Relationship between Usability, Accessibility, and User Experience

In this video Professor Mike Wald explains the issues that can arise with the various terms used when discussing digital technology services or products.

While users themselves might not care too much about the definitions of these terms, to ensure clarity in communication and discussion it is necessary to have a shared understanding and so these terms are discussed in this step with links to some definitions at the end of this step.

Defining the terminology

The term ‘Usability’ is normally used to refer to the actual use of the technology by a particular target group of users and contexts (e.g. including whether they find it easy to learn to use).

The term ‘Accessibility’ is normally used to refer to the use of the technology by everyone rather than just a specific group of users (e.g. including whether blind people can also use the technology).

The term ‘User Experience’ is normally used to refer to any experience of a user that is related to the use of that technology (e.g. including how they feel about the brand and whether they can get it easily repaired).

Only Accessibility has actual legislation …

While there have been many different guidelines produced for Usability, Accessibility and User Experience, only Accessibility has actual legislation making it illegal to disadvantage a disabled person through an inaccessible product or service. Some countries have general accessibility legislation while others have specific accessibility legislation for digital technologies.

Agreeing and enforcing any legislation is made more difficult by the overlapping nature of usability, accessibility and user experience that is illustrated in the Venn diagram which shows that user experience can encompass accessibility and usability while products and services need to be both accessible and usable.

A product or service that is theoretically accessible will not be used if for example it takes too long to achieve the user’s goal (e.g. a blind person may be able to find contact information on a website, but if it takes them too long they will not persevere). There is no specific legislation for usability or user experience, but there can be general legislation about a product or service being as described, of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose.

Intersection of Usability and Accessibility circles labeled usable and accessible and both usability and accessibility circles are contained in user experience circle

Figure 1 - Venn diagram showing relationship between User Experience, Usability and Accessibility.

The word ‘accessible’ is however also often used by people to refer to whether a technology is generally available (e.g. “The internet was not accessible from my hotel because they did not have wifi”). This can lead to confusion as there is no legislation requiring technology to be made available, only that there must not be discrimination against people with a disability.

There are many links related to this topic available from the bottom of this page.

How would you use the terms usability, accessibility, user experience? and what is your experience of accessibility, usability and user experience?

Do you know what the Accessibility legislation is in your country ?

Have you thought about when you might need to separate Usability and Accessibility in the way the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) have approached the subject? (see links)

© This work is created by the University of Southampton and licensed under CC-BY 4.0 International Licence. Erasmus + MOOCs for Accessibility Partnership.

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This video is from the free online course:

Digital Accessibility: Enabling Participation in the Information Society

University of Southampton