Could you go mouseless for 30 mins?

Big Thoughts

4 June 2015 • Written by Rupert Burton

With 21 May being Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2015, to raise awareness of accessibility issues, Rupert Burton decided to set Assurity staff what seemed like a straightforward challenge: to go mouseless for 30 mins.

As a tester with an interest in usability and user advocacy, I wanted to do something to spread the message in a meaningful way among my colleagues and maybe change behaviour along the way.

The challenge

I decided to post a challenge on Yammer, our company social media platform. This being to work at your computer as usual for 30 minutes but without using the mouse (trackpad, touch screen etc) i.e. to use only the keyboard.

Why no mouse?

I wanted to give participants an experience of one of the many challenges that people with disabilities face when interacting with technology. It had to be easy to set up and be performed during normal work activities. Going without a mouse fitted these criteria.

Some people, due to sickness, cognitive impairment or physical disability, cannot use a mouse and, for the blind, a mouse has no benefit. These individuals are restricted to using a keyboard, though some also require further assistive technology: blind users, for example, often use a screen reader to 'speak' the contents of a web page and help them navigate.

Not too difficult you might think? Some of the feedback tells a different story: "I set a timer for 30 minutes thinking this will be easy, as half an hour doesn’t seem long. But before long I...didn't know how to get around using the keyboard...so to the mouse I went!"

The results

I didn't want to put any constraints on the activities performed – plus everyone was doing this in company time – so the results come from a variety of applications: web browsers, email clients, Microsoft Office (Word and Excel), code repository (Git), test tools (HP ALM), mind mapping software (XMind), Google apps (Sheets, Docs).

Although this was not a scientifically controlled experiment and I didn’t really collect enough information for a thorough analysis, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at some of the results:

  • 39% of respondents reported that they completed the 30 minutes
  • 61% reported that they failed or stopped before the 30 minutes were up

Some of the issues found:

  • Keyboard trap (can tab into a field, but not out again)
  • Unclear focus (the current focus is not highlighted)
  • Took too many 'tabs' to get to item of focus
  • Focus was interrupted by another application
  • Even harder on unfamiliar hardware
  • Felt they didn’t have enough knowledge of shortcuts
  • Just made everyday activities so much harder

Reasons for not completing the 30 minutes:

  • Too difficult
  • Had to get on with work – was taking too long with the keyboard
  • Forgot – started using mouse without realising

Some of the comments probably paint the most vivid picture:

"I was quickly aware that my very limited knowledge of keyboard shortcuts was not enough"

"After only a minute or two, I realised I was using the mouse to scroll down for reading things...and had to force myself to actively use the keyboard to track and move and open things"

"I tabbed into a field, then got stuck in a loop and couldn't tab out again! Had to restart the application"

“I tried this yesterday and had to give up very quickly as I found it impossible!!”

"for that I have to tab all the way to the folder in the navigation bar...right click using window button of course and again tabbing to...the feature file again to commit"

“Wow. What a frustrating experience...in the middle of typing…[the application]...popped up a meeting reminder taking focus away from what I was doing and it took me 2 whole minutes of [tabbing] around [the] Firefox browser to get back to the text in this email”

“it became very difficult and I gave up. This was hard!”

“I also found out how much I normally use drag and drop functionality”

"epic fail"

“buttons weren’t highlighted and I couldn’t tell where I was on the screen. I would have liked to do it for longer, but unfortunately it got really frustrating and I gave up”

Conclusion

Most of us use a mouse by default without thinking about it. This is because it is habitual and intuitive. If we are forced to do without it, we have to relearn how to do things at great expense to our efficiency, particularly if the application which we are working with has been designed with mouse interaction as the default.

When we are designing software for the general population, we need to be cognisant of all the ways in which people interact with computers so as to make it accessible to all.

The 2013 Disability Survey by Statistics NZ found that 24% of New Zealanders were identified as disabled and this percentage is only likely to increase as the population ages.

Accessibility is one of those non-functional requirements that is easily forgotten or de-scoped at the end of a project due to lack of time or funding. If we can remember to perform a few simple tests early on, we can avoid issues or fix them cheaply without it being a burden on finances.

Hopefully, at least for those that attempted the challenge, this exercise has given them a greater appreciation of the difficulties that some people encounter when interacting with technology. I'd like to think that they will be more aware of and ready to question poor interface design in the future.

If you'd like to find out more about accessibility or are interested in taking this challenge, I'd love to hear from you. Please leave me a message: without the mouse, it’s going to take you 14 tabs and one enter to get to my profile page, then another 34 tabs to get to the ‘Ask a question’ field… Hmm, maybe we need to work on our website accessibility too!

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