We all get frustrated if we can't find a feature in an application, or make a mistake from which it takes a couple of minutes to recover, if it's possible to recover at all. If you have some sort of disability, the chances are the effort and time penalties involved will be several times worse. Following a few basic guidelines can help prevent these sorts of situations for all users.
- Provide Undo for every action that changes the user's data or the application's settings. If possible, provide more than one level of undo and redo, and a history list to allow preview of what actions will be undone.
- Provide commands to restore default settings. If a particular setting could make the application completely unusable for an individual, e.g. by making the fonts very small, it would be useful to provide an option to restore the default settings outside the application itself. This could be done using a command line switch, for example.
- Help prevent users from doing the wrong thing. This is particularly important for actions that could be done by accident (e.g. mouse actions) or that cannot easily be undone (e.g. overwriting a file). Consider using confirmation dialogs or forcing the user to go into a particular mode to perform potentially destructive actions.
- Minimize users' memory load. For example, let the user view multiple documents at the same time, and ensure online help or other instructions can remain visible while they carry out the procedure being described. Allow them to copy any information that is displayed, and paste it anywhere that data can be entered.
- Don't make users insert disks. Depending on a user's particular disability, they may find it difficult to physically insert or change a disk, or they may find it hard to identify the correct disk in the first place. If your application is installed from CD-ROM, provide an option to copy all the files that will be required onto the user's hard drive.
- Don't place frequently used functions deep in a menu structure. Whether you're using a mouse, keyboard or some other input device, deeply-nested menu items are best avoided. As well as the burden of remembering where to find them, they are always more difficult and time-consuming to access.
- Don't lead users through unnecessary steps. For example, wizards are useful for users who have trouble handling large numbers of options at one time, but other users may need to minimize the amount of time or keystrokes they use. Such users benefit from being able to skip unnecessary steps or go directly to the one they need. Consider providing a button in wizards that skips right to the end and assumes default responses for the intermediate steps. If the process has many steps, consider asking the user at the start if they want to run through all the steps, or just the most commonly-used ones.