From an article by Katherine Talbot, senior accessibility and usability consultant at AbilityNet
We’ve had many years of experience in making websites and apps more accessible for our clients across a range of sectors, from banks to airports, charities and government. Sometimes clients are unclear about the difference between usability and accessibility. And, it can be confusing because they’re similar, yet different.
Good accessibility does not guarantee a website will also be user-friendly. But if you want a website which is user-friendly, it needs to be as accessible as possible to a wide range of people. This includes people with different visual abilities as well as blindness, those who are deaf or have hearing impairment, people who have cognitive or physical disabilities and ‘differabilities’.
No two people are the same, but we can test websites with as wide a range of people as possible, fully including people with different abilities and conditions. There are nearly 14 million people with a disability in the UK and that’s a lot of customers/ visitors to lose if a website doesn’t get things right. Currently, many do not get it right and the government looks likely to take a more serious look at those who fail to take web accessibility into account.
It’s important to note, however, that we can work hard to make a website as accessible as possible – ticking all the boxes of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) but that might not in itself lead to a great user experience for site visitors. Both usability and accessibility need to be taken into account to maximise reach and fulfil legal and moral obligations.
AbilityNet works with focus-groups of disabled people in its user-testing work for clients. Testers try various tasks on websites to see how clear and easy they are to complete. If you don’t have the resource to do this for your website, you can do remote interviews with people with disabilities and you could also watch Youtube videos of people with disabilities testing out websites to see what sort of features and issues are frustrating or difficult to work with.
Often there are very simple ways to change things for the better, and the earlier you can do this in the process of creating your site or re-designing it, the better. Changing things later can be more difficult and costly.
We work on a high, medium and low priority rating around how essential certain changes are. If a person who is blind and using a screenreader has no way of opening a link, that is a high priority issue and is important to change.
Medium priorities are features that can be accessed by a disabled person but those features are still really tricky and difficult to access. If things are too much of a struggle, people will click away.
Issues we’d place on the low list are items that are irritating and pointless but don’t render the site inaccessible. For example, perhaps a screenreader will announce a full list of links on a site where it only needs to announce one. Issues like this do make the user journey frustrating and so have a bearing on usability but will not fail the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
It really is worth taking the time to make sure your website is a pleasant and worthwhile experience for visitors, especially if you’re in a competitive market place or have a civic duty to ensure the public can access important information.