Usability & the user experience

Digital accessibility guide for Marketers

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Accessible User Experience & Design

When building websites and creating digital content, we often miss a crucial element - user experience mapping for people with physical, cognitive, literacy or language challenges. With increasing expectations for consumers to interact with us online, it becomes more and more important that we make the effort to bring our digital presence up to speed.

What is accessibility in UX? 

When any new website is being created, the user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) are considered. The user interface is what the web user interacts with, and includes the visual layout and design of the web pages. The user experience is how the user feels, and impacts on the user’s overall experience with a brand, product or service. 

When coming up with a user interface design, website creators will think about how a web user will behave, and how the design will support their behavior. By doing this, they can make sure that users will have an enjoyable and successful experience. An experience that’s friendly, intuitive, and makes sure they can achieve what they’ve set out to do. 

Website usability is an important part of this process. After all, creating a website that’s easy to use supports a good experience. But not everyone has the same abilities. That’s where accessibility in UX comes in.

Accessibility in UX is about recognizing different abilities, and considering whether a website will work for any user in any situation. This includes thinking about what needs to be done to make sure it’s usable by people with disabilities. For example, people with physical, cognitive, literacy or language challenges. If these users can’t access and consume your content, it will affect the quality of their experience.

Before we dive in any deeper, you might be wondering about some of the terms we’ve mentioned so far. So, let us explain.

Accessibility vs usability vs inclusion - what’s the difference?  

Accessibility, usability and inclusion in website design are closely linked and they can overlap. But each is underlined with different goals, and that’s why there’s a difference. For example, the difference between accessibility and usability is that one is solely focused on people with disabilities, whereas the other is not. 

Below, we define the meaning of each.

What is website accessibility?

Web accessibility is about making sure that digital content can be accessed, understood and used by everyone. That includes people with disabilities, as well as assistive technology devices they may use, such as screen readers.

An accessible website design will have considered any potential barriers that a user might have experienced. And will have been designed to make sure they don’t exist. 

In simple terms, web accessibility is about creating equal experiences for people with disabilities. As such, guidelines and legislation exists.

What is website usability?

Website usability is about how easy a website is to navigate and how intuitive it is to use. It’s also how efficient the content and page design is. It’s measured in terms of efficiency, effectiveness and satisfaction

Website usability is one aspect of UX design. Usability principles don’t necessarily address the needs of people with disabilities. That means that most often, usability design focuses more generally on design aspects that will impact everyone. That’s why accessibility in UX is another separate element of UX design.

What is website inclusion?

Website inclusion is about making sure a website is accessible and usable by as many people as possible. It’s about making sure that everyone can be involved and feels welcomed.

Inclusion considers people with disabilities, and more. It also considers the use and user experience of people of different ages, cultures and demographics. As well as people with different computer skills, internet access, and much more. It’s about design for all. That’s where we start talking about inclusive design, or what’s commonly known as universal design. We’ll explore that more as you continue reading through this page.

Webinar: Accessibility vs usability vs inclusion - what’s the difference? 

In this webinar, hear from inclusion experts Eric Harris and Robin Christopherson, as they explain these definitions further. Gain advice on how to address each in your digital projects. Discover when and how to carry out user research, and make sure your website meets the needs of everyone. 

Why is accessibility in UX important?

Accessibility in UX is important for your online visitors as well as your brand. 

The user experience is all about how someone feels when interacting with a website. That means it has an impact on their emotions. As well as having an impact on how they view your brand. 

Creating an accessible UX is the right thing to do

Accessibility in UX means to create an experience that leaves disabled visitors feeling welcomed and valued. An experience that every person deserves.

By considering accessibility in UX design you’ll be making sure that your disabled visitors can access and digest your content. You’ll be making sure that they’re able to complete what they’ve visited your website to do. Ultimately, you’ll be making sure that their experience is smooth and enjoyable. With an accessible UX you’re truly keeping your customers at the center of everything you do.

Accessibility in UX is also good for your brand

First impressions count. For some people, your website is the first experience they have with your brand. By not considering accessibility in UX, you risk leaving a large audience feeling unwelcome at the first impression. Not only that, it can impact loyalty with your existing customers.

Globally 1 in 7 people have a disability. Over the years this number is expected to grow. In fact, it’s expected to double by 2050. In the US specifically, 1 in 5 are diagnosed as having a disability.

For this audience, an inclusive brand is incredibly valued. In fact, 75% would rather pay more for a product from an accessible website, than buy the same product again from one that was less accessible.

