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In web development the term accessibility is used when working with features such as screen readers. When talking about accessibility the wording sometimes makes it unclear whether one is referring to access or usability with assistive technologies.

Is there a better way to talk about accessibility to specifically refer to the assistive technologies, preferably in a single word?

I work with web accessibility, so this comes up quite frequently, and I would like to speak succinctly about accessibility on the web.


Example

I'm talking about poorly designed website: the button is not accessible/inaccessible. Here it is not clear that I'm talking about the button in relation to screen readers (the button might appear in TTS somewhere else), rather than the button not being visible or behind another element blocking it.

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  • Thesaurus on accessible and usable weren't of much use.
    – aoeu
    Aug 4 at 13:37
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    @WeatherVane OP literally said that's not what they are talking about. "I'm talking about the button in relation to screen readers ... rather than the button not being visible." And it appears the question is valid then, because you understood it in exactly the opposite way :)
    – Esther
    Aug 4 at 14:02
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    @aoeu I would say something like "the accessibility of this button is poor." The word "accessibility" in that form specifically makes people instantly think about assistive technologies and such.
    – Esther
    Aug 4 at 14:05
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    @Steve, that is precisely the meaning aoue doesn't want.
    – Marthaª
    Aug 4 at 23:02
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    "Accessible" seems to be the commonly used adjective in technical contexts: Microsoft, W3C. I'm not sure it would ever really be ambiguous in context. "The control is not accessible" would be an odd way of saying it was hidden or invisible. But if you're adamant it is unacceptable, you will have to reword sentences.
    – Stuart F
    Aug 5 at 11:18

5 Answers 5

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"Accessibility" is the word you're looking for.

In the context of tech, the word "accessibility" now refers exclusively to assistive technologies, technologies to assist differently abled people, like on my Sony Bravia, if I want to find the options for closed captioning, I find them in the "Settings" menu under the submenu "Accessibility."

Note that "accessibility" is a different word than "accessible," "inaccessible," and "access," all alternate words you mention. While the root word "access" is the same, all other forms of the word "access" are still used more generically, like in your example, "...the button is not accessible/inaccessible."

In tech, whether it be websites, phones, smart TVs, or whatever, "accessibility" is the keyword used for referring to assistive technologies for differently abled people, and it is used exclusively for this purpose. All other forms of the word "access" continue to mean what they've always meant unless used in conjunction with and/or in a context that expressly refers to "accessibility."

So, as I said at the start, the word you're looking for is the one you gave: "accessibility." As long as you don't use "accessibility" in regard to tech with any generic sense but solely for referring to aspects of tech having to do with differently abled people, there will be no confusion because "accessibility" is the operative word in the context of tech. In tech, if one hears or reads "accessibility," one can rest assured that what's being discussed is assistive technologies for differently abled people, but if the word "accessibility" isn't anywhere present, isn't used to introduce what's being discussed, one can rest assured that "access" and all its other forms simply carry on meaning what they've always meant without any narrowing to just aspects having to do with differently abled people.

Yes, that means you may need to reword some things sometimes, like in a situation not having to do with differently abled people where you want to write, "The button is not accessible," like your example, you'd write exactly that instead of writing something like, "The button lacks accessibility," because you'd know that using the keyword "accessibility" throws up a flag for readers and would stand to imbue what you'd be saying with a meaning other than what you'd intend.

By the way, this use of "accessibility" may have started as jargon, but it's gone well beyond jargon and into the common vernacular as people in general are increasingly aware and expected to be aware of this special meaning for "accessibility" when it regards the tech they use every day, like how Sony expects me and all its customers, the general public, to simply know from reading the word "Accessibility" alone with no other cues or clues that selecting it is how you find any and all of the device's options having to do with differently abled people, like closed captioning options.

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    Or: Context is everything. Aug 4 at 19:47
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    The OP actually wants to unequivocally refer to the assistive-technologies meaning of "accessiblity", so when you say things like 'All other forms of the word "access" continue to [...] mean what you want them to mean', it's a bit confusing.
    – Marthaª
    Aug 4 at 23:09
  • The only answer fully addressing brevity and clarity when referring to accessibility vs something being accessible. Your answer also extends to meat-space where, e.g. a doorknob is accessible but has poor accessibility. The answer is a bit lengthy and repetitive. Lacking references.
    – aoeu
    Aug 9 at 14:53
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One option is "AT accessible". In certain circles this won't need a definition but most of the time you'll need to explain that "AT" is assistive technology (and what exactly that includes too). Visa's documentation provides an example in use:

Code keyboard and assistive technology (AT) accessible forms

(Note: While almost everyone uses keyboards, I believe that they are a type of AT, since certain users, such as those with motor impairments, need to use a keyboard to navigate.)

The downside of referring to AT specifically is that a lot of accessibility problems don't necessarily involve AT at all, such as poor color choice (which affects colorblind users who don't tend to use any special tools). But in that case you could say it's not "colorblind accessible".

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    'WCAG Accessible' would work too
    – mcalex
    Aug 5 at 4:58
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    eh, my entire job is accessibility based web design and I had to do a double take at "AT accessibility" and think about what it meant. I'd definitely prefer ADA or WCAG over AT, but I'm based in the US where those are what govern accessibility requirements. Aug 5 at 13:54
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Without speaking to the more lexical/grammatical aspects of the word accessibility I can say that in my experience as a designer and developer such things are usually referred to as "poor user experience (UX)." As in: "When you first come on the site this button isn't visible, which leads to a poor user experience."

This can easily be extended to accessibility concerns: "...which leads to a poor user experience for people using screen readers."

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You could say "the button has poor accessibility", it's unlikely to be understood as "the button cannot be accessed".

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During the creation of DHS Trusted Tester, we avoided citing specific additive technologies in the test process.

The generic 'user agents, including assistive technologies (AT)' was used to allow for any assistive technology that used the built in operating system or platform accessibility services (or OS Accessibility APIs).

If you want specific testing with a specific assistive technology, cite that product by version and have tests done with that particular AT. Typically, the one the host organization would be providing or has standardized to be provided for any people with disabilities as an accommodation.

E.g., "Test with NVDA", "Test with iOS Voice Over", etc.

Note: not all AT is the same, software AT behaves differently, and you'll be led down a path of submitting bug reports for expected versus discovered and standards guidelines.

DHS Trusted Tester Program resources https://www.dhs.gov/publication/dhs-section-508-compliance-test-processes and Section 508 ICT Testing Baseline https://ictbaseline.access-board.gov/ may be of use to you.

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