Can Universal Accessibility Improve Usability for All?


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Usability and Accessibility had similarities and differences. However, when focusing on improving websites for those with specific needs it ultimately helps everyone. Unfortunately, most Usability Evaluations focus on the “average user” as the target use but when a user with a disability becomes the target user Usability will be improved for all.

Difference Between Usability & Accessibility

When reading and pondering about the words “Usability” and “Accessibility” they could seem like two words that have the same meaning. Usability is a form of evaluation that relates to how easy something is to use for the first time or learn to use for the future. This can be thought as through words such as “learnable” and “discoverable.” The parts of evaluating Usability include: discoverability, mapping, signifiers, constraints, and feedback. If the design of the object or website passes all of these parts then the design can be thought to have good Usability. This is still true while Accessibility is a term used to describe how easy it is for an individual who has disabilities to use something. This is achieved by ensuring that an object or website is designed with the senses in mind. This could be done through the visual design of the website as well as in the coding of the site as well. Accessibility is needed morally as well as legally under Section 508 that “requires that all government websites are accessible to disabled users (‘Usability and Accessibility: Looking at User Experience through Two Lenses’).” Even though both Usability and Accessibility have their differences – the former is concerned with the average users while the latter is concerned over those who need certain aspects programmed in legally – they have their similarities as well.

Similarities of Usability & Accessibility

As defined by “Usability and Accessibility: Looking at User Experience through Two Lenses,” the most important thing you can do while designing a website is to keep all of your users in mind. If Accessibility is kept in mind Usability will follow. Accessibility means ensuring the website is clear, discoverable, with high contrast, flexible navigations and captions (“Web Accessibility”). This can help both Accessibility and Usability. After going to school in a highly Deaf population, websites, interfaces and tv monitors were highly accessible to those who needed them. This was primarily the case through captioning on everything including movies in movie theaters, providing different contact options such as texting options for 911 calls and the insurance of highly contrasted and clear website interfaces. However, this helped everyone not only the Deaf. I found that having captions everywhere helped me retain information while watching videos. And so, their similarities can be summarized by Accessibility ensures that websites have high Usability for those with Disabilities and Universal Usability would ensure that websites are Accessible all.

Problem: Most Usability Evaluations Use “Average Users” As Their Target User And Leave Those With Disabilities Out of The Equation

  • Demographics used by with no section pertaining to disabilities

Web Accessibility for Those with Disabilities

When Usability Tests are conducted the “average user” is usually the target user for the evaluation. However, this ignores those who are Blind, have Poor Eyesight or Color Blindness, Mobility Disabilities such as arthritis or loss or motor skills, those who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing, Epilepsy, and those who have Cognitive or intellectual disabilities (“Web Accessibility”). Accessibility issues – and therefore Usability issues – can stem from a number of things including, insufficient color contrast which can hinder those with blindness and color blindness (“Common Accessibility Problems: Good and Bad Examples in Modern Websites”). Specifically, this can be evaluated through auditing the code or using a Color Contrast Checker. Keyboard Traps and limited keyboard accessibility could create issues for those with limited mobility and a solution is coding websites to go “mouse-less” with joystick capabilities (“Common Accessibility Problems: Good and Bad Examples in Modern Websites”). Programming websites without “alternative text for non-text content” such as pictures could reduce the effectiveness of screen readers for individuals with limited sight or limited cognitive abilities (“Common Accessibility Problems: Good and Bad Examples in Modern Websites”). Making these small changes – mainly though code – could ensure any website can still have Usability even when it doesn’t work properly after software or hardware issues and accessible for all. Here, we can see that websites could be read to the blind and moved for the immobile but when it comes to the Deaf more work must be done.
From Wikimedia Commons

Specifics on Deaf & Hard of Hearing Culture and Website Use

Because of my experience with the Deaf community, I wanted to focus on there specific needs. Sometimes a simple addition to the website’s code is not enough. More effort tis needed to correctly caption videos, using ASL in visual content to eliminate the risk of inaccurate captions and making sure the language used is straightforward enough when members of the Deaf community might not have English Language as their first language. What the report “Websites: Accessibility and Usability for American Sign Language Users” found that “for some videos that had dull color or distracting images, participants suggested that the video background should be neutral with an attractive color” and brevity (“Websites: Accessibility and Usability for American Sign Language Users”). Wouldn’t the “average user” want short concise information without any distractions?  Using social media was also found to be a good avenue for distributing videos with ASL that lead back to the main website (“Websites: Accessibility and Usability for American Sign Language Users”).  And wouldn’t an “average user” want to see similar content as well as a summary of a website before visiting? Creating a website that is visual attractive yet not distracting with a liberal use of ASL, captions and straightforward language will improve the accessibility for Deaf users and the focus on language and neutral design will help the Usability.

