTO ran assessed the accessibility of some new Canada.ca designs that are being used for certain key COVID-19 pages and programs. The study focused on people who use screen readers or magnifiers to navigate the web. We wanted to make sure people could use these technologies to get to and understand specific content. In this study, we focused on the following pages, as they used the design patterns we wanted to test:
- Canada.ca home page
- Coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
- Canada Emergency Response Benefit
- Canada Emergency Student Benefit
- Canada’s Economic Response Plan
Just like testing on both mobile devices and desktop, it’s important to know how people using assistive technology use a website. Screen readers convert a web page to spoken text or braille. A screen magnifier lets you zoom in close to text to make it easier to read. Both technologies require different ways of navigating websites from what many content designers and authors are familiar with.
Watch some participants navigate Canada.ca using assistive technology:
Overall, the testing showed that the new templates and patterns performed well for assistive technologies. Participants commented on how the clear link text, subway navigation pattern, larger fonts and simple design helped them understand the content.
We did find some areas that need improvement. For example:
- some pages had repeated duplicate links, which can be confusing if you navigate by listening to a list of links on the page
- one page had a button that didn’t appear to have any effect when clicked, because there was no cue that the page had changed
- verbal descriptions on how to use menu controls were too wordy
We’re now working to make the necessary changes to further increase the effectiveness of these designs. Moving forward, we will continue to do more testing with people who have different types of disabilities.
Well designed content helps everyone
Regardless of the audience we test with, the evidence comes back each time showing how basic design techniques make content work better for everyone. Our research with screen readers showed once again the importance of clear headings, links, and language in navigating Canada.ca.
Learn more about writing in plain language and how to create effective headings and link text in the Canada.ca Content Style guide:
Designing digital government services with accessibility in mind is key to ensuring that everyone can get the services they need quickly and easily.
- A case for descriptive link text
- Making your service accessible: an introduction (Gov.uk)
- Do’s and don’ts of designing for accessibility (Gov.uk)
- Accessible Canada Act
- Canada.ca Content and Information Architecture Specification
- Standard on Web Accessibility
- Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1
- Understanding WCAG Success Criterion 2.4.4: Link Purpose