Accessibilty vs Usability

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I thought it would be sensible to talk about the definitions of accessibility and usability as they relate to websites and web applications, since there still seems to be some confusion over the two concepts. It is important to note that they are not the same thing, but there is however an overlap between the two.

What is accessibility?

Within websites accessibility is a measure of how well the site can be used by people with disabilities. This would include those who are blind, colour-blind or who have poor eyesight. It also includes people who have some physical impairment, those who have a cognitive impairment, and those who are deaf or who have hearing difficulties.

But it is also important to know that website accessibility is not limited just to those groupings I have listed. People do not always fall tidily into arbitrary categories – everyone is different and has different needs. Elderly people form a growing group of internet users these days and website accessibility can help them – even though they may not consider themselves disabled.

What is usability?

Usability is about ‘fit for purpose’. Website usability is more concerned with how users interact with a site, and specifically how easy they find interacting with a site.

Most sites exist for a purpose, be it hobby-related or eCommerce, or any number of other purposes. People who arrive at a site will want to find the information they are looking for easily or they may choose to go elsewhere. Usability focusses on the clarity of a site and can help ensure that users stay at a site for longer.

Surely they are the same then?

Whilst there is a large overlap between the two concepts the key difference for me is that accessibility specifically sets out to include those with disabilities. It is quite possible to create attractive and easy to use sites that are completely inaccessible to people within certain disability groups. Conversely, it is possible to create sites that are accessible but give a poor user experience to everyone.

The key point is that both are important and should be considered when designing a website or web application. Website designers and developers are only human (honest) and it is vital when building a website to place yourself in your users shoes, or slippers, and think about the experience from their perspective.

Further posts on the Coolfields Consulting blog will delve more deeply into the issues and guidelines for creating usable and accessible websites.

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