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Accessibility vs. Usability vs. Inclusion

May 14, 2019

Good website design should mean committing to improving the site experience for users of all abilities and backgrounds. Depending on your website’s goals and audience, this could mean incorporating support for different languages, designing a clean and simple user interface, or adding images and videos.

More important than just adding content, however, is the need to adhere to web guidelines such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). In particular, many organizations use WCAG to ensure that their websites are compliant with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. These guidelines were developed to ensure that web users with disabilities have an experience that provides equivalent access to information as everyone else when browsing the web.

In the digital realm, the terms accessibility, usability, and inclusion often overlap, which can lead to these terms being confused. It’s not surprising to find the boundaries between these three concepts blurred because they can inform and improve one another — where lines can be drawn can be more a matter of opinion and interpretation is relative.

Intersecting Principles

Meeting the accessibility needs of a website serves its usability experience; when the user experience is simple, intuitive, and easy to navigate, it lends itself to being more inclusive of users who have visual, cognitive, or mobility impairments. Inclusive design practices take accessibility into account from the start, making as few accessibility workarounds as possible. Many initiatives that improve a website’s accessibility for people with disabilities also improve general usability and vice versa.

There are also key ways in which accessibility, usability, and inclusion are distinct from one another. It’s important that web designers and developers know the differences between these terms in order to meet the standards necessary so that websites provide an experience that ideally serves every visitor.


Accessibility addresses discriminatory aspects of the user experience online for people with disabilities. When a website is accessible, it means that people with disabilities can equally perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the content presented. It also means that users can participate and contribute without barriers.

Some best practices for accessible web design are:

  • Including closed captions and transcripts for video content on your website.
  • Not using color alone to convey information.
  • Using a high contrast ratio between text and background so that people can easily distinguish between the two.
  • Describing the content and purpose of images through alternative text.
  • Ensuring that the website is navigable using only the keyboard.
  • Giving users enough time to read and use the site’s content, and giving users the ability to disable or adjust unnecessary time limits.
  • In the site’s code, explicitly indicating the language of the text on the page (English or French, for instance), as well indicating the language of any passages that differ from the main language used.
  • Including no website content that could induce a seizure.

W3C says that, “Accessibility is essential for developers and organizations that want to create high-quality websites and web tools, and not exclude people from using their products and services.”


Usability is about designing products to be effective, efficient, and satisfying. Usability includes user experience design. This may include general aspects that apply to all users and do not disproportionately impact people with disabilities. Usability practice and research does not sufficiently address the needs of people with disabilities alone, but rather in tandem with accessibility standards. W3C says, “While the considerations of people with disabilities are not always included in common practices, they can be easily integrated into user experience design.”


Inclusion is about diversity, and ensuring involvement of everyone to the greatest extent possible. This can also be referred to as universal design or design for all. Inclusion is foundational to ensuring that users of all backgrounds, abilities, and experiences should have an equal user experience with a website. Digital inclusion, although somewhat a newer concept, addresses issues related to digital literacy and access to information and communications technology. Inclusion is important to improving and maintaining a website’s accessibility, in that consideration should be given to a variety of different encounters with content and design.


In order for all people to make full use of your website, accessibility, usability, and inclusive design must go hand in hand during the development and testing process. Our goal is to help you achieve, maintain, and prove digital compliance.

If you’re ready to apply accessibility, usability, and inclusion on your own website, you can contact us for an obligation-free 30 minute consultation, and we’ll guide you through the process. Or, you can get started with a free and confidential scan of your website for a graded report tested against WCAG A/AA checkpoints.

Use our free Website Accessibility Checker to scan your site for ADA and WCAG compliance.

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