Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Text size widgits - quite useful actually

I think the accessibility community has become bored of late. Sites are getting much better, code is getting much cleaner and that leaves us twiddling our thumbs a bit.

But recently there's been a fair bit of discussion over text resize widgits over at 456Berea St. Popular opinion has it that these widgits are not only unnecessary but harmful in that people come to rely on these widgits rather than find out how to resize text in the browser.

This argument baffles me. I hear "Teach a man to fish..." but I don't think that's a good analogy at all. We have to accept that some people will never learn to fish; either because they can't or they don't want to. If they don't want to, who are we to say that they have to?

Those who can't/won't may include:

  1. People who are mobility impaired, particularly those using switch access
  2. People who have learning difficulties

  3. People with cognitive disabilities

  4. People who won't realise the benefit until someone has actually shown them
  5. Infrequent web users

  6. People who aren't confident with technology

I think the last group mentioned here is probably the group that technologists often don't understand very well and have little empathy for. It includes many who are elderly and who are learning about technology later in life. It also includes those who just aren't confident period. I was in a room the other day talking with a colleague and there was a tiny tap on the door. Not sure we'd heard anything at all we kept talking until the door opened slightly and someone shyly and quietly asked something. Not catching what she said the first time I walked to the door and heard her ask "Is this the confidence building class?" I'd never heard of such a thing and was humbled at the thought of it. Naturally I helped her out the best I could and didn't feel inclined to slam the door on her fingers and tell her that she should have been better prepared.

Don't get me wrong, showing people how to resize text in the browser is a great feature. Those who can learn how to do it may benefit enormously. But not everyone will or can learn, and I don't think it's for the designer or developer to say that they have to. It is only their responsibility to make sites accessible and usable.

In summary I'd like to say that both approaches are sound and it's fine to use either (or both). I just don't understand why anyone would say that either is a waste of time.

Update: I meant to post a link to Ian Lloyd's "Teach a man to fish..." demonstration. My esteemed colleague has produced a very nice video demonstration of how to re-size text in a browser.


Mike Cherim said...

You make some good points, Grant. I must admit, I am one who has made such a widget for others (as one of my experiments), but it's not something I've actually used on any of my sites. I don't feel that they're evil or anything like that, but it's always been a matter of need. I do feel people should learn how to use the accessibility tools they already possess, but your points are well taken in that their absence is not always the best for everyone. Some people will no doubt benefit from them and helping "some people" is sort of the point. ;-)

Good post Grant.

grant said...

Thanks Mike.

I'm not trying to say that every site needs a widgit or that it's a major cock-up not to have one. I'm really ust trying to bring some balance to what seems to be a biased view.

Mel Pedley said...

I think educating users is extremely important and that we do need to devote more time and resources here rather than trying to come up with fancier widgits. But, as usual, I'm going to opt for the middle ground - support and educate

Jon Tan said...

It's great to get a balanced view, and one that empathises with the novice. People can be forgiven for forgetting how impenetrable technology can be, but it's great have reminders like this.

colm_c said...

Good post grant, I generally find clients want to use them to as an accessibility feature but in our user tests of them - pretty much nobody took any notice of if and when asked about it they said they didn't know what it did.

Also isn't it spelt widget and not widgit?

grant said...

That's good feedback Colm. It would be interesting to see some actual stats on widget usage. Yes, you are probably right about the spelling :)

Rhoda said...

I have heard a lot about the pros and cons of using text size widgits. I would love to know how they are created. Could some one point me in the right direction. Any help will be greatly appreciated.

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annab said...

Very useful widget, showing both time and date. Love the understated elegant of this widget, definitely for the minimalist, like me.

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