Accessibility v Usability

July 18th, 2007

Some might argue that to have both accessibility and usability is a case of having your cake and eating it too. Look at useit.com, usability guru Jakob Nielsen’s site, and you might agree.

Nielsen seems to have content licked: aside from permanent content in the form of usability articles, he also carries links to outside articles on usability news. There is real expertise here: there are virtually no images because, he says, “since most users have access speeds on the order of 28.8 kbps, Web pages can be no more than 3 Kb if they are to download in one second which is the required response time for hypertext navigation”; and his use of fonts (sans-serif) and text sizes (large) ticks all usability boxes.

But (and you knew a “but” was coming, didn’t you?) the bad news for content accessibility and usability isnt hard to find.

Aside from the fluid layout — making content stretch across the browser in a most unreadable way — it is built with incomplete tables and deprecated tags. And although it does include a doctype, it’s the dead TRANSITIONAL.

Discard the CSS and you won’t notice much change because of the tables: making the content almost unusable for disabled surfers. It seems while Nielsen has optimised (not brilliantly) for usability of content, he’s given scant thought to accessibility of content.

And, just a personal comment here, isn’t it just plain UGLY? How long would the casual surfer stick around to read the content?

So are usability and accessibility like chalk and cheese? Not really. To see content optimised for usability and accessibility just go to wordpress.org — semantic XHTML, big fonts, few images, obvious links, good colors, tight CSS, etc,.

A content manager cannot afford to lose sight of either usability OR accessibilty: to do so alienates potential content users. And, as WordPress demonstrates, you can have your cake and eat it too.



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