Increased Usability through Accessibility

This blog post is part of a series of posts discussing the Business Case for Accessibility. In order to get a full view of the Business Case for Accessibility, I encourage you to read all posts in this series, links to which can be found at the bottom of this post.

Somewhat along the lines of the SEO argument are claims that accessibility will increase usability. The benefits to usability are claimed to come from things like clear organization of content, content chunking, effective navigation, and clear language.

  • Does it increase income? Maybe. To be frank, people tend to overstate the business value of usability in general. By proxy I’d say that claims concerning the business value of better-usability-via-accessibility are even more overstated.
  • Does save money? Probably not. Usability has been argued to save money in terms of support savings, etc. which is probably a legitimate claim. I don’t see anything specifically related to such arguments the WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion that have been tied to better usability.
  • Does it mitigate risk? Probably not
  • How strong is the evidence? Weak. I’ve seen no data to support these claims. Like the SEO arguments, only a very small portion of WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion are tied to increased usability and, frankly, those usability arguments are not well mapped to a tangible ROI.

I would argue that it is entirely possible to have an accessible website that is unusable. However, I’ve also noticed an interesting correlation: Websites with poor usability also tend to be inaccessible. I would consider the two to be loosely correlated, but I wouldn’t attempt to convince someone that they should undertake a specific accessibility effort under the auspices of increased usability. Like SEO, Usability should be its own effort and accessibility should be considered a by-product of a highly usable site.

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One Comment

  • Ian Hamilton
    Posted January 8, 2012 at 7:13 pm   Permalink

    I’ve been enjoying reading through your business case series, lots of good stuff, but I have to disagree with this one.

    Usability is neither over-stated or under-evidenced.

    Any quick google search will turn up reams of evidence showing precisely what difference usability work can make.

    Although user testing doesn’t give you anything quantitive, A/B or multivariate testing does and is often expressed in terms of conversion rates, meaning there’s a clear proven business case for it through plenty of documented examples of exactly how much it increases income by.

    There’s a reason for what you said about how accessible websites can be unusable, but unusable websites tend to be accessible. It goes way beyond being loosely correlated, it’s that accessibility is a subset of usability. Hence, as you say, accessibility being a by-product of good usability.

    So I’d also disagree with what you said about only a small percentage of WCAG being tied to increased usability. 100% of it is tied to increased usability. Or put another way – not meeting accessibility standards results in reduced usability for parts of the audience.

    However the best example was tragically wiped from being a standard in WCAG2 and reduced to general best practice advice (see WCAG 2.0 Layers of Guidance) on the basis of lack of testability – simplicity of language.

    That’s easily the most important accessibility issue in terms of numbers of the population it affects and is also one of the most common usability issues – it’s very common to see exactly the same copy changes that you would make for cognitive accessibility reasons (simplicity, clarity, literal instead of metaphorical, and so on) also being made under the banner of “usability”, resulting in huge stat differences, and clearly demonstrating ROI of following accessibility best practice.

    From where I stand at least all of this presents a huge opportunity.

    We have an industry that is, at current time, extremely invested in UX, with thousands of UX practitioners who are completely focused on making as usable an experience as possible for their target audience.

    So in situations like that all it takes is a little awareness of exactly who that target audience is and then the practitioners naturally fully appreciate accessibility – their day job which they are passionate about and completely bought in to is simply to use audience understanding to optimise the experience to provide as usable a site as possible for as much of the audience as possible.

    So rather than the traditional developer / standards based coding route, the next step is really about UX/usability practitioers, such as interaction designers, user researchers, information architects.. the people who’s day to day work involves not just understanding the audience but also fighting for the end users’ requirements, motivations and goals.

    They’re the people to get on side. They are already in a position of trust and authority over what works for the audience, which means that they also have the potential to be the most powerful advocates.

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