April 02, 2002

Usability can save lives
Boxes and Arrows: The story behind Usability.gov
"One minute, a researcher seeking grant information is pulling up an NCI [National Cancer Institute] website for details on what grants are available and where to apply. The next minute, an ordinary citizen is frantically searching NCI websites for any information -- any clues about a type of cancer for which the doctor is testing them. Every day, NCI disseminates life and death information. Usability.gov ensures that users and their web behaviors are kept in mind when designing sites."

See also: my previous comments on the NCI guidelines.

On a related note, I'm very proud of some volunteer work I was involved with a while back for a Minnesota based cancer charity: The Children's Cancer Research Fund. It's a phenomenal charity, and if you're looking for a good charity that really makes a difference in people's lives, you'll have a hard time finding any better. (The site's been redesigned since I worked on it in 1997.)

I remember the heart-wrenching day when I learned I had to remove the photo of a beautiful, smiling little girl from the home page -- she had lost her battle with cancer. I'll never forget her face and the darling smile she wore under a flowered hat that I'm sure covered a bald head.

About a year later, I was proud as I could be that the large corporation I worked for donated the use of its corporate jet to take another little girl home from Minnesota. She too was losing her battle with the disease and needed to fly home to be with her family in the end. It was in the middle of an airline strike, and the doctors were afraid she wouldn't get a commercial flight home in time. CCRF gave us a call to see if there was any way we could help. A call was placed to our CEO, and within minutes we had the go-ahead to do whatever we could to help, with no questions as to the cost.

There was no follow-up story in the paper, no community relations release. It was just a large corporate giant silently committing an act of kindness because they could, and because it was the right thing to do. It's a side of corporations that never gets its due -- all too often we see corporations portrayed as cold, heartless, greedy monoliths. What I saw that day was genuine caring, giving and a willingness to help the community and individuals -- with nothing wanted in return.

The Boxes and Arrows article just reminded me of those days working with CCRF. It pointed out that the NCI's Usability.gov site can help researchers and doctors save more lives. The site can help cancer victims find life-saving information. Sometimes, usability can mean the difference between life and death.

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