Phase II Scholars Test Microsoft Products

Tracy Jirkowic, DO-IT Staff

During Summer Study 2001, several Phase II Scholars got a sneak preview of Microsoft products and were considered expert users and co-designers as they ran a series of usability tests on the new Microsoft XP™ operating system. As part of a weeklong Phase II workshop, Scholars worked with Microsoft employees and UW staff to learn about usability, run usability tests and make product recommendations based on their findings.

What is usability testing? Usability testing helps ensure that new technologies are easy to learn and easy to use. In order for new products to be usable by everyone, these new technologies need to be compatible with assistive technology. For example, screen reading software used by some people who are blind needs to work smoothly with the operating system. If the systems do not work together well, as some Scholars discovered, the user might not be able to read certain menu items, the computer might not work efficiently, or the system might even crash.

Scholars found many things they liked about the new operating system, but they also found a few bugs. Recommendations made by the Scholars were then taken back to the Microsoft developers so that they could address the problems found with the software.

This Phase II workshop was just the beginning of an evolving collaboration between the UW and the Microsoft Corporation to conduct usability tests on software products with users who have a variety of disabilities. Sixteen adults with visual and mobility impairments tested Microsoft products at the University this past fall. Our hope is that this partnership will encourage software developers to consider the needs of users with a wide range of abilities and disabilities as they create new and exciting products.