Usability and Accessibility

Usability

Usability is a critical facet of website quality that unfortunately often gets overlooked. Usability is concerned with the question, “How easy is it for site visitors to use the site?” More specifically:

  • How quickly can visitors find the information they’re looking for?
  • How easily can they accomplish tasks on a site?

Nothing is more important for a website than usability. A visually amazing website with bad usability is a bad website. The best content in the world is rendered obscure away by poor site usability. A complicating factor is that usability can seem quite abstract. You may have heard about it in terms of user experience, user interface, or whether a site is “user-friendly.” Some general aspects of usability are:

  • accessibility (see Accessibility, below)
  • consistency
  • learnability
  • memorability
  • efficiency
  • overall user feelings / satisfaction

Accessibility

Accessibility extends website ease-of-use to people with disabilities, whether they have poor eyesight, trouble using a mouse or touch surface, or other impairments. Accessibility speaks to discrimination and civil rights, and thus has major ethical and legal importance.

"The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect."
– Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web

As a recipient of federal financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Education, University of Detroit Mercy is subject to federal legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability.

According to federal law, for a website to be “accessible,” any person with a disability must be able to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as a person without a disability, in an equally effective and equally integrated manner, with substantially equivalent ease of use.

Types of disabilities covered include:

  • Blind, low vision, color-blind
  • Deaf, hard of hearing
  • Deafblind
  • Motor / dexterity disabilities
  • Speech disabilities
  • Cognitive / learning disabilities
  • Reading disabilities
  • Seizures
  • Multiple disabilities

Assistive technologies and practices exist to help people with disabilities use the Web. Examples include text-to-speech screen readers, screen magnifiers, voice control, speech recognition, video transcripts and captions, etc.

A poorly-designed, non-accessible website can defeat these assistive technologies, and thereby discriminate against people with disabilities. Accessibility not only makes sites work better for people with disabilities, but usually makes sites work better for all users.

The Marketing & Communications Department’s Web team works to increase the accessibility of our websites, not just to comply with the law, but because it’s the right thing to do.