A Web for Everyone Cover

A Web for Everyone

Designing Accessible User Experiences

By Sarah Horton & Whitney Quesenbery

Published: January 2014
Paperback: 288 pages
ISBN: 978-1933820-97-2
Digital ISBN: 978-1933820-39-2

If you are in charge of the user experience, development, or strategy for a web site, A Web for Everyone will help you make your site accessible without sacrificing design or innovation. Rooted in universal design principles, this book provides solutions: practical advice and examples of how to create sites that everyone can use.

Hear co-author Whitney Quesenbery on The Rosenfeld Review Podcast

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More about A Web for Everyone


I know both authors, and it would be hard to say which of them knows more about accessibility. What I do know is that together they know more than any other two people about what’s important about accessibility, which makes them exactly the kind of people—and this exactly the kind of book—that I like to learn from.

Make no mistake: this isn’t yet another seemingly-endless-series-of-checklists books to help you tick off all the elements that cumulatively add up to accessibility. Instead, it’s a book about how to improve the way you do user experience design, so it inevitably produces things that are accessible.

If you’re in any way responsible for making things accessible, do yourself a favor and read it. By the time you’re done, you’ll understand that accessibility isn’t something you tack on to a good design—it is good design.

Steve Krug, Author of Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability

In plain language, there is one word for this book—terrific! If you have experienced the road to web accessibility as a labyrinthian and mystifying journey, this book will illuminate and smooth the way. Whitney and Sarah use concepts familiar to most web professionals and apply them to accessibility in a practical context that will improve user experience for all. Bravo!

Sharron Rush, author, teacher, Executive Director of Knowbility

By bridging the gap between accessibility and UX, this book has the potential to help accessibility grow into the mainstream: accessibility for everyone, on every device, in every imaginable context.

Denis Boudreau, Web Accessibility Avenger, Deque Systems, Inc.

I’ve been waiting for this book—the book that changes the discussion from “How do I meet accessibility requirements,” to thinking of accessibility as a driver for innovation and excellent user experience design. Thank you, Sarah and Whitney, for finally bringing it to life!

Dana Chisnell, co-author of Handbook of Usability Testing

If you want to be part of building the accessible web, this really is the book that brings it all together. Full of actionable insights that are clearly and persuasively presented, it’s quite simply essential reading.

Gerry Gaffney, Director and UX Consultant, Information & Design

Mobile is proving once again what accessibility advocates knew all along—designing for universal access is a smart business decision. The same accessibility principles that make your website work for everyone will also help your website work well with all devices, screen sizes, and input mechanisms.

Accessibility isn’t just about providing a great experience for the disabled—it’s what will enable you to connect with all your users, regardless of which device they use to go online.

Karen McGrane, author of Content Strategy for Mobile

This book is like a “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy of Accessibility” for technical communicators, usability practitioners, and many more. There is something here for everyone—from the novice to the experienced practitioner—who wants to make a web for everyone.

Karen Mardahl, STC AccessAbility SIG manager and Technical Writer, SimCorp.com

A Web for Everyone is a book for everyone who creates or manages websites. In fact, all UX designers and managers, web or not, will find value in this impeccably structured, beautifully written resource. User personas communicate concretely about the diversity of human abilities and tie the material together. The key chapters end with first-person visits with the people who shaped the ideas, like Ginny Redish and Ben Shneiderman. Wonderful!

Clayton Lewis, Fellow, Institute of Cognitive Science, University of Colorado

This comprehensive playbook provides a user-centered view of how not only to design for those with diverse needs, but also to ultimately reach everyone more effectively.

By just applying even a fraction of the design principles in this book, you could not only widen your audience to new members, but also deepen the engagement of your existing user base.

Designing to be inclusive is a true win-win: our products can be used by more of the world, and the world can use our products more easily.

Christian Rohrer, Chief Design Officer, McAfee

Sarah and Whitney present accessibility so that everyone can understand the core concepts of web accessibility, even if they have limited programming experience. Every web developer who is just starting to get involved with web accessibility should purchase this book!

