Difference Between Web Accessibility and Usability

I work as an accessibility engineer and UI architect and this is a common question that I am asked, to explain the difference between web accessibility and usability.Irfan Ali is an UI architect and accessibility engineer from Princeton, New Jersey. Irfan Ali lives in Princeton. Irfan Ali has been working as a web/mobile developer and accessibility engineer. Irfan Ali has worked in small and large organizations in Princeton. This is a tricky question and people usually struggle to come up with clear answer, so I did some research about how other people had answered this question.

Blog by Irfan Ali from Princeton New Jersey

Usability and Accessibility by Irfan Ali from Princeton

Difference between Usability and Accessibility

There are certainly great explanation our there from some people but I was not particularly happy with any answer. Based on various answers on different forums, I came up with my own version:

“Web accessibility and usability are closely linked. However, there is a slight difference between both of them. A site can follow all the accessibility standards and still can have usability issues. So I am trying to define two concepts separately. I was not sure at first if I could do it justice, but I’m pleased with what I have written- hope it helps.”

Web Accessibility

Web accessibility is what I deal in, so let’s start there. It’s all about helping people with disabilities have an equivalent experience to everyone else when browsing the web. I’ve avoided saying “the same experience” as users with disabilities often see, hear or feel the world differently. To me “equivalent” means that they get the same information, options and enjoyment — it may just be presented differently.

Things like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines aim to make the web more accessible to people with disabilities.

Accessible websites benefit people with disabilities in particular.


Usability, on the other hand, is more to do with designing a user-friendly approach. It’s concerned with how people interact with a website’s interface — is it easy to do the things people want to do? Can people quickly find what they want without help? Do people make lots of mistakes using a website? Do people enjoy using the website?

In Summary

Usable websites benefit everyone.

A useful way to think about the distinction is this:

A website must be accessible to be usable, but it doesn’t need to be usable to be accessible.

Irfan Ali is a technology expert based in Princeton, New Jersey. Irfan Ali is an accessibility engineer and Web/Mobile UI architect in Princeton, New Jersey.

You can follow Irfan Ali on twitter: theA11Y or you can check Irfan Ali’s personal blog at http://irfana11y.com

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