AFB Consulting (AFBC), the consulting division of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), conducted a comprehensive accessibility and usability evaluation of the Discover 508 for SharePoint software from Discover Technologies of Reston VA. The product evaluation compared Out of the Box (OOTB) SharePoint in SP 2010 and SP O-365 with Discover 508 for SharePoint, a software solution designed to make SharePoint easier to use. AFBC tested and compared these products based on how well they interact with various screen reader software products used by people with vision loss to access Windows computers.
Testing results clearly illustrate that Discover 508 has significant usability advantages over the out of the box experience in both environments. The usability and accessibility advantages allow a blind or visually impaired person to complete tasks much more easily and quickly than in the OOTB environment. The superior usability comes largely from a more intuitive, well-designed architecture that is easier to navigate and more suitable for efficiently accomplishing tasks. It also lacks inaccessible pop-ups and other features designed with only sighted users in mind. A clear and easy to use set of instructions provided by Discover 508 is another significant advantage over the OOTB experience, providing step-by-step guidance and allowing a beginner user to learn how to use the system.
Discover 508 provides an environment that is more suitable for use with screen readers, with a markup that includes among other things, properly coded headings, properly labeled links and form elements, and properly formatted and tagged tables. Properly tagged headings allow a person using a screen reader to quickly navigate to the headings that indicate the important sections of the page, and it also allows screen reader users to get a better concept of the overall layout and logical hierarchy of the page. Discover 508’s properly labeled form elements let screen reader users determine things like a particular type of edit field, such as Document Title or Date. They also help make combo boxes, check boxes, and radio buttons easier to use. Discover 508 also avoids the use of poorly formatted and tagged tables experienced in the OOTB environment.
With the Discover 508 for SharePoint solution, AFB testers found it substantially easier to manage calendar events, upload and edit documents and collaborate with team members. Time spent learning the system and completing individual tasks was significantly shorter when using Discover 508. While SharePoint has made progress with their “More Accessible” mode, Discover 508 clearly stands out as the more accessibility usable solution. Although testers could eventually complete most tasks attempted in the out of the box environment, there were some inaccessible tasks that could not be completed without sighted assistance. The level of frustration and confusion was also significant. For example, simply changing the name of a document took nearly 20 minutes in an initial attempt. Adding a folder to a document library is an example of the difficult and sometimes illogical nature of the OOTB experience. Rather than beginning the process with something intuitive like a “New Folder” or “Add Folder” link, the user first has to activate a “New Document” link. AFBC usability testers spent nearly 40 minutes trying to determine how to create a document library, including time spent with SharePoint’s online help instructions, some of which were helpful and some of which were not. The instructions that did help get the job done said to go to “Settings” and then “Add an App,” which obviously lacks a logical or intuitive path.
Discover 508 for SharePoint avoids all that difficulty and confusion. The experience with the Discover 508 solution was much more intuitive and streamlined, giving a person with vision loss the ability to complete each task as effectively and efficiently as his or her sighted peers. This is extremely important in today’s competitive job market, giving people with vision loss the ability to compete on an even playing field with their sighted peers.