I’ve been working on a project for an internal client, which includes linking out to various medical search utilities. One of the sites we are using as a search provider offers pharmacy searches. The site was built on ASP.Net technology, or so I would assume as all the file extensions are ‘aspx.’ I bring this provider up because I was shocked and appalled by their disregard for the users that would be searching.
The search stopped working.
This, however, is a search for local pharmacies.
Considering the users that might be searching for a pharmacy, we can compile a list. This is not comprehensive: the young, the elderly, the rich, the poor, sick people, healthy people, disabled people and blind people. I’ll stop there.
Let’s consider a couple of select groups in that list, i.e. the poor, the disabled and the blind. The less money you have the less likely you are to buy a new computer if your old one still works. I know this sounds funny, but I’ve seen people using Internet Explorer 5.5 to access sites in the insurance world. Lord knows what other antiques they might use to access a site. Suffice to say, people with old computers may not support the AJAX calls made by an AJAX only search.
Let’s, now, consider the two groups who are much larger than the IE 5.5 crowd: the disabled and blind. I separate these two so we can think about different situations for each.
First, the blind. Blind people use screen readers to view web sites. Though I am unsure as to the latest capabilities of screen readers, but the last time I did reading about screen readers for the blind, I was brought to understand that their experience is a little like using Lynx. See a screencap below to get an idea of what Lynx is like.
In much the same way, disabled users may have a limited set of functions they can access within their browser. This will depend on the degree of disability and the breadth of function on their browser. I can’t and won’t say what a disabled browsing experience is like since I am not disabled and the experience varies so widely it’s not possible to pin down what the overall experience is like. Suffice to say, it is limited.
Perhaps it is a group of people that are used to developing for desktop apps and haven’t had to consider usability in the modern age of the web. Perhaps it’s novice developers that don’t understand some of the core concepts that go into building successful web applications. Either way, the current trend of ASP disabled-inaccessibility must come to an end.
To the ASP.Net developers of the world, I implore you to reconsider your development goals and meet the needs of your customers. To the rest of you that may be committing the same sins in another language, I beg you to be considerate of all of your users, instead of a select group. Think about usability for a degraded experience, build accordingly and make the web a better place.