W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > w3c-wai-gl@w3.org > April to June 2001

Re: can accessibility be distinguished from usability? (was Re: 4/26 WCAG meeting minutes)

From: Marja-Riitta Koivunen <marja@w3.org>
Date: Sun, 29 Apr 2001 19:33:09 -0400
Message-Id: <>
To: "gregory j. rosmaita" <oedipus@hicom.net>, <mcmay@bestkungfu.com>
Cc: "Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Working Group" <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>
Usability is very much defined in a context of users, their environments, 
tasks and used devices. The first thing before starting usability testing 
is to think who the users are, what kinds of tasks they typically use etc.

So I also very much see accessibility as usability that  includes and tests 
a broader group of users, devices etc.  The aim in WAI is to make the 
common user interfaces flexible enough so that they can be usable for this 
broader group instead of making separate user interfaces where usability 
needs to be tailored for each disability group.


At 04:48 PM 4/27/2001 -0400, gregory j. rosmaita wrote:
>aloha, matt!
>first of all, i'm glad to hear that, despite it all, you're still smiling --
>and still participating in WAI!
>you wrote:
>I'm of the school that accessibility is in a huge overlapping circle with
>usability. I've chatted with Steven Pemberton, who's working on creating a
>usability interest group, and I really think that should end up at working
>group level specifically so we can feed off one another.
>i, as i think you know, am a vociferous proponent of the idea that there is
>such a broad intersection between accessibility and usability that either
>one is a sub-set of the other, or that they are, in reality, one and the
>same...  or, rather, that accessibility--while dealing with immutables, such
>as an individual's inability to see, to hear, or to process more than N
>objects at one time--is merely an expression of specific/special case
>usability...  in many ways, any attempt to bifurcate usability and
>accessiblity is futile--is there a discrete break-point where the two
>diverge?  and if there is, isn't it different for every single individual?
>does it even matter?  if i can't use something, such as the visually
>displayed caller ID feature on a mobile phone, because the information is
>available only in a single modality, the bottom line is that i can't use
>it...  if i don't know the alphabetic overlay to the telephone keypad, and
>i'm given a phone number--such as 1-800-WAI-TO-GO--in words alone, my
>inability to call the phone number is, in my opinion, a usability, and not
>an accessibility problem...  yes, my inability to process visual stimuli is
>what keeps me from being able to visually associate the letters with the
>corresponding numbers on the keypad, but the real root of the problem is
>that the information (in this case, the phone number) was delivered in a
>single, modality dependent form...  and, just as the use of mnemonics to
>facilitate retention of the phone number can be classified as both an
>accessibility and a usability aid, so too can one classify the failure to
>provide an expansion for the mnemonic aid which is used as the sole means of
>conveying core information as both a usability and an accessibility
>problem...  i'm struck by the parallel with the "illustrate your pages"
>debate--i understand the why, and as someone who was an extremely visually
>oriented individual for the first 20 years of my existence, understand that,
>in many ways, a picture is often worth a thousand words, but i am inflexible
>when it comes to the how...  my philosophy basically boils down to this:
>whenever you include technology, software, or modality dependent content,
>provide equivalent content and/or functionality where required and, in one's
>best judgement, wherever "appropriate"--an admittedly nebulous and
>subjective concept which nevertheless respects the author's right to employ
>null alternative content when, for example, spacer GIFs are used in an
>attempt to control layout, and for some classes of scripts...
>no solution that purports to address accessibility can avoid addressing
>usability... to do so would be akin (in the bricks and mortar world) to
>providing an access ramp to a building whose innards are inaccessible, while
>arguing that, since there aren't elevators available for anyone who enters
>the building, installing ADA-compliant elevators in the building isn't
>really an accessibility problem--it's a usability problem because everyone
>who enters the building has to take the stairs if they want to leave the
>ground floor, and hence the hardship hits everyone equally... no, that's too
>much of a straw man, and stairs DO pose a number of unequal hardships...
>a better analogy is the same building, only this time with accessible
>but no bathroom facilities whatsoever--a source of a universal hardship,
>no doubt, discomfort...  are the lack of bathrooms a usability or
>problem?  does the lack of bathrooms moot the question of whether the
>bathrooms must/should be accessible?  and just what constitutes an
>bathroom?  to me, talking infrared signage--which would endow me with
>something a bit more sanitary than the tactile/olfactory means "natively
>available" for locating, and differentiating between, the sink, the urinal,
>wastebin, etc.--is as important a component of an accessible bathroom as are
>ADA-compliant toilets and sinks...
>i am, however, heartened by the launch of the Quality Assurance &
>Conformance (QA) activity at the W3C--consult <http://www.w3.org/QA/> for
>more information...   as evinced by the position paper i submitted to the
>first QA workshop earlier this month, and which still lives at
><http://www.hicom.net/~oedipus/temp/w3c/qa/gjr_qa_pp.html>, i perceive the
>QA activity as a means of fully and irrevocably integrating WAI's work (as
>as that on device independence and internationalization) into the warp and
>of the W3C--not just in the documents it creates and philosophy it expounds,
>but in all of the materials it produces ("eating our own dog food", as it
>i encourage all GL WG members (and all w3c-wai-gl lurkers) to investigate
>and become involved in the emerging QA activity, as well as the Device
>Independence (DI) activity, whose home page can be found at
>     <http://www.w3.org/2001/di/>
>and the Semantic Web Activity
>     <http://www.w3.org/2001/sw/>
>all of which will impact our work greatly...  it is up to us as a working
>group to ensure that our work impacts theirs, so that when the cry of "it's
>a usability and not an accessibility issue" arises in the future, we can
>address the concern by pointing to stable, normative references--such as
>the "User Agent Usability Guidelines" or the "Web Content Usability
>Guidelines" in the manner that the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines
>point to WCAG...  obviously, it is equally as essential that WAI
>participants also participate in shaping any such usability guidelines...
>personally, i'd like to "see" a single guidelines activity be developed
>under the W3C's aegis which would produce guidelines documents that address
>usability, interoperability, internationalization, and accessibility issues
>as a cohesive whole, but that's a rant for another post...
>PEDESTRIAN, n. The variable (and audible) part of the roadway for an
>automobile.              -- Ambrose Bierce, _The Devil's Dictionary_
>              Gregory J. Rosmaita, oedipus@hicom.net
>           Camera Obscura: http://www.hicom.net/~oedipus/
>       VICUG NYC: http://www.hicom.net/~oedipus/vicug/index.html
>   Read 'Em & Speak: http://www.hicom.net/~oedipus/books/index.html
Received on Sunday, 29 April 2001 19:38:33 UTC

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.1 : Tuesday, 16 January 2018 15:33:37 UTC