When developers focus on technical aspects of web accessibility, they don’t necessarily achieve usable accessibility. While their websites pass technical accessibility tests, they are inaccessible for people with cognitive disabilities. That does not help the client, nor does it help the disabled.
Technical accessibility is essential mainly for people with vision problems – a website has to be coded in so that screen readers and Braille devices can interpret it. And it must allow people with physical disabilities (e.g. who use a mouse stick to tap on the keyboard and navigate the site or elaborate technologies such as eye-tracking software) use the website.
Good usability is important for people with cognitive disabilities and helps them to easily understand the site. These are people with learning problems, attention deficit disorders, short-term memory loss. Let’s not forget people with English as a second language or anyone stressed out to the max after a long week in the office. For them, a usable website is logically organized and written in a simple language.
What do you address first – technical or usable accessibility?
Applying accessibility techniques to an unusable site is like putting lipstick on a pig. No matter how much lipstick you apply, it will always be a pig.
There is no point in improving technical accessibility if the website is poorly organized and written in marketing jargon. These questions always help figure out if usable accessibility is the issue:
- Does the website make sense?
- Is it easy to use?
- Is it organized logically?
- Is the content clear and understandable for the general public?
- And, does the design compliment the site, or is it distracting?
Many (costly) accessibility techniques can be avoided by addressing common usability issues. In fact, when we review websites for accessibility compliance, in 70% of cases, websites have usability issues, and only 30% have technical problems. The reason is quite logical. The main accessibility principles match the principles of on-site search engine optimization (SEO). So, companies that invested in on-site SEO have a well-optimized and almost accessible web system.
Accessibility does not make a website usable; it is the good usability that makes a website accessible. That’s why it is good to have a designer or a consultant who understands both website usability and accessibility when developing an accessible site.