Jonathan Lazar, Harvard University, Towson University

Table of Contents

  • Chapter 1: A Web for Everyone
  • Chapter 2: People First: Designing for differences
  • Chapter 3: Clear Purpose: Well-defined goals
  • Chapter 4: Solid Structure: Built to standards
  • Chapter 5: Easy Interaction: Everything works
  • Chapter 6: Helpful Wayfinding: Guides users
  • Chapter 7: Clean Presentation: Visual design supports meaning
  • Chapter 8: Plain Language: Creates a conversation
  • Chapter 9: Accessible Media: Supports all senses
  • Chapter 10: Universal Usability: Creates delight
  • Chapter 11: An Integrated Process
  • Chapter 12: The Future: Design for all
  • Appendix: WCAG 2.0 Cross Check


These common questions about web accessibility and their short answers are taken from Sarah Horton and Whitney Quesenbery’s book A Web for Everyone: Designing Accessible User Experiences. You can find longer answers to each in your copy of the book, either printed or digital version.

  1. I’m not a designer (or I’m not a developer), so why should I read this book?
    It’s difficult to imagine a context in which one person could take a product, from soup to nuts, and make it accessible. There are so many decisions to be made, and accessibility must be considered at every step along the way. A designer or developer can’t make accessibility happen alone.If the decisions you make as part of your work impact someone’s experi- ence of a digital product, you need to know how to make decisions that will not result in accessibility issues. If you are leading an organization or a team, you may need to shake things up and change ow you do business in order to achieve accessibility. You can’t just tack it on and hope it sticks You need everyone to change their processes to make accessibility part of their practice.Chapter 11 looks at putting accessibility into practice.
  2. This isn’t part of my job description, so whose job is it?
    The simple answer is that we are all responsible for making our part of a project accessible. Rather than try to list all the different roles, titles, and skills, we identify three big groups:

    • Design: How will we create a great user experience for all?
      Design includes all of the disciplines of UX and web design: informa- tion architecture, interaction design, information design, graphic design, and content strategy.
    • Content: What does the product say, and how does it say it?
      Content includes the ongoing work to plan and produce text, images, audio, video—all the information in the site or app.
    • Development: How is the product built?
      Development includes programming, coding, scripting, markup, as well as the templates and stylesheets that content authors use.

    In Chapters 3 through 10, we identify both who has the primary responsibility for each aspect of accessibility and how all the other roles support it.

  3. How big an issue is accessibility anyway?
    The U.S. Census Bureau says that over 47 million Americans have a disability of some kind. The UN and the World Bank say this adds up to 650 million people worldwide. That’s around 10% of everyone in the world.At some point in our lives, disability will affect most of us, no matter who we are, especially as we get older. By the time we retire, over 30% of us will have some disability, even if it is minor.To put a face on these numbers, we’ve created a set of personas of web users. They don’t represent everyone, but they will introduce you to some of the ways people with disabilities use the web. You’ll meet them in Chapter 2.
  4. I’m already doing responsive design. Isn’t that enough?
    Working to standards and responsive design are both important criteria for accessibility. One way to think about accessibility is that assistive technologies, such as screen readers and alternate keyboards, are just another kind of device. When a site is designed to be flexible, it works better on all devices.
    Chapter 4 covers how to support accessibility with a solid structure.
    Accessible UX goes further, to be responsive to differences in people as well as devices. It’s about making sure that the ways users interact with your site or application (Chapter 5), navigate (Chapter 6), or read the screen (Chapter 7) allow for user preference.
  5. Is content part of accessibility?
    It sure is! There are many reasons why people have trouble reading: cognitive problems like aphasia or dyslexia, physical or vision disabilities, low literacy, or reading in a second language. But even skilled readers can have problems when they are rushed, tired, stressed, or reading on a small screen. Accessible content is written in plain language (Chapter 8) and presented clearly and flexibly (Chapter 7).
  6. Should I follow Section 508 or WCAG?
    WCAG 2.0, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, is a standard published by the W3C. That means it was created with input from people around the world and reflects the best international consensus. Section 508 is a national regulation in the United States. Other countries and the EU have their own laws and regulations.If your product is covered by a specific regulation, of course you must meet its requirements. But if you are thinking about accessibility for other reasons, WCAG 2.0 is the place to start. It’s a robust standard that is flexible enough to apply in different contexts—websites, desktop apps, mobile apps, even web-enabled teakettles can be measured against the WCAG success criteria.The good news is that most standards are very similar. The even better news is that the U.S. Access Board (the folks who manage Section 508) has proposed that the next version of Section 508 will use WCAG 2.0 Level AA as its requirements for web content. The EU is also working on new accessibility regulations, and we’ve been told that they, too, will be based on WCAG 2.0 Level AA. We have our fingers crossed, because in today’s global technology world, it would be great to have one standard for web accessibility.
    You’ll find a mapping of the accessible UX principles to WCAG 2.0 in Appendix B.



