The concept of accessibility has become synonymous with ensuring that the needs of users with impairments are addressed. This is of course an important aspect of our responsibility to users and as communicators.
However, we believe there is an opportunity being missed when accessibility is only viewed this way. When we look deeper than the presentation of information into how content is organised, categorised and managed we begin to discover the root issues as to why our people have trouble finding information when they need it.
Accessibility should be defined to include how well the average user can get at the information they need.
Don’t Organise By Organisation
First, as we look at how information is organised we often find that content has been grouped and stored according to ownership. This results in silos of information tied to organisational structure, or dominated by perceived needs for security and control.
A better way to approach organisation is to overlay the structure with a process view. In other words, to develop a functional map of the organisation aligned with core activities and services. This model helps move the content grouping closer to ‘what we need to do’ instead of ‘who we are’.
Classify People and What They Do
Regarding classification we often find that organisations struggle to reconcile multiple user perspectives and go with a methodology that has ignored the functional needs of users. Executives think in terms of lines of revenue, salespeople in terms of customers and opportunities, records managers in terms of retention and disposal classifications, and operations may see things through various functional, safety or product lenses.
All of these perspectives are valid within certain contexts, and the greatest challenge in knowledge management is to understand those contexts. Developing user personas at design time can assist in discovering needs whilst keeping them grouped and tidy.
Ultimately these first two areas have a huge impact on navigation and search experiences for users. If perspectives have been missed or terminology is not consistent the chances of a user’s keyword search hitting the target are greatly reduced. This means ensuring that navigation and taxonomies are aligned more to what a user expects to find and do, rather than to how management think things should be organised.
Manage for Meaning and Clarity
Finally we must not forget about the ongoing management of content. When there are no provisions for review, updating or archiving of old or irrelevant content, search results begin to bloat and lose value. The user winds up looking for a needle in the proverbial haystack. Management also implies utilising the organisation and categorisation to its full potential by presenting search results in a meaningful way and leveraging any available features for targeting and personalisation.
So we can see that accessibility has more potential as a guiding principle in our knowledge management efforts, well beyond solving issues related to user impairment or devices. Accessibility is really about ensuring that everyone can find what they are looking for in a way that is valuable to them.