What is accessibility?
When designing a web site, many designers, developers and program managers always focus on the "usability" of the site. There are many factors to consider when addressing the usability of a site, but often they will boil down to the following features:
* Ease of use
* Common layout
* Familiar Layout methodologies
Sites which successfully implement these strategies often enjoy a higher "sticky-ness" on the site. That is, their average visit lengths are longer, as are the pages viewed per visit. We all know that the easier a site is to use, the more likely we are to use it. Additionally, if your site is geared towards some type of conversion by either a sale or contacting your organization, the longer you can keep a visitor at your site, the greater your chance of that conversion.
Usability vs. Accessibility
The fundamental difference between usability and accessibility is that usability measures the users ability to find and locate information, and accessibility measures the users ability to access the information. Sites can be very usable, with clean, easy to understand navigational and heirarchical structures, yet be very inaccessible.
Often organizations are so focused on usability testing that they forget to do accessibility testing. The consequences of this can be devastating, possibly shutting down access to upward of 20% or more of your user base.
A common issue with sites that are not accessible is a reliance on a particular browser configuration or plug-in. Often times this may be the use of a configuration to such an extent that the site does not function without that configuration. Examples of technologies that can lead to this are below:
* ActiveX Scripting
* Java Applets
* Media Files
A good rule of thumb is: Anything that requires browser configuration or a browser plug-in has the potential to be an inaccessible technology.
Note: Just because a technology is not accessible does not mean you can't use it. All it means is that you should provide alternative methods to access similar content.
Understanding the difference between accessibility and usability will go a long way to helping your site's overall accessibility.
Until next time