Improvements For One Group Can Support Improvements For Others

Overall, it can be seen that Accessibility and Usability can be focused yet collaborative. When Usability is concerned, discoverability and learnability are at the focus. Typically, this form of evaluation focuses on the “average user” as the target user. When Accessibility is concerned the use of the site in general for any person with disabilities is the primary concern. This focuses on the population missed by the Usability Evaluation. However, when combined a site is created that complies with Section 508, looks beautiful and functions well for anyone who searches the URL.

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Design Critique: Ritual Restaurant Ordering App

Ritual is a restaurant ordering app that allows the busy professional to be more efficient with their lunch break by allowing them to skip the line and order ahead. They can order their meal before they leave the office, pay for it, get updates, get directions, and skip the line all on one app.

Ritual – Main Page

After selecting and loading the app, the main page offers discoverability through restaurant logos, icons, and search bars. As defined by Don Norman, in his book The Design of Everyday Things, discoverability is successful when people are able to figure out the possibilities at a glance and is supported by the app’s signifiers. These images and icons provide clues to correctly operate the app. Here the images representing the restaurants signify that you can find their menus, the ‘search’ bar signifies to users that they can search for their favorite food and the menu at the bottom has icons highlighting that you can find information on the home page, your team, points and more. However, these signifiers have poor mapping qualities, they do not necessarily lead users to where they want to go or think they are going. But this will be discussed further, down below.

Ritual – Favorited Meals and Restaurant Menus

After the user decides on a meal, they probably would assume that the restaurant image on the home page will lead them directly to the menu. But – if they have used the app before – the image will take them to a list of favorites. However, this is only determined by whether this item was ordered in the past and not by frequency or preference. If this mapping had good design, the first figure in this section would be deleted and the user would only be sent to the third image – the main menu. In other words, the third image in this section is of the favorited food items and the menu combined. Ritual only needs this section. Similarly, this app does employ constraints when items are sold out. In the first image – when the user wishes to reorder a meal – there is no signifer for the availability. Instead this feedback is only obvious after the item is selected. In place of disappointing the user via a error message, Don Norman suggests that this is not the person’s fault it’s the design’s so we should “eliminate all error messages from electronic or computer systems. Instead, provide help and guidance.” This could be done by suggesting another bagel type as an alternative to saying its just not available. This supports his idea because it allows the user to continue their task instead of making them start back at square one. In summary, the creators of the Ritual app need to reduce error and frustration by clearly mapping their icons and decreasing negative feedback by replacing them with suggestions.

Ritual – Check-out and Pick-up Options

One of the most striking negative features of Ritual is the inability to cancel your order. It is possible to accidentally select the wrong bagel type, or order too many bagels or change your mind. Maybe they have an allergy to a certain ingredient and only realize they ordered it after the fact. However, a system is not in place to cancel or undo a mistake which makes the error worse. But this is still not the user’s fault but the design’s. What Don Norman suggests is to have the option to “undo – Obviously, undoing is not always possible. Sometimes, it is only effective if done immediately after the action. Still, it is a powerful tool to minimize the impact of error.” Even though there is a required confirmation to execute the order it could still be a mistake. Maybe including a grace period of a minute or two – that the user agrees to while signing up for the app – to give each order a safety net. After that one to two-minute window where the user can cancel the order, only then will the order reach the restaurant making it easier to cancel for the user and avoiding any cancelation issues on the restaurant side of things that might make this not possible.

Ritual – Progress, Summary & Directions

The feedback system Ritual utilizes is helpful to the user because it tells the user that their order has been received, it is being prepared and when it should be done. However, to know all these things your phone needs to be in your hand. Most of the time your phone is in your pocket while walking to the restaurant on the busy streets on New York. The user might not know their order is ready so they might dilly dally. Sound could be helpful here because the user’s phone could ring or buzz when their order is done. To Don Norman, “sound can tell us that things are working properly or that they need maintenance or repair.” In this case, sound can be the feedback to let the user know their order is ready even before they get to the restaurant.


Overall, Ritual’s interface allows busy professionals to make the most out of their lunch break. It supplies them with options in their area, order ahead and skip the line. It even gives the user access to the progress of the meal, a receipt, and directions to the restaurant. However, this does not mean the app is perfect and easy to use. But, as Don Norman states, this is not our fault it’s the design’s fault. If the mapping better reflects what the user assumes it will do and the feedback is more defined and supportive of the user experience, then Ritual can increase its reach and help fill more empty stomachs.

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