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Usability and Accessibility in UX

Usability and Accessibility in UX

As someone who works closely with a variety of businesses to support the growth and scaling of their UX teams, I understand the importance of clearly defined concepts, goals, and projects. I have noticed that there is often a lot of confusion around the relationship between usability and accessibility. Since they have some similarities, usability and accessibility are often confused for each other. Both overlap, are tightly related, and are both fundamental aspects of User Experience (UX), but they are completely independent concepts and are not interchangeable.

The following article answers important questions around:

  • What is usability and why is usability important in UX?
  • What is accessibility and why is it important in UX?
  • How do usability and accessibility relate to each other in UX?
  • Why is usability and accessibility important to businesses?

The following establishes the link between the two concepts, whilst clearly defining the difference between them to provide a better understanding of these important UX components.

What is Usability in UX and why is Usability Important?

Usability is highly user centric and refers to how easy and efficient it is for a user to access and then navigate a platform, product or website. Usability really underpins everything, even including website SEO, and is therefore a really important component of UX.

It’s generally measured against five key criteria which are memorability, efficiency, errors, learnability, and satisfaction (MEELS). To determine the usability of your product, in a digital space this is usually a website or an app, designers need to answer:

  • What tasks do users expect to complete?
  • How easy is it to complete those tasks?
  • What test scenarios can access the completion of those tasks?
  • What data do you need to collect in assessing those tasks?
  • How satisfied is the user with the number and ease of the steps needed to complete their task?

User experience strategies and usability implementation will tackle challenges around users not being able to locate information on the site, high bounce rates, and low conversions. Usability is important to any product, platform or site, as it directly relates to user attraction, retention and conversion. Without those users, and without the resultant conversions the platform, product, or site will fail to drive sales and profit.

Whilst usability includes accessibility, usability testing tends not to specifically focus on the user experience of someone with a disability. Accessibility is an important subsection of usability because a platform, product, or website that is inaccessible to someone with a disability, is also unusable for someone with that disability.

What is Accessibility in UX and why is Accessibility Important?

Accessibility refers to whether the platform, product, or site can be used by everyone by addressing discriminatory aspects of the user experience for people with disabilities. Accessibility is not only just the right thing to do in terms of increasing inclusivity and ensuring that people with disabilities can equally see, understand, navigate, and interact with the content, but it also offers benefits to all users. For example, using video captions and subtitles assists those with hearing impairments, but will also help someone who is watching the video on mute in a social media feed if they are in a busy office.

Accessibility is largely about infrastructure and is highly objective, meaning that most accessibility test questions can be answered with a yes or no response, e.g. does your website support dyslexia-friendly fonts? Some key accessibility features include:

  • Using subtitles or transcripts for all video content
  • Using a high contrast ratio between text and background, and relying on more than just colour to convey important information
  • Using alternative text
  • Avoiding any seizure-inducing content
  • Ensuring a user can navigate the website using only the keyboard

By including as many accessibility features as possible, developers are delivering websites, apps and platforms that are high quality, as well as inclusive, meaning that they aren’t excluding potential users or buyers from accessing their product. This can result in larger customer bases, more conversions, and a better overall brand image.

The Relationship Between Usability and Accessibility

Usability and accessibility are both necessary components of inclusive design and a great user experience for everyone.

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Usability is about designing effective and efficient products that meets and exceeds user expectations, whilst accessibility focuses on making sure that product can be used equally by any person regardless of any disabilities. We can define accessibility as a subset of usability, and essentially a website or product is not fully usable unless it is accessible, and whilst usability implies accessibility, accessibility doesn’t necessarily indicate usability.

If something is not accessible, it can’t be fully usable to everyone. UX should consider ALL users when designing a product, platform, app, or website. This includes making sure your product is accessible AND usable by people with visual, motor, auditory, seizures, and cognitive barriers, which will also assist anybody who is experiencing even a temporary impairment such as incidental barriers (e.g. sleep-deprivation) or environmental (e.g. being in an office and unable to play a video aloud.) Thus, accessibility benefits all users, and is worthwhile investing in.

In summary, you cannot have a fully usable platform without accessibility because you end up excluding a potentially large group of users. And finally, if you have accessibility without usability, nobody can enjoy the platform because despite being able to access it, they can’t use it properly. A site with usability flaws is of no benefit to anybody at all.

Conclusion: Why is Usability and Accessibility Beneficial to Businesses?

When designing for UX it is fundamental to consider all users and focus on building a platform or product that has great usability and great accessibility. Usability and accessibility come together to create inclusive design and an overall great user experience for all. Ensuring maximum usability and accessibility on products will help avoid discrimination and legal complaints, will widen brand reach and increase audience size, will build positive PR, and will improve SEO.

Improving accessibility does not only benefit audience members with disabilities. It offers a range of benefits to all users and positively reflects on your brand, and by improving accessibility you also improve overall usability. With all these benefits, it’s clear that investing in UX is worthwhile. And to achieve great UX, you need a great UX team.

If you’re currently looking for the right talent or team to improve your UX and help expand your customer base, refine your brand image and increase your search engine rankings, get in touch today for support and advice on hiring top UX talent. Contact me at james.radcliffe@maxwellbond.co.uk