We have recently conducted usability testing for the health prevention new website ”MMMieux” belonging to MGEN group.

For MGEN group, accessibility is crucial. That is why we have integrated blind and visually impaired participants to our usability testing.


What are the specificities to achieve usability testing with blind and visually impaired participants?

First of all, some precautions must be taken in order to organize efficiently usability testing.

Here are four of them:

  1. Technical installation: it is better for participants to bring their own material including screen readers and screen magnifiers that they have already personalized according to their needs, instead of configuring a conventional device.
  2. Participants recruitment was led via specialized forums and with the help of an expert.
  3. Skills in computer tools: it is important to select people at ease with their web screen readers. Indeed, good proficiency in the use of this kind of software is not intuitive for everybody. As for sighted users, some will only use 10% of the tool capacities, especially if they do not belong to the ”digital generation”.
  4. During testing sessions, we recommend to assist participant with a blind expert. Thus, our expert was able to properly identify problems encountered by the participant. If the user was facing too many difficulties, the expert could help him but not guide him through the website.


What are the main risk factors for the blind or visually impaired persons?

It is possible to create progression according to the identified risk factors.

As for sighted users, we first observe how unsighted participants comprehend the global website structure.

A very important factor is the attention paid for color saturation and elements disposal for visually impaired participants. They are usually guided thanks to software that automatically zooms in on the screen. Hence, they cannot have a whole perception of the website and can only see it piece by piece, which makes it difficult for them.

“For example, our participant told us that the breadcrumb trail was not enough highlighted, which is very important for a visually impaired user. He has to find his way through the website." Julie Caffa, consultant for Axance

To have an idea of the website content, the participant will first use the menu. The blind need to build a mental representation of a website before moving to another category or page. Notice that they use shortcuts keys to display the site map.

“Mega menu is very frequent on eCommerce websites. The blind have no way to know if the menu is unfolded or not, and without the mouse it will be impossible because they use tabulations to navigate.” Julie Caffa

For the blind, the following elements can be an issue:

Search fields: try not to replace the “search button” with a magnifying glass symbol because the field will not be visible. Unless you describe it in the code itself (recommended by our expert Matthieu Froidure)

Data structuring: for instance, when titles are not part of a H1 code, but only graphically presented like titles

Images: they have to be understandable independently from the context

Media: if the type (video, graphic, image) is not specific


“Computer graphics are images and blind users cannot read the text. You have to add an explanatory text on the image to make it legible.'' Julie Caffa

For instance, within the MMMieux test, one of the blind user’s missions was to playback a video. It might be simple, but if only one code is forgotten, the user will not find the video mentioned in the article.


Including blind people in user test: a very rare approach

"Thanks to tests conducted by Axance, we were able to confirm that our website was accessible to our main users. Tests have also revealed precise optimizations to make it really intuitive for visually impaired or blind users, which is essential for MGEN Group." Eric Chenut, delegated vice-chairman of health and social questions in MGEN

Today in France, 1.7 million of people suffer from visually impairment but only less than 1% of them use computer interfaces (voice recognition, touch screen, voice synthesis). We can conclude that companies’ approaches are still rare; however, accessibility is a subject that takes more and more importance in the internet field and everywhere else.

This article was written with the help of Matthieu Froidure, blind himself and president of “New technologies” of CFPSAA (French Confederation for the Social Promotion of the Blind and Visually Impaired).