Accessibility and usability are often thought of as separate or even vastly different. We can bring them together in a frictionless way.
People don’t just need equal access to information. They need information that is easy to understand and use.
1 in 5 people learn and think differently. Meeting their needs can make products better for everyone.
The word has long been a part of daily life. But efforts to create equal access have mostly focused on the needs of people with physical disabilities. The 1 in 5 people with learning and thinking differences like ADHD and dyslexia weren’t top of mind.
Only recently has there been some movement to serve people with learning and thinking differences — people who struggle with things like memory, focus, organization, reading, and math. But there’s still more work to do.
At Understood, our mission is to shape the world for difference so everyone can thrive. To be truly accessible, we need to think about people with all kinds of differences, both visible and invisible. Wheelchair ramps and closed captions are important. But the world needs more learning and thinking supports too, like ways to help users focus and remember key points.
Setting new standards for accessibility and usability
It’s not enough to comply with today’s web accessibility standards. The goal shouldn’t just be equal access. To account for all kinds of differences, the goal should be making products accessible to all and making them easy to understand and use.
That’s why we’re building new standards that combine accessibility and .
Too often these concepts are thought of as separate. Or perhaps even vastly different. But they can be brought together in a frictionless way.
To combine them, we’re building on the successes of universal design. Many products were designed for a wide range of users. Examples include automatic doors, audiobooks, and hands-free typing. Supports for learning and thinking should be just as common, like using an eighth-grade reading level to make content easy to digest.
At Understood, we weave accessibility and usability into everything we do. Yes, we keep the 1 in 5 top of mind. But that approach helps us make products that are easy to use for everyone.
What we believe
As the lifelong guide for the 70 million people who learn and think differently, we believe:
Everyone has the right to equal access to information. They also have the right to understand and use that information. Digital experiences should be engaging and easy to use for everyone.
The 1 in 5 who learn and think differently have specific needs. But many organizations do little to address them. These needs should be top of mind.
Accessibility and usability are too often seen as separate. They may even seem to be at odds with each other. But bringing them together will benefit everyone — especially the 1 in 5.
Compliance with accessibility standards is just the starting point. Every organization should strive to be more inclusive. It should be part of their core values. We all need to keep improving.
We build in supports to help everyone understand and learn. This is especially important for users who struggle with things like staying focused or processing language. We support learning and thinking in a variety of ways, including:
Chunking out information in short paragraphs and short sections with clear headers
Writing at an eighth-grade reading level and defining uncommon words
Previewing articles with “At a Glance” summaries
Limiting the number of links to help users focus and guide them to their next step
This article follows all of these best practices.
Example: Making text easy to read
We go beyond compliance in making our text easy to read. We do this by using a customized font that was designed for people with dyslexia. Our font, Understood Sans, helps distinguish between letters that look similar, like b and d.
We also make our text easier to read by using:
Consistent left alignment so readers always know where the next line will start
Spacious line height so lines of text aren’t too crowded
Narrow text blocks so lines of text don’t stretch very far across the page
Bolding and underlining links to make their purpose clear
One user said of our text presentation: “It really did help me focus on the content I was reading and without having to reread a lot.”
Example: Streamlining options
Accessibility and usability don’t always work seamlessly together. Customizing can be a great way to help meet people’s needs. But too many options can be overwhelming. This is true for all users but especially for those who struggle with focus. That’s why we streamline the number of choices on each page.
For example, we let users toggle between English and Spanish. But we don’t have a similar toggle to enlarge the text. This doesn’t mean our text can’t be enlarged. We ensure that our pages are compatible with whatever text size users set as their browser preference.
Example: Designing for people, not disabilities
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are essential to our work. But they serve as a starting point, not an end goal. We rely on hundreds of hours of user testing to make our product frictionless. This often leads us to consider needs that have little to do with disability or difference.
For example, when we tested a red hyperlink, users said the color was easy to notice. But it reminded some of corrections or edits. So we decided to stick with blue hyperlinks.