One aspect of accessibility that I have not come across often during my year long dive into the subject is that related to connectivity and across different device platforms. Almost all of my accessibility training has operated under the assumption that the user is sitting at a computer and is connected to a high-speed internet connection. But what questions get raised when we look past this assumption? I decided to find out by performing an experiment relating to this question on our newly redesigned DS Interns blog.
The motivation for this mini-project is to understand what limitations, if any, a user would have when interacting with our blog on different platforms (i.e. mobile and tablet) and across different network speeds. This is important to understand as not everyone online has the . Furthermore, it is possible that some students interested in applying to Carleton or some incoming, accepted students access information about Carleton primarily on a slow network or on a mobile platform. Understanding the way that these individuals might interact with information online is something I find both interesting and essential in creating an online experience that is as inclusive as possible.
Fortunately, all of the tools necessary to complete this experiment were available to me in my browser (Google Chrome.) By right clicking and selecting inspect, I was taken to a menu that gave me the opportunity to switch to a mobile view of the content I was viewing as well as voluntarily throttle my internet connection. Before testing what either of these options would do to my viewing experience, I hypothesized (a big throwback to my lab science freshman year) that viewing our blog through a mobile platform would lead to a much less pleasurable viewing experience. I’ve had too many bad experiences trying to view websites on mobile with little luck to be optimistic. Additionally, I thought that switching to a slower network setting would mean that I would be waiting an inconvenient amount of time to load different pages of our blog. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised on both accounts.
I found that switching to mobile did little to diminish my experience with the website, aside from increasing the amount of scrolling I had to do. All of the design aspects that make our blog well organized when viewing on a computer shown through on mobile as well. There was no squeezing of content onto the smaller screen, posts stacked up nicely on top of each other and text was displayed in nice long columns that fit the width of my screen.
When switching to the 3G network setting, I was surprised at how little I noticed the change from my normal internet connection. Load times between pages increased by a couple of seconds, but my experience with the site was otherwise unchanged. Switching to the “slow 3G” setting, I noticed a little bit of lag while scrolling the site and again a slight increase in loading time, but I was again pleasantly surprised at how usable our site was even on the slowest available network speed. (I had to go load a YouTube video with the throttled connection setting turned on just to test to make sure it was doing its job. After about fifteen seconds of buffering, I was both convinced and thankful for my comparatively high-speed internet connection.)
In the end, I was pleasantly surprised by how accessible our blog was on the mobile and slow network settings. However, I know that there are websites out there that would not have the same positive results when testing these two settings in particular. I would strongly encourage anyone who is designing a webpage to consider how their content could be accessed across different devices and network speeds so that, together, we can strive for an online experience that is as inclusive as possible.