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Investigating the Accessibility and Usability of Job Application Web Sites for Blind Users

Jonathan Lazar, Abiodun Olalere, and Brian Wentz

Journal of Usability Studies, Volume 7, Issue 2, February 2012, pp. 68 - 87

Article Contents


Common Problems for Blind Participants

From the usability evaluation by the 16 blind participants, patterns emerged of common problems in the online employment applications. Some of these problems were specific to blind participants who were accessing the employment applications using screen readers, but other problems that challenged blind participants were more general usability problems that blind users, as well as users with other disabilities or users with no disabilities would face. Table 1 lists the most common participant problems with the number of participant-requested interventions, the number of Web sites impacted (out of 16), the number of job applications impacted (out of 32), and the total number of instances that a particular usability challenge occurred. The problems described were either problems that were mentioned by the participants as challenging during the attempts to apply for jobs, or identified and defined by the researchers based on participants seeming to have problems but not saying anything. Because we took a hands-off approach to testing, just using instances in which participants specifically asked for help would have greatly underestimated the number of problems. Therefore, we also included instances based on observations where users were clearly having problems but were not complaining.

Only problems that impacted 10 or more applications are listed. For example, one cause of intervention mentioned earlier, lack of participant knowledge (with two interventions), did not appear in Table 1 because it did not occur frequently enough to meet the described threshold of impacting 10 or more applications. Typically, when usability problems are summarized after a series of usability evaluations, these problems are summarized and prioritized, and therefore, because we could not list every single problem in the article, we only focused on including those that appeared most often. To provide context information for the problems that required an intervention, the interventions are also listed in the first data column.

Table 1. Common Participant Problems with the Online Employment Applications, Sorted by Number of Applications Impacted

Problem Description

# of participant requested interventions

# of Web sites impacted

(out of 16)

# of applications impacted

(out of 32)

Total # of instances

(no limit)

Design problem/confusing layout/links:

This includes general design issues that often result in participant confusion, such as the location of navigational items, save/continue buttons, and instructions for data entry format.

1

15

24

51

JAWS issues:

These are problems observed from the way JAWS read form content. These include JAWS not reading page content, reading out of sync with cursor position, reading form controls but not form labels, no confirmation of actions performed (e.g., file attached, new page ready, radio button checked, etc.), JAWS reading out password entered by participant.

2

15

23

46

Instructional/labeling problem:

This includes no instruction or title on certain pages or sections of a job application, confusing instruction, confusing/misleading labels, unclear label or instructions, generic error message, confusing positioning of instructions or guidelines for completing a task (e.g., password entry guideline placed at the bottom of username and password fields instead of before those fields).

3

14

22

36

Form control issues:

An example would be no binding between labels and form control, improperly coded form control (e.g., date), unlabeled form controls.

0

12

16

19

Required fields unclear or unspecified:

This would include unspecified required fields, an asterisk placed after the form control or label, a required field visually specified but not read by the screen reader, or required fields read as strange characters that participants cannot understand.

2

10

16

18

Finding jobs link:

This refers to the inability to find jobs links quickly or inability to access jobs links from the homepage of the company.

0

9

15

17

Mouse only/Flash/Javascript issues:

This includes mouse-overs for accessing error messages, situations where JAWS cannot access certain form controls, cascading windows, inaccessible mouse-only flash content, etc.

19

9

15

21

Skip navigation issue:

Either skip navigation is not present, or it is present but not placed at the very top of the page (or present in some pages on the site but not in others).

0

9

13

13

Specific participant preferences:

This included participants wanting multiple options (e.g., attach, copy and paste, or direct entry) for importing a resume and cover letter. Participants also tended to prefer the job application automatically populating the form fields with attached resume data. Participants did not like an application form that was only one long page.

0

10

13

20

Tab order/cursor control:

This would be illogical tab order, cursor control jumping to the bottom of page or browser address bar after page refresh, etc.

0

10

13

16

Data input format:

Examples of this would include unspecified or confusing data input format (e.g., SSN, date, telephone, and currency).

3

11

13

14

Table headers poorly coded:

Table headers were not properly labeled, making it difficult for participants to know what each cell in a row stands for.

2

7

10

11

“Specific participant preferences” is a category that needs further explanation. For instance, participants noted that they had preferences about how to enter the data, such as having multiple Web pages to enter data, instead of one long page. This method allows a participant to focus on one section at a time, and data is then saved from one page to another (so that data is not lost if the session times out). Also, participants preferred having an option for text entry, for instance, either to upload a cover letter in word format or to copy and paste it into a text box. If a resume was already uploaded, participants preferred to have the resume automatically populate many of the data fields (which was an option offered by a number of sites).

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