Anticipated Iowa Poll Canceled Because Someone Neglected Accessibility

In a remarkable turn of events, and in the final days before the first Democratic primary election of the 2020 season, the results of a major presidential poll have been discarded and will not be released. Candidates and commentators were counting on the results of this poll for last-minute strategy and projection purposes.

An inconsistency had been discovered after at least one poll respondent said that their preferred candidate, Pete Buttigieg, was not included in a list of candidates read to them over the phone. This was unexpected, and poll results were invalidated over concerns that it was unclear how many times this error had occurred during polling operations.

Naturally this error drew concern and prompted some investigation as to its cause. The results were remarkable.

Reportedly, the poll worker had increased the font size on their computer, causing the final candidate’s name to be pushed off-screen and thus to be unread.

This is a dramatic example of an unfortunately commonly overlooked aspect of accessibility in software design: support of font size enlargement. Too often, interfaces are built to fit text at one size, with bounding boxes given hard-coded dimensions. When text sizes increase — or when that text is translated into a more long-winded language — this can lead to text overflowing those boxes. With nowhere to go, such text is often rendered invisible and unreadable.

While it is not clear from reports if this exact scenario was at play in the case of the wasted poll (perhaps the user missed a scroll bar?), it certainly is a common error, and this case provides a dramatic example of the costs of inaccessible interface design and development.

February 2nd, 2020
Alan Hogan (@alanhogan_com).  Contact · About