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Accessibility vs Usability

A lot of people tend to confuse the two terms web usability with accessibility. While web usability and web accessibility are closely related, their approaches, guidelines, and goals overlap significantly. However, in most cases, like when designing and developing applications and websites, 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 standards of accessibility and addressing discrimination against persons with disabilities.

In this article, we’ll research and explain the difference between usability and accessibility in Web Design, so you can get to understand what each is and its roles.

Web Usability in Web Design

Web usability refers to a website’s ease of use. Some of the goals of quality 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. The site and content should be easy to perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with. User testing can be used to determine if this is the case, and testing is an important step to ensuring that your site is accessible as well. Another crucial element of website usability is making sure that content has the ability to work on different browsers and devices.

The main aim of quality website 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 a task fast and efficiently without any major setbacks. It plays a crucial role in providing users with easy ways to circumvent roadblocks, to fix errors, and to re-adapt to the application system and functionality or website with minimum learnability. For example, describing the content of images in image alt text can reduce confusion if images fail to load on a blog.

Web Accessibility for People with Disabilities

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, one of the greatest benefits is that it could become easier for all users to have equal access to functionality and information.

The main aim of standards of website accessibility is to ensure that people with disabilities can understand, perceive, interact with, navigate and contribute to the web. It includes all types of disabilities that have an impact on web access ability including physical, cognitive, speech, auditory, neurological, and visual impairments, and an observance to website accessibility guidelines that benefit elderly users. It can incorporate the use of research and technology features like screen readers and other assistive technologies or software into your site.

What is the difference and relationship between the two?

From these definitions, we can conclude that the two aren’t so different in principle but address different issues. Usability addresses access to sites 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 page and content accessibility is part of usability considering that a website could not and ‘usable’ unless it’s accessible. However, while usability does imply accessibility, the reverse is not necessarily true.

Web Usability Focus Areas

Web usability applies to any interactions between people and tools and is made up of several crucial considerations:

  • Ease of learning – how easy or hard is it to learn to use the website?
  • The efficiency of use – how fast can people perform tasks on the site like using the navigations, the search for important information, getting downloads, and other things depending on the type of site?
  • Error trapping – if your site isn’t free of errors, this 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.

Web Accessibility Focus Areas

Web accessibility guidelines and standards focus on ensuring that people with disabilities, such as 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 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 disabilities, and various types of cognitive disabilities that affect attention, problem-solving, logic skills, memory, etc.

Requirements of Web Accessibility

While accessibility primarily focuses on persons with disabilities, most accessibility guidelines and standards will improve usability for all users. It also benefits persons without disabilities but is in limited situations like when browsing the internet on mobile devices when attention is elsewhere, in dark rooms, in noisy environments, in bright sunlight, and in emergencies.

Accessibility incorporates:

  • Requirements that primarily focus on the benefit of people with disabilities. For instance, accessibility ensures that a website works well with different assistive technologies like screen readers that read a page or blog aloud, voice recognition software to input text, and screen magnifiers to enlarge pages. Apart from screen readers and similar technology, most accessibility requirements are technical and relate to core codes instead of the aesthetic appearance of a website.
  • Requirements are usability principles in general and are included in accessibility requirements and standards since they can be barriers to persons with a disability. A good example is websites designed in a way that users can navigate them without a mouse, using a screen reader and other assistive features. 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. Nevertheless, these requirements are usually a non-issue for users without disabilities. W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) provides website and content accessibility guidelines (WCAG), best practices, and strategies that can help with the technical details of making your site accessible.

Combining Accessibility and Usability Testing

Combining usability processes and accessibility standards and technology 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 processes to address the different user interface components of accessibility. While WCAG considerations for people with disabilities aren’t always included in most of the common practices, they can be incorporated into existing design 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 website project understand the basics of how persons with disabilities interact with the internet and the standards for accessible sites and content
  • Involving persons with disabilities right from the initial stages of the design process and testing
  • Engaging people in the evaluation of success in meeting standards for web accessibility and usability testing

Accessibility standards play a key role in accessible design. For instance, understanding basic accessibility principles and adhering to the WCAG standards that govern the development of early prototypes can help development teams provide accessibility. That way, when users are testing and evaluating the design and content, they can provide useful feedback.

How Complete can a Site’s Accessibility be?

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 key issues are covered as we search for better solutions.

Accessibility vs Usability Conclusion

Usability is the measure of ease of interaction 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 can understand and easily navigate.

Addressing site usability and web accessibility together will lead to the creation of more effectively usable, inclusive and accessible websites for everyone. It is vital that web developers and designers incorporate usability techniques and accessibility requirements to their web designs to ensure that they create sites that work better for everybody in every situation.

About Salterra Digital Services

Salterra was started in 2011 by Terry and Elisabeth Samuels; nothing fancy and nothing pretentious. Quality work at a fair price. Starting with a web design focus, they both quickly learned that while having an amazing website to highlight your business is a great start, marketing is intrinsically foundational for our clients. When several clients were not seeing results through the search efforts of other companies, Terry took it to the next level. While digging into SEO and marketing, he found something he was very passionate about. His inner geek pushed him to focus solely on the data and analytics side of the business while Elisabeth built on her creative and visual strength and expanded the design side. In the industry, it is not always common to have both designers and digital marketing so closely connected, but to them it made perfect sense. Salterra’s World Headquarters is in Tempe Arizona

Terry and Elisabeth are the Hosts of Roundtable SEO Mastermind Series and SEO Spring Training Conference.