Web Accessibility vs. Usability

It can be very easy to get caught up in the process of making a website accessible.  There are many technical details that a web developer needs to pay attention to and content writers need to consider.  But web accessibility doesn’t always guarantee usability.  Web accessibility is really a sub-set of usability i.e. making websites usable by everyone including people with disabilities.

What exactly is usability?  Usability “… often refers to the elegance and clarity with which the interaction with a computer program or a web site is designed.” (Source: Wikipedia).  In other words, when you visit a site, you don’t get lost looking for navigation or get frustrated trying to fill out a form because you’re not sure what information is being requested.  The usability of the site has been considered in the design, structure and functionality stages of web development.  It’s not an after-thought but part of the entire process not unlike building accessibility into a website.

For example, your site includes a registration form that requires your visitors to include their name, address and date of birth. To make the form usable, you include labels next to each field to indicate what information is required i.e. First Name, Last Name, etc.  But how do you want the date of birth to be completed?  Month/Day/Year?  4 digits in the year or just the last 2?  Unless you communicate your requirements to your visitors, they’re going to be left guessing about what you want them to do.  Usability considers these sorts of dilemmas and takes the guess-work out of the process.

By all means, make your website accessible but don’t forget to make it usable too.