By considering accessibility in UX, you’re also considering what’s valued by your audience. And that speaks volumes. For people with disabilities you’re showing them that they matter. For others, you’re telling them that everyone’s experience matters to you. Sharing in the beliefs, ideals and values of consumers is powerful in building a positive brand image. In fact, 62% of consumers prefer to purchase from brands that stand up for issues that matter.

An accessible UX is better for everyone

Accessibility in UX benefits everyone. That’s because any one at any time can experience a barrier to accessibility.

Disabilities can be permanent, temporary and situational:

  • Permanent disabilities are those that will remain with a person throughout their lifetime
  • Temporary disabilities are those that will affect someone for a short period of time. This could be because of an ear infection affecting hearing, a migraine impacting sight, or an arm injury affecting mobility
  • Situational disabilities are caused by someone’s current situation or environment. For example, someone holding a child may find themselves trying to use an app with one hand

Creating an accessible UX means that any one at any time will be able to use your website, no matter what situation they’re in.

“Disability is a resource for design, not a burden on design!” - Eric Harris, Research Institute for Disabled Consumers

With this in mind, taking the time and effort to create an accessible website design shouldn’t be seen as an extra step. Instead, it should be seen as an important and worthy part of the process. As Eric says, disability is not a burden on design. It’s a resource!

Designing for ease of use for people with disabilities helps to maximize ease of use for everyone. Not only that, thinking about how to meet different needs leads to creativity and resourcefulness. The result? Online experiences that are better for everyone, and a company website that stands out from the crowd.

1 in 4 older users face problems accessing products and services online

We recently released a research paper exploring the online experiences of those aged 50+ throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. We found that usability problems were experienced across healthcare, retail, financial and public service websites. In this report, learn what the top accessibility barriers were. Gain insights to help you make sure your website is inclusive of all.

Designing for accessibility and inclusion

When thinking about accessibility in UX, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. You might think that you need to design for every single disability that exists. But that would be impossible. Instead, designing for accessibility and inclusion means to shift your focus to a design for all. In other words, to follow the process of Universal Design.

To design for all is to create a website that’s:

  1. Accessible so that every visitor has equal access to your content
  2. Usable and is efficient, effective and satisfying to every visitor
  3. Inclusive and leaves every visitor feeling welcomed, valued and included

To achieve the above, you must think about the behaviors, goals and pain points of your target audience. Not only that, but also their ability to complete tasks online. 

To help you consider usability and accessibility in UX design, guidelines exist.

Guidelines for accessible and usable websites

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) support organizations to create accessible websites and apps. They’re used around the world and are regarded as the international standard for web accessibility.

To help you understand more about the WCAG, we’ve pulled together some resources…

Online guide: Web accessibility guidelines & legislation

On this page, discover more about the WCAG and the 4 principles it’s based on.

Understand how the guidelines can help you to make your website perceivable, operable, understandable and robust.

A roadmap to help you design for all

Beyond the guidelines, an important part of designing for accessibility and inclusion is involving end users. As well as educating your colleagues on the importance of inclusive design.

1. Educating colleagues

Designing for accessibility and inclusion isn’t a task that sits with one person. Training your colleagues on why accessibility for web design matters can help set your company up for success.

After all, a whole team that shares the same vision means everyone's working towards the same goal. That means, your team will work better together to design a website fit for everyone.

At Texthelp, we have created a 10-point plan to help our teams work together to improve accessibility for all. Take a look and feel free to use it as inspiration to develop your own.

2. Involving end users

There’s no better way to improve your website than to get into the mindset of the people using it. User research gives you the chance to hear-first hand from your online visitors. This means the chance to understand what they need and expect from your website.

In the design phase of any project, you should involve users with disabilities...

  • As early in the process as possible. Hearing from real people right at the start will help you to think of design ideas that are realistic for your audience
  • Throughout the design process. To make sure you end up with a user centred design, it makes sense to keep end users involved throughout the entire process. That way, each idea can be reviewed and tested in real time. 
  • At the final stage, before your site goes live. Before your website goes live, having end users test your website for accessibility and usability is useful. You can gain feedback on their user experience and make any final tweaks before it’s set to go live. 
  • Beyond the ‘go-live’ date. Once your website is published, remain open to feedback. Openly ask for your visitor’s thoughts and continue to learn and improve.

In the next section, we’ll explore how you can identify your end-users and carry out user testing.

User personas and research in Accessible UX

Involving real people is key if you want your website to work for everyone. To help you identify who should take part in your research, it’s helpful to create accessibility personas.

