Usability vs Accessibility

Usability accessibility blah blah blah they are all the same! WRONG!!!
Usability is a quality attribute that assess how easy a webpage, database, or website is to learn, use, and remember.

Jakob Nielsen defines it with 5 quality components:

  1. Learnability
  2. Efficiency
  3. Memorability
  4. Errors
  5. Satisfaction

You can read more about those 5 quality components in his article “Usability 101: Introduction to Usability

Accessibility on the other hand deals with how universal your content can be accessed. When I say universal I mean by multiple types of users: disabled, slow internet connection, mobile devices, visually impaired, hearing impaired, users using screen readers, users with language barriers, etc. Accessibility is important to think about when making your website usable. It is important for your website to give images alternate text so for example hard of hearing or users who use a screen reader to navigate you page will know what that image is the reader can only portray in text format.

Accessibility and usability go hand in hand; if your website has usability then is has accessibility but if it has accessibility does not always mean it is usability. You may have 50 images on one page that all have alternate text so screen readers can read the text but the page is not going to be easily viewed and most likely it will slow down the download of the webpage hence accessible but not usable. To have a successfully designed webpage it is important to incorporate both aspects.

As I mentioned above when you design your website there are multiple issues you need to consider. I have listed a few below

  • Alternate text for images
  • language translators
  • Graphic and multimedia sizes
  • Widget to increase text size
  • the ability to navigate with or without a mouse
  • Choice of colors for content text
  • the use of close captions on video

As I have discussed about accessibility and usability it is important to discuss cultural diversity among the internet. The internet is World Wide, it includes every culture that has established itself on this earth. When you create a webpage it is important to incorporate cultural differences in your design; especially if you are an internationally known business. In some cultures, as discussed in Elizabeth Wurth’s paper, “A Cross-Cultural Analysis of Website from High-Context Cultures and Low-Context Cultures” values are placed on family and friends where in others values are placed on relaxation and individualism. When we design our pages the images, colors, amount of text, type of images, color schemes and page conformity all need to be considered in regards to each culture. A good exampled presented by Wurth is McDonald’s. Not only do values differ but the way different cultures dissect a webpage varies. In a cultural comparative study of webpage perceptions it has been found that there is predominantly two ways of viewing a webpage, analytically and holistically. When viewing a webpage analytically one detaches objects from the page as a whole and looks at categories. Where is the holistic approach views the webpage as a whole. Ying Dong * and Kun-Pyo Lee (2008) found that Westerners use an analytical approach and East Asian use the holistic approach when viewing webpages. You can view their study here.

Wurth’s paper discusses predominantly the differences between High-Context and Low-Context cultures. North America is considered a low-context culture. Their values focus more on the individual rather than the group. Propositions like alone time and relaxation are heavily emphasized. Japan is considered a high-context culture which is the opposite of a low-context culture, values are focused on physical fitness, family and friendships. When building a website for the Japanese culture the types of imagery used should vary from the imagery used on a site for North Americans. Japanese are drawn to more graphics and less conformity on web pages. Each page may have multiple graphics with a vibrant background and be completely different from another webpage. Along with that the values advertised on the site will assimilate with human presence and relationships as those are values that are important in the Japanese culture. North American website would incorporate more text, webpage conformity in style and color schemes, relaxing images and less graphics.


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