Why Accessibility and Usability are Important to You

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According to Usablenet.com, accessibility and usability are becoming increasingly critical to the internet experience. Is your site accessible to people with disabilities? Is it compatible with browsers other than Internet Explorer? Continue reading to discover how accessibility can benefit you, as well as your visitors.

What is Accessibility?

Accessibility is a term that is more associated with architectural thought, rather than Web Site Design. There is a legislation, which determines the minimum standards for new buildings. As a result, new buildings today often have wheelchair ramps, accessible lifts and disability parking spaces, allowing anyone with disabilities to gain access to a building, use the provided services, buy the products, and talk with the people inside.

With web sites, the term traditionally refers to the development of sites that are accessible to “all” users who may want to access them — in other words, “Universal Web Sites.” Tim Berners-Lee, W3C director and inventor of the World Wide Web, defines it as “access by everyone, regardless of disability”

Even though the World Wide Web is continuously growing, many users:

– use speech browsers, e.g. visually-impaired or blind people, as well as businessmen in cars;

– don’t have the latest graphical browsers and plug-ins;

– can’t see the wonderful graphics, hear the real-time audio, or navigate an interactive site;

– surf with slow modems, or reside in rural or remote areas with limited access to the Internet;

– browse without graphics, using text-only browsers or subscribe to non-graphic services;

– access in noisy, high- or low-light environments

Accessibility increases benefits for both parties: the User and the Web site Provider.

Users’ benefits:
Every user, regardless of physical, sensory and cognitive disabilities, constraints and/or technological barriers can:

– access the information

– use the services

– buy the products

– talk to the people associated with each Web site.

In other words, satisfied users may become loyal users, continue using the web site, and even recommend to others.

Providers’ benefits:

– Increase audience

– Improve maintainability and efficiency

– Improve and regain reputation

– Satisfy existing and future legal requirements

Accessibility is critical for a web site’s success.

This narrow focus is at the expense of a much larger segment of society with milder impairments, such as partial sight, loss of hearing, and poor language skills. The needs of this larger group can be more easily accommodated with simple and inexpensive design tips such as resizable text, large tactile buttons, and clear, easy-to-follow instructions.

We should try to look at things from the point of view of people who have disabilities. For example, in the UK alone, there are 8.5 million people who are classified as having some sort of disability. That’s a big percentage to exclude from the web; from a moral viewpoint, it is surely wrong, but from a commercial viewpoint, it is disastrous.

When designing web pages, try putting them through a text reader, like the ones used by those with visual impairment. You will soon realize how difficult it can be for a user who cannot see that a new window has opened – hence the need to overtly tell users that a new window has indeed opened.

Apart from the moral and commercial considerations, there is also the legal. The United Kingdom enforces the Disability Discrimination, which requires all web sites to show that they have taken steps to enable access.

With a little bit of thought, accessibility is relatively easy to implement. It does not require you to do away with JavaScript, Flash or other Multimedia features, just as long as you provide an alternative, so your visitors have a choice.

“For people without disabilities, technology makes things convenient,” says Judith Heumann, the U.S. Department of Education’s Assistant Secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, “For people with disabilities, it makes things possible.” (source )

Just keep that in mind.

What is usability?

Usability is the measure of the quality of a user’s experience when interacting with a product or system – whether a web site, software application, mobile technology, or any user-operated device.

According to Usability Expert Jakob Nielsen: “On the Web, usability is a necessary condition for survival. If a web site is difficult to use, people leave. If the homepage fails to clearly state what a company offers and what users can do on the site, people leave. If users get lost on a web site, they leave. If a web site’s information is hard to read or doesn’t answer users’ key questions, they leave. Note a pattern here? There’s no such thing as a user reading a web site manual or otherwise spending much time trying to figure out an interface. There are plenty of other web sites available; leaving is the first line of defense when users encounter a difficulty.”

(More: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20030825.html)

Is your web site usable?

There are several definitions for usability, but basically the following 6 characteristics can be considered usable:

– Quick and easy to learn

– Efficient to use

– Allows rapid recovery from errors

– Easy to remember

– Usage is enjoyable

– Aesthetically pleasing

Does your product or website have the above characteristics?

Usability increases benefits for both parties: the User (potential customers) and the Provider (you).

Users benefits:

– Users are satisfied, not frustrated, with the product or website

– They enjoy interacting with the website or product

– They achieve their goals effectively and efficiently

– They cultivate confidence and trust in the product or website

If your users are satisfied, they will become loyal, and may even recommend your product or service to others.

Providers benefits:

As a provider, you may benefit from usability in many ways, including:

– Reduced development time and costs

– Reduced support costs

– Reduced user errors

– Reduced training time and costs

– Return on Investment

Misconceptions About Usability:

“Misconceptions about usability’s expense,” Jakob Nielsen says, “the time it involves, and its creative impact prevent companies from getting crucial user data, as does the erroneous belief that existing customer-feedback methods are a valid driver for interface design.” (http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20030908.html)

Usability Can Save Your Company!

John S. Rhodes, Editor and Webmaster at WebWord.com, says: “Data indicate that usability offers a better return on investment than almost any other business action. When times get rough, usability shines. The benefits are huge. Usability is a weapon that can save you money, improve your competitive position, and improve customer loyalty. Now is the time to invest in the research.” (More: http://webword.com/moving/savecompany.html)

By making your web site accessible and usable, you make your visitors happier and your wallet more comfortable!

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John Britsios, a Web Accessibility and Usability Consultant, founded and owns the company Webnauts Net (http://www.webnauts.net), which he is currently in the process of redesigning. He also founded the Webnauts Net Accessibility and Usability Initiative Forum, located at http://forum.webnauts.net

Why Accessibility and Usability are Important to You
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