As part of any campaign, user personas help to humanize your target audience. It helps you to consider what their pain points may be, in the hopes of creating campaigns that are meaningful. But when it comes to considering accessibility for web design, your ideas should be informed by real users. To design for all is to design for your users, with your users. 

Accessibility personas should include a mix of cognitive, behavioral and physical disabilities. Including as many different participants as possible will help you to gain a well-rounded view of accessibility needs. 

How you gather their insights should also include a mix of different methods. That’s because there’s 3 different types of information you want to gather.

  1. Behavioral - how end users behave online
  2. Attitudinal - what end users believe or think about your service
  3. Emotive - how your service makes end users feel  

By understanding each, you can create a user experience that allows people to access, use, and feel good about your service.

Examples of user research:

  • End-user interviews. Q&A style interviews that help you to get to know web users on a personal level.
  • Contextual interviews. An observation of end users in their natural environment. This type of research let’s you see how a web user actually interacts with your website.
  • Surveys. A questionnaire that can be filled in online. Once you’ve finished end-user and contextual interviews, surveys allow you to reach a much wider audience. You can use them to confirm the traits and behaviors you've seen so far. This is known as quantifying your results.

Read on to discover tips and tools to help you carry out contextual interviews. 

4 tips for designing a usability test for accessibility

When it comes to carrying out contextual interviews, there’s some important factors to consider:

  1. Getting the right people to take part.
    To gain a full understanding of your website’s accessibility and usability, you’ll need a mix of people to test it. That means, people with visual, auditory, motor, cognitive and speech disabilities. Each user will have different needs, and may use specialist devices to access online content. Including different types of people means getting a well-rounded view of if your website is designed for all. 
  2. Using the right channels to reach the right people.
    Connecting with the right people can be the most difficult part of the process. But luckily, there are some organizations that can help. For example sites like help you to reach real users remotely. Then there’s organizations like the Research Institute for Disabled Consumers (RIDC). They test the usability of websites together with a customer panel of over 2,500 disabled and older people.
  3. Making sure users are comfortable during the process.
    If your usability test is taking place in a location set by you, consider any accessibility requirements. Ask each person if and what they need from you. Check if they’re using assistive technology, and make sure you allow for this in your set up. During the usability test, be mindful that users may become overwhelmed should they experience barriers on your website. 
  4. Making the most out of the usability test.
    Before carrying out a usability test, there are some simple checks you can do first. For example checking that all images have alternative text, and that your website can be navigated by keyboard alone. By making sure that standard accessibility requirements are covered, your users will be able to access and use your website. That means you’ll be able to focus on their behaviors and emotions. You’ll get more meaningful information out of the test.

Podcast with RIDC: It’s time to practice inclusivity by design

Hear from Gordon, CEO of RIDC and gain expert advice on carrying out user research and testing. Explore when and how to build end user research into the design process. Discover top tips to help you successfully practice inclusivity by design.

4 tools to support usability in UX

When designing for accessibility and inclusion, it’s important to remember you’re not alone. There’s plenty of tools and organizations to support you at every step of the way... 

1. User research tool: Optimal workshop & Hotjar

Optimal workshop provides usability testing tools such as OptimalSort and TreeJack.

OptimalSort helps you to understand how users think and how they group ideas together. TreeJack helps you to gather insights that’ll help you to build a logical website structure.

Hotjar lets you discover how users behave and feel on your website. Using heatmaps and recordings, you can quickly understand where users experience barriers. Using feedback and surveys, you can efficiently listen to their thoughts.

2. Accessibility testing tool: Color contrast checker

Free online tools exist that help you to carry out simple accessibility checks.

For example, WebAim’s Color Contrast Checker let’s you check the color contrast of your chosen colors. Having good color contrast is important for people with color blindness or color sensitivities.

3. Research organization tool: Dovetail

Dovetail helps to group your research together by letting you tag your research.

You can also transcribe video interviews and much more.

4. UX agency: Fathom

Getting an expert on board can help set you up for success. With their expert knowledge, you’ll gain everything you need much more simply and easily.

In our latest website revamp, we worked closely with UX specialists, Fathom. They spoke to our customers, conducted usability tests, and held internal workshops. They then worked with us to create a blueprint that helped us to design a more accessible and usable website.

Further reading

We hope we’ve helped you to understand more about website usability, the user experience and designing for all. 

Continue learning. Explore more areas of digital accessibility.

Creating Accessible Content

Learn how to create accessible content, and make sure all your online content is easy to access and understand.

Getting Inclusive Marketing right

Explore what inclusive marketing means and how you can get it right.

View the complete guide

View our full accessibility guide. We’ve lots more areas of digital accessibility for you to explore.