Is it Accessibility or Usability?

30 Jan

by David Flament

I ran into something recently on our technology email list, Techexchaange, which made me think hmmm.  It was a forwarded article about Peapod settling a lawsuit about their website not being accessible.  I found this funny as I had just received my order from Peapod a couple of days earlier and had just taught shopping with Peapod as part of our Online Shopping class the day before.  It gave me a couple of things to think about.  The first thing I wondered was if people know the difference between accessibility and usability?

Which is it?

If something can be accessed by a person with a disability, then it is accessible.  If that thing is difficult to do and is not user friendly, then that is a usability problem, not an accessibility problem.  The Peapod web site is a perfect example.  I have had clients tell me how inaccessible the Peapod web site is, but after taking our online shopping class, they are able to shop independently on that same web site.

Even from a usability standpoint, I have seen much worse than the Peapod web site.  I have shopped using the Peapod web site for over 13 years with a screen magnifier at first, then later with a screen reader, and only had minor difficulties.  I have even shopped using the Peapod iPhone app with VoiceOver and found it very user friendly.

The Right Fight

Another thought I had was whether we as a blind community are picking the right fights.    Are Peapod and Apple posing a bigger problem to our community than Google or NetFlix?  Take the recent NFB resolution about Apple for example.  While I understand what NFB is trying to do, is that one of the biggest problems faced by our community?  I did applaud the NFB when they went after schools choosing the mostly inaccessible Kindle as the way to distribute books to their students.  I felt that was a major accessibility barrier for those in our community who wanted an education.

A company like NetFlix who knows their service is inaccessible and just does not care, seems to be much more egregious than Apple who has made accessibility a top priority throughout their company.  Perhaps we should concentrate our efforts on solving our biggest problems first, then going after the minor inconveniences and usability issues later.  What do you think?

David Flament is the technology instructor and resident tech instructor at Second Sense blind services in Chicago.  Click here to learn more about him.


3 Responses to “Is it Accessibility or Usability?”

  1. Andrea January 30, 2015 at 11:15 AM #

    Thanks for clarifying the vocabulary. All these advances in technology have a tremendous potential for making our lives easier. Right now, we’re living through the growing pains while these companies “get it right.”

    Google Chrome is not Zoom Text friendly. Mozilla has seemed to fix the recent Zoom Text compatibility issues. Whew! I’m less frustrated these days!

  2. Donna W. Hill January 30, 2015 at 12:40 PM #

    Interesting article. I think most of us don’t get the training we need to begin with, but better “usability” would help everyone – just ask my sighted husband. That said, I think we’re fighting a losing battle as long as there are no teeth in the law. You’d never get a brick and mortor building without wheelchair ramps etc. off the drawing board. Not so with websites. Accessibility is often an after thought, and retrofitting accessibility is a second-class approach to the problem.


  3. accessibilityawareness January 30, 2015 at 5:06 PM #

    Reblogged this on Accessibility Awareness.

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