Accessibility vs. Usability

Accessibility and Usability in Design: Why Is It Important?

10 min
Jan 30, 2023

Accessibility vs. usability. You’ve probably come across these two terms before. Both help ensure that a variety of people can use a product, whether they are non-technical or technically inclined, and also users with disabilities.

Yet, accessibility and usability have different meanings and importance. In this article, we’ll explore their differences and also explain what they have in common. Let’s dive in!

What is digital accessibility?

Digital accessibility is the creation of digital products, such as web and mobile applications, that can be easily used by people with all types of disabilities, including visual, auditory, motor, neurological, and other impairments.

In short, digital accessibility is about removing barriers so that everyone can take full advantage of the digital product. Examples of UX/UI elements that contribute to product accessibility include keyboard navigation, large font size, closed captioning of video, high contrast, etc.

What are the four principles of digital accessibility?

Currently, designers follow generally accepted principles to make digital content accessible. In particular, there are four of these principles, also known as Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, first introduced by the World Wide Web Consortium in 1999. According to these principles, the digital product should be:

principles of accessibility


This principle states that digital content should be presented in a way that users can perceive, whether through text, images, sound, or touch. For example, you can provide subtitles for videos or use high-contrast color schemes.


An operable product is one that is easy to use, whether by keyboard, mouse, touch screen, or other devices. Clear and consistent feedback is one example of an operable app. It helps users understand the results of their actions and how to proceed.


An understandable product provides a consistent layout with easy-to-understand information. Clear error messages and instructions, for example, enable users to understand and correct errors when they occur.


This principle requires the products to support different browsers and devices and to work with various assistive technologies, such as screen readers and speech recognition tools.

Accessibility design guidelines

In addition to the four accessibility principles mentioned above, designers follow a number of other rules and recommendations to make it easier for people with disabilities to use digital products. These recommendations are called accessibility design guidelines.

Some of the well-known accessibility guidelines are:

  • The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines for accessibility in the United States.
  • The Section 508 guidelines developed by the United States Federal government
  • The Accessible Canada Act

By following these guidelines, designers can ensure that their digital products are inclusive and user-centric, which can lead to higher user satisfaction and retention, and ultimately higher revenue for the company. It can also help the company meet regulatory requirements for accessibility.

What is usability?

Now that we defined what designing for accessibility means, let’s move on to another term we’ll discuss: usability.

The usability of a digital product is determined by how easy and efficient it’s for users to accomplish their goals when using a digital product.

Users are more likely to abandon a product if it’s difficult to use. This can result in a loss of customers and revenue for the company. A product’s usability can also cause frustration and dissatisfaction with users, which can lead to negative reviews.

For this reason, usability is an important aspect of any product or service. The Nielsen Norman Group has identified four main components of usability testing:

usability testing

  • Learnability. This component allows users to accomplish a task with ease as soon as they encounter a product.
  • Efficiency is the speed at which experienced users can complete tasks. This includes minimizing the number of steps required to complete a task.
  • Memorability is the ability of users to remember how to use the product after not using it for a while. This includes consistent design and functionality, as well as clear labeling.
  • Fault tolerance is the ability of a system to handle errors in a non-threatening, helpful, and user-oriented manner. This includes clear error messages and suggestions for correcting errors.

What is the difference between usability and accessibility in a web design?

Now that you know the meaning of accessibility and usability, let’s draw the line between these two definitions.

The main difference is that accessibility design equips the product with the necessary tools to serve different user groups, from people with disabilities to non-technical users or simply those with old versions of devices. This includes features such as alternative text for images, keyboard navigation, and subtitles for videos.

While accessibility focuses on making a product perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust, usability focuses on the overall ease of use. This includes elements such as clear navigation, intuitive layouts, and consistent design.

An example of a product that is extremely user-friendly is the Apple iPhone. Thus cutting-edge device boasts a sleek and intuitive design, a user-friendly interface, and an array of features, such as high-resolution touchscreens, advanced cameras, and an ergonomic design.

Apple’s iPhone has also been designed with accessibility in mind, offering a variety of innovative features that enable users with disabilities to take full advantage of the device. Among these features is VoiceOver, a speech recognition technology that reads aloud screen text and buttons, making navigation easier for visually impaired users.

The relationship between accessibility and usability of websites

Based on the above, usability is definitely a broader definition. Therefore, it’s logical to refer to accessibility as a subset of usability.

Usability and accessibility in UX design are two integral parts that are mutually dependent. Accessibility without usability is as detrimental to the user experience as usability without accessibility.

If a product is accessible, but not user-friendly, with confusing layouts and poor organization, it might be hard to navigate. All users, regardless of their disabilities, may have difficulty finding information, which results in a frustrating and unproductive experience.

On the other hand, a product that focuses on usability without considering accessibility can be just as problematic. For example, a product with an elegant and responsive design but without accessibility features, such as alternative text for images or keyboard navigation may be difficult or impossible to use for users with visual or motor impairments.

usability and accessibility

What is the importance of accessibility in UX design?

As you can see, even a highly usable product may not still be accessible for a particular user segment.

Accessibility is important for businesses in reaching a broader audience since people with disabilities represent a significant portion of the population and purchasing power.

Moreover, accessibility isn’t only a moral imperative, but also a legal one. Companies that fail to comply with accessibility standards risk legal action and reputational damage.

Designing for accessibility is also an important aspect of search engine optimization, as it improves a website’s discoverability by search engines, leading to higher search engine rankings and ultimately more visibility and traffic.

Overall, the benefits of accessible products can be enormous for businesses and society at large.


There are several differences between a website’s accessibility and usability. Accessibility primarily targets users with physical impairments and ensures that they have all the necessary tools for comfortable product use.

The goal of usability practices is to create a system that allows all types of users to navigate easily, get quick instructions, and not have to relearn how to use a product after a long period of inactivity.

In short, accessibility and usability are two sides of the same coin. A product that addresses both aspects not only complies with regulatory requirements but also provides a pleasant and productive experience for all users. These symbiotic relationships shouldn’t be overlooked.

by Ivan Klyzhenko
UX Startup Advisor, Uitop


What is digital accessibility?

Digital accessibility, also known as web accessibility or e-accessibility, refers to the design and development of digital technologies and online platforms in such a way that they can be easily used by people with disabilities, including those with visual, auditory, cognitive, or motor impairments.

What is product usability?

Product usability is the measure of how easy and efficient a product is to use. It’s the degree to which a product can be used by specific users to effectively, efficiently, and satisfactorily achieve specific goals in a specific context of use.

What are the four principles of accessibility?

The four principles of accessibility are Perceivable, Usable, Understandable, and Robust.

Perceivable means that the data and components of the user interface must be presentable to users in a way that they can perceive. Usable means that the user interface must be operable using a keyboard or other device. Understandable means that the information and operation of the user interface must be understandable, and robust means that the content must be robust enough to be interpreted by a variety of users.

Why is accessibility important?

Accessibility is a critical aspect of design and development because it ensures that all people, including those with disabilities, can access and use digital content and functionality. Companies that fail to comply with accessibility guidelines risk legal action and reputational damage. 

Additionally, accessibility improves the overall user experience for all visitors, regardless of ability, and leads to greater engagement and satisfaction, which results in better business outcomes.

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