We understand that the terms ADA, accessibility, usability, and universal design are used interchangeably.  The table below is our attempt to compare the terms.  In eLearning, you will often hear us discussing ADA and accessibility as those terms are part of important legislation we have to consider on a daily basis.  Usability and universal design are often referred to as "Best Practices".

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Accessibility (accessible, accessible design) Usability (usable, usable design) Universal Design for Learning (UDL, Design-for-All)


This law “prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life…”.  Protection requires the person to have a disability, which is defined “as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one of more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by other as having such an impairment.”
Accessibility is related to a design process where the needs of all people, including those with disabilities, are considered.  Products created with accessibility in mind can be used independently by any person, regardless of disability.
Usability considers “the quality of a user’s experience when interacting with products or systems, including websites, software, devices, or applications.”  Usability also looks at intuitive design, ease of learning, efficiency of use, memorability, error frequency and severity, and subjective satisfaction.
UD is a framework that explains the best practices for designing for the widest range of situations and abilities.  The framework uses seven principles: equitable use, flexibility in use, simple and intuitive use, perceptible information, tolerance for error, low physical effort, and size and space for approach and use.


This law was modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The term “accessibility” or “accessible” became more common after ADA became a law.
Usability is a more recent term and is not a part of ADA, although some of the areas evaluated in usability evaluations are also covered in ADA legislation.
Beginning in the 1950s, design began to consider those with physical disabilities.  With the passage of ADA, UDL interest grew.


Including the information in your syllabus regarding ADA and how to request disability services.  Referring students with ADA concerns to the disability services.
Using the accessibility checker in D2L checks the page using the revised standards.
A visit to a webpage may trigger a survey to pop-up asking you your opinions regarding the usability of the website.
A ramp at the end of a curb can be used by nearly all types of people, thus appealing to the widest range of abilities.

Legislation and Law

Became a law on July 26, 1990 under President George H.W. Bush.
The Access Board revised Section 508 in 1998 to include various technologies.  The amendment requires informational technology and media used in federally funded entities to meet accessibility standards.
Usability is not a legal term, and therefore is not as commonly used by the public.
UDL is not a legal requirement, but is often mentioned as a “best practice”.

Information Compiled From:

"Information and Technical Assistance on the Americans with Disabilities Act." Introduction to the ADA. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 May 2017. <https://www.ada.gov/ada_intro.htm>.

"Universal Design." Universal Design | Institute for Human Centered Design (IHCD). N.p., n.d. Web. 31 May 2017. <https://www.humancentereddesign.org/universal-design>.

"Usability Evaluation Basics." Usability.gov. Department of Health and Human Services, 08 Oct. 2013. Web. 31 May 2017. <https://www.usability.gov/what-and-why/usability-evaluation.html>.

"What Is the Difference between Accessible, Usable, and Universal Design?" What Is the Difference between Accessible, Usable, and Universal Design? | DO-IT. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 May 2017. <http://www.washington.edu/doit/what-difference-between-accessible-usable-and-universal-design>.