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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 Related to General Usability

Participants in this study faced a number of problems that were not specific to blind participants, but rather were general problems with usability that would apply to all users.

Data is required that does not make logical sense

There were a number of sites where the required data fields were noted by using red stars (which, itself, might be a problem for blind users if there are no non-visual equivalents for indicating a required field). However, in some cases, the required fields simply did not make sense. For instance, in Figure 10, the start date and end date of a job were required, which makes sense generally, even though there was an option to note that a job was the current job. Even if the check box for current job was selected, the participant still needed to provide an end date, even if there was no end date. This clearly could be confusing to users.

Figure 10

Figure 10. Participants were required to enter an end date for their current job, which makes no logical sense.

Data fields are required, but users are not informed that the fields are required

If a data field is required, that needs to be stated clearly. The lack of this type of information to the user was obvious, as shown Table 1. It is understandable that there are data fields that must be required, such as for name, contact information (such as email and phone), and educational degrees. However, if these fields are required, that fact needs to be clearly communicated to all users. Typically, the wording “Required field” should be used, or if a red star or something is used to indicate a required field, there should be equivalents (such as alt text) that indicate for color-blind, low-vision, or blind users that the field is required. In Figure 11, there are no indications that both email and phone numbers are required fields. Yet if the data is not entered in those fields, users will receive an error message.

Figure 11

Figure 11. Required data entry fields with no indication (to blind participants or any users) that the fields are required

Participants are required to do a “lookup” when a data field is more suited to free text

When there are a limited number of potential choices in a data entry field, a drop-down list makes sense. However, when there are potentially thousands of possible choices, participants should simply be allowed to use free-text entry to indicate their data. Yet one of the online employment applications required that participants search for and select the colleges and universities that they attended. This is not standard on most online employment applications. Participants were required to enter the title of their school and then select from a list of potential matches to their search string. This approach was especially problematic when either a school was listed multiple times for the same school, or when there was a university system with multiple campuses with similar names. In the example in Figure 12, multiple campuses of a university were listed, and the same campus was listed more than once.

Figure 12

Figure 12. Multiple campuses of a university were listed, and the same campus was listed more than once, which was confusing to all users.

Participants in the study attempting to apply for jobs tended to find this approach problematic and confusing. It would be understandable if the choice from a list was required because it would note a specific code for a university, and then allow access for the employer to student records and transcripts from potential employees; however, at no point in the application process were participants asked to give permission to access transcripts, so this cannot be connected to providing the university name.

Data entry is required in a specific format, but the format desired is unclear

Earlier in this paper, the problem of inaccessible feedback on data entry was discussed. Another related problem is the problem of unclear guidance on what format data should be entered in, where, even though the feedback is accessible, it still is not meaningful for any users (refer to the data in Table 1). For instance, in Figure 13, the data entry field was supposed to be entered in a currency format ($XXX.XX), but the field itself did not clearly indicate that, and the error message in Figure 13 did not in any way specify how participants should enter the data, only that the data was entered improperly.

Figure 13

Figure 13. Unclear error message related to data field entry, which is confusing to all users

Users are not given the opportunity to indicate that more time is needed

In five of the participant attempts to submit a job application, the application automatically timed out because the participant had reached a certain time limit, without notifying the participant or giving the participant the opportunity to indicate that more time was needed. This impacts usability for users who may be busy (and may have their application task interrupted by other pressing tasks) and novice users of assistive technologies, who may need more time to complete an application task.


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