Lauren, my wife, is mad on dogs, but being super busy doesn’t lend itself well to caring for a dog ourselves. That’s why, this year, we volunteered to become boarders for Guide Dogs UK. You get to look after the dog during evenings and weekends, with it heading back to ‘school’ during the day.
This month we had our first taste of what it was all about, with Betty, a 2 year old puppy whose regular boarders were on holiday for a few weeks.
If you don’t know much about Guide Dogs, I urge you to get involved, the level of training is amazing; in the 2 weeks that we have had Betty, we’ve taken her round shops, restaurants, pubs, beaches and the New Forest and she’s been good as gold…
- she stops at curbs and obstacles, and if in harness she is even able to steer you round overhanging branches and other things a blind person could hit.
- she’s very polite - there’s no grabbing for food, and she waits until she is told before eating her dinner!
- she’s good with vocabulary - you can just say ‘Door’ or ‘Curb’ and she’ll know to sit, without being explicitly told.
It’s fascinating to walk round with her and thinking of things in terms of a blind person. Things like roadworks blocking familiar routes and the general lack of pavements on new housing estates to how difficult electric cars are to hear.
It makes you think at work too - sadly guide dogs aren’t much use when browsing the web! Websites I help with are built with accessibility in mind, but there’s a lot more that can be done to help disabled users. The new gov.uk site is a model for this, interestingly they didn’t feel the need for a separate accessibility statement - the structure is simple enough to be navigable by anyone. They also wrote an interesting blog post about accessibility testing, even going as far to look toward translating certain content into British Sign Language and presenting the videos.
This level of user testing is sadly likely to be beyond the budget of many websites, but it’s great to see gov.uk leading the way.
There is something you can easily do though, download a screenreader, and try browsing your site. WebbIE is a free one that you can install and see how easy your site is to use. It’ll only take half an hour and is a great way to simplify and prioritise your key messages (not to mention this also works well to users on mobile devices).
Betty’s got to go back tomorrow, but we can’t wait for our longer 10 week stint in September!