Thursday, January 25, 2018

COMP6219 Designing Usable and Accessible Technologies - Feedback

12-Feb-18 Update: this post was updated with a comment from the module leader after my statement regarding 'disabled people':

As we explained on the course In the UK disabled people refer to themselves as 'disabled people' reflecting the social model of disability where society disables people by not creating an accessible environment (e.g. lack of captioning or ramps or accessible web design). They don't like the US term 'people with disabilities' as this reflects the medical model where society has no responsibility for the disability. 

I don't generally post feedback about courses (UK equivalent: modules) I take in college, but this one course was one of my favourites. That is because I really learned something I didn't really know existed before.

About Module 

COMP6219 - Designing Usable and Accessible Technologies is a course taught at the graduate (UK equivalent: postgraduate) level in the world-renowned Faculty of Physical Sciences and Engineering at the University of Southampton.

I am a webmaster and have designed websites for 5+ years but I have was never building a website and thought like 'Would a person with a disability be able to access this website?'.

And this course is designed to exactly be able to answer this question.

I never knew 'accessibility' was a topic for designing website and mobiles applications. And this course will teach you everything about that topic, from A to Z.

It starts from explaining an overview of accessibility and usability, then it talks about universal accessibility and usability standards (mainly WCAG 2.0). During the module, you are also taught how to create personas and later on thought how to evaluate websites and software applications for accessibility and usability. Frameworks are explained and examples in the lab are demonstrated. Other topics include 'business case for accessibility',  'accessibility and mobile technologies', 'designing for adoption' and 'open source development'.

Things liked:  

  • You are evaluated with coursework and not exams. No - seriously, I couldn't be happier. If exams were to be made, it would probably be memorising slides and cramming information to vomit later on an exam paper and not learning anything in the process. But instead, we are evaluated by one huge coursework which is due at the end of the semester.
  • Non-boring (at least for me), any topic about the web excites me. The lectures are filled with videos, websites which sometimes are checked on the spot and are generally interactive. The lecturers don't rely on the slides alone to explain and transfer ideas so you are less likely to be bored. Testimonials, examples, websites, and other educational material were shown in class.
  • The module has three lecturers and not just one. Sometimes the three lecturers are present in the class which dramatically improved the learning experience.
  • Not strict about laptop or cellphone use. Usually, no one is especially at the graduate level which is good.
  • Professionalism and punctuality. 

Things disliked:  

  • Slide Wiki: we are not allowed to use other than SlideWiki to make the slides. But SlideWiki, went down on several occasions. There was a time where I was a saving a slide and an error popped up saying 'Error 403: Service Unavailable'. I feel the site is suffering from a 'management' issue. It is also very hard to make slides on that website, and it fails to auto-save.
  • Sometimes the instructors refer to people with disabilities as 'disabled people'. It might offend some. It would be better if they use more sensitive wording such as 'people with disabilities' instead. 
  • Word limitations were really destructive for me. At the end of the semester, we have to produce a report where we evaluate four applications for accessibility and usability and other factors affecting them. We are only allowed to do that in 3,000 words which is too low for me. In my undergraduate university, the instructor used to tell me 'the limit is the sky' but here in the UK it is different. There are word limitations you have to follow. In my assignment, I had to remove a lot of information to reduce the word 3,100 words.
  • The assignment could have made a bit clearer. For example, we are asked about 'assistive technology description and analysis', but it is not really made clear what or how should we analyse. I do understand, that assignments can't be too explicit about some things to require us to research more but some questions aren't clear like the assistive technology one. 

The coursework 

It is arguably the most important part of that module. It is worth 100% of the total grade. So, I made sure to start way earlier than the deadline. I think I've started working 2 months earlier and made progress every day towards it. The reason why I started that early because the assignment is enormous:

My work

The report can be found here, whereas the oral presentation can be found here and finally the website can be found here. Here is a snapshot of the website:


  • Reusing Microsoft Office: It brought back my old Microsoft Office memories. I broke up with Microsoft Office in 2014 and was using Google Docs for 3 years. I denounced Microsoft Office as a failing product but this time I've had to use it to write the report because it has more accessibility features and an accessibility checker which is something lacking from Google Docs. The product remains awful with a weak integration with OneDrive. I lost one night's work one time because of Microsoft Office and had to redo it.
  • Applications to pick: I had no idea what to evaluate but I wanted applications that are different so I went with: Reddit and Steam (for web), and VLC and Norton Internet Security (for web).
  • Time: The assignment was really time-consuming; especially if you like things to be perfect. It took a lot to build that website (despite having a template) and the presentation took a lot of time as well.  
  • Standards: Didn't know if my work was enough or not. 

Major things learned

    • Microsoft Edge has a good accessibility checker. I was really surprised about that and never thought Microsoft would bring such good feature in their mediocre new browser Edge.
    • Accessibility is generally ignored and most webmasters don't give a damn about making their site accessible (I didn't even know that was a thing). Governments such as UK and US have to put laws sometimes to force websites to comply.
    • All of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 in detail.
    • Personas, how to make them and what they mean.
    • That SlideWiki exists. Learned how to use it, but really that wasn't hard.
    • All web accessibility tools aren't completely accurate and can't be accurate. Human intervention is needed. They are basically a script written by a human being.
    • Many people in the world today have disabilities. Having said that, it is important that you feel an ethical obligation to make your website accessible to them. In the same way that you make toilets accessible in the UK or US, you should make accessible websites.
    • Basics of WAI Aria which is a "technical specification that provides a framework to improve the accessibility and interoperability of web content and applications".
    • Generally, how to make websites accessible according to standards.
    • There is a lot more to research, improve and innovate in this field. 


    I scored an 87% (UK Grading System), here are the details of my grade:


        Post a Comment