Web Design Usability And Accessibility
A lot of people tend to confuse web usability with accessibility. While usability and accessibility are closely related, their approaches, guidelines, and goals overlap significantly. However, in most cases, like when designing and developing applications and website, it’s usually more effective to address the two together. But at the same time, there are instances when it's crucial to focus on a single aspect instead of both like when defining specific accessibility standards and addressing discrimination against persons with disabilities.
In this article, we’ll be looking at the difference between usability and accessibility as in, Web Design, so you can get to understand what each is and its roles.
Web usability refers to a website’s ease of use. Some of the goals of usability include ensuring that information is presented in a concise and clear manner, essential items are placed in appropriate areas, and ensuring the site is not ambiguous. Another crucial element of web usability is making sure that content works on different browsers and devices.
The main aim of web usability is to ensure user experience satisfaction by lowering the time it takes a user to learn page navigation systems and new functionalities, allowing them to accomplish tasks fast and efficiently without any many major setbacks. It also plays a crucial role in providing users easy ways to circumvent roadblocks, to fix errors, and to re-adapt to the application system and functionality or website with minimum learnability.
Web accessibility refers to the practice of ensuring that there are no barriers preventing access to, or interaction with websites on the internet by people with disabilities. When a site is properly designed, developed and modified, it becomes easier for all users to have equal access to functionality and information.
The main aim of web accessibility is to ensure that people with disabilities can understand, perceive, interact with, navigate and contribute to the web. It includes all types of disability that have an impact on web access including physical, cognitive, speech, auditory, neurological and visual impairments and an observance to web accessibility guidelines that benefit elderly users.
What is the difference and relationship between the two?
From the above definitions, we can conclude that the two are not that different in principle but address different issues. Usability addresses the access to websites on the web while accessibility focuses on making it easy for people with disabilities to access and interact with a site. Therefore, it is safe to say that accessibility is part of usability considering that a website cannot be 'usable' unless it’s accessible. However, while usability does imply accessibility, accessibility does not imply usability.
Web usability applies to any interactions between people and tools and is made up of several crucial considerations that are aimed at addressing usability:
- Ease of learning – how easy or hard is it to learn to use the website?
- Efficiency of use – how fast can people perform tasks on the site like using the navigations, getting downloads and other things depending on the type of site?
- Error trapping – involves making sure errors are minimal and that when they do occur, the user experience isn’t completely affected.
- Ease of memorization – how easy or hard is it for a user to remember how to perform particular tasks?
- Satisfaction – involves ensuring that users are able to perform tasks on the site satisfactorily.
On the other hand, web accessibility is focused on ensuring that people with the following issues can easily navigate and interact with websites:
- Visual issues – like blindness and other common types of vision-related issues including color blindness
- Mobility issues – people who cannot use their hands or have difficulty doing so including those with tremors, loss of fine muscle control, muscle slowness, and conditions like muscular dystrophy, stroke, cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s disease, etc.
- Seizures – ensuring that websites are safe for navigation by people who suffer photo-epileptic seizures brought about by flashing effects or visual strobes
- Auditory issues – the deaf or people with hearing impairments, including those who are hard of hearing
- Intellectual and Cognitive issues – people with learning difficulties, developmental disability, and various types of cognitive disabilities that affect attention, problem-solving, logic skills, memory, etc.
While accessibility primarily focuses on persons with disabilities, most accessibility requirements will improve usability for all users. On the other hand, it benefits persons without disabilities but are in limiting situations like when browsing the internet on mobile devices but visual attention is elsewhere, in dark rooms, in noisy environments, in bright sunlight, and in emergencies. Accessibility incorporates:
- Requirements that primarily focus on persons with disabilities. For instance, accessibility ensures that a website works well with different assistive technologies like screen readers that read web pages aloud, voice recognition software to input text, and screen magnifiers to enlarge web pages. Most accessibility requirements are technical and relate to core codes instead of the visual appearance of a website.
- Requirements that are usability principles in general and are included in accessibility requirements since they can be barriers to persons with disabilities. A good example is websites that are designed in a way that users can navigate them without a mouse. Being able to navigate a webpage without a mouse is fundamentally an accessibility requirement since there are people with visual and physical disabilities that can’t use a mouse.
When defining accessibility requirements, consideration is usually placed on not including aspects that will impact users similarly but mostly includes aspects that focus on users with disabilities since they are at a disadvantage than those without disabilities. Nevertheless, these requirements are usually a non-issue for users without disabilities.
Combining usability processes and accessibility standards with real people guarantees that web design is functionally and technically usable by all users. This is what’s known as accessible user experience or usable accessibility. Web developers and designers can employ usability methods, techniques and processes like user experience design and user-centered design process to address the different user interface components of accessibility. While considerations for people with disabilities aren’t always included in most of the common practices, they can be incorporated into existing usability techniques, processes and methods quite easily.
The core aspects when it comes to incorporating real people in web design include:
- Ensuring all the people involved in a web project understand the basics of how persons with disabilities interact with the web
- Involving persons with disabilities right from the initial stages of the design process
- Engaging people in the evaluation of web accessibility
Accessibility standards play a crucial role in accessible design. For instance, understanding basic accessibility principles and adhering to the guidelines that govern the development of early prototypes can help development teams provide accessibility. That way, when users evaluate the design, they can provide useful feedback.
User involvement and usability processes alone can’t address all accessibility-related issues. Even major projects cannot cover the diversity of assistive technologies, adaptive strategies, and disabilities. Accessibility standards, techniques, and guidelines ensure that more issues are well covered.
In essence, usability is the measure of how easy it is to interact with a website while accessibility is all about whether the website can be accessed and navigated by anybody – either disabled or whole bodied. When designing a website, it is imperative that you keep it simple and straightforward – a site that all people, in different capacities, can understand and easily navigate.
Addressing usability and accessibility together will lead to the creation of more effectively usable, inclusive and accessible websites for everyone. As such, it is vital that web developers and designed incorporate usability techniques and accessibility requirements to their web designs to ensure that they create sites that work better for everybody in every situation.