How do people who are blind assess website credibility?

Roughly 40 per cent of Internet users decide whether a website is trustworthy based on its visual appeal. But if you are blind, how do you choose which websites to trust?

A decade ago,this question spurred Sambhavi Chandrashekar’s doctoral research at the University of Toronto. Today, as an adjunct professor in the Master of Design program in Inclusive Design at the OCAD University, Chandrashekar continues to investigate this question.

During her doctoral research, Chandrashekar worked with a group of 60 adults with visual impairments who used screen readers to read aloud website text. While she discovered that they used many of the same techniques for assessing credibility as sighted Internet users, there were some important differences.

For both sighted users and those with visual impairments, past experiences and referrals helped them predict which websites could be trusted. In other words, word of mouth was an important tool for assessing website credibility. So too was the ease with which it was possible to find information, and whether they could corroborate that information with other sources.

But for users with visual impairments, Chandrashekar discovered that accessibility of information and corroboration played a more important role than it did for sighted users.

Chandrashekar is now conducting longitudinal research with the same participants to discover how changes in technologies and social practices over the past seven years have shifted their online strategies. “Is hearing believing?” is a question that is still a part of her research agenda.

As she points out, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states that access to information is a fundamental human right.

“Given the fact that around 187,000 Ontarians are currently living with vision loss or partial sight, there is so much to do,” says Chandrashekar.

Sambhavi Chandrashekar

OCAD University

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