Accessible UX principles and guidelines

Using the accessible UX principles and guidelines, you can create websites and web applications that work for everyone—including people with disabilities. Each of the guidelines is explained and illustrated in A Web for Everyone.

Read the AUX principles and guidelines

We have also created a table that maps the AUX guidelines to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, in Appendix B.

Download the WCAG 2.0-AUX cross-reference

  • Appendix B, with WCAG text (PDF)
  • As a summary spreadsheet (XLS)

Personas combine research data from many sources into a fictional but realistic character. They are a great way to make sure your team considers all the different people who are served by innovative, accessible, universal design. set of personas can represent the entire world of people with disabilities, but we hope to bring some of the statistics and demographic data to life in the stories of these personas.

The personas are introduced in Chapter 2-People First, and used throughout the book to add stories to the examples and guidelines. All of the images are available on the Rosenfeld Media Flickr page under a Creative Commons Attribution License.”

Summary of the personas

Meet the personas

  • Trevor, a high school student with autism
  • Emily, a college student with cerebral palsy, living independently
  • Jacob, blind paralegal, a bit of a geek
  • Lea, an editor living with fatigue and pain
  • Steven, a graphic designer who is deaf and speaks American Sign Language
  • Vishnu, an engineer and global citizen with low vision
  • Maria, a bilingual community health worker and mobile phone user
  • Carol, a grandmother with macular degeneration

Profiles with industry leaders
Each of the chapters in the book includes a profile of someone whose work inspired us. Over the next several months, we will post full versions of these interviews, adding material that did not fit into the printed book.

A (WIAD) event for everyone

A Podcast for Everyone


Welcome to A Podcast for Everyone, practical conversations answering your questions about how to make web sites and mobile apps work for everyone.

These podcasts are aimed at answering specific questions so you can be more comfortable and skilled at accessibility. Whether you are in charge of the user experience, development, or strategy for a web site, they are sure to help you make your site accessible without sacrificing design or innovation.

Subscribe on iTunes | Follow @awebforeveryone | RSS


    • Episode 10: Researching Daily Life with Frances Harris (January 20, 2015) Understanding how people with disabilities will use a web site or app is just as important as understanding the technology of accessibility. Enter ethnography and the importance of research that goes “face to face” with real people in the real world. Frances Harris is a medical anthropologist who works with people with disabilities to explore the social, economic, and political contexts of their lives.
    • Episode 9: Accessible WordPress with Joe O’Connor (October 7, 2014)
      WordPress powers over 25 million sites with more than 14 billion pages viewed each month, making it one of the most popular web publishing platforms. Imagine if every one of those sites was accessible. Joe O’Connor has been a leader in making that happen, through the WordPress accessibility team which works from the inside to make WordPress into a web publishing platform for everyone.
    • Episode 8: Patient Health Records with Dean Karavite (September 2, 2014)
      Medical records are moving online. That means they have to be accessible, but it’s also an opportunity to improve them. Dean Karavite explains how a project to design a personal health record for people with disabilities led to some innovative ideas that could make them more useful for everyone.
    • Episode 7: HTML5 with Steve Faulkner (August 18, 2014)
      Web accessibility takes place on a foundation of technologies, and its success is dependent on how well these underlying technologies support accessible user experiences. Fortunately for us, people like Steve Faulkner devote much of their time to ensure technology specifications include the hooks that make it possible to build an accessible and enjoyable user experience for everyone. In this podcast we learn from Steve about the current status of two key technologies: HTML5 and WAI-ARIA.
    • Episode 6: Audio Accessibility with Svetlana Kouznetsova (July 10, 2014)
      Audio accessibility is about making audio information accessible using techniques such as captions and live captioning. Svetlana Kouznetsova explains how to provide a quality experience of audio content for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
    • Episode 5: Accessibility Research Methods with Jonathan Lazar (May 8, 2014)
      In this podcast we hear from Dr. Jonathan Lazar, a computer scientist specializing in human-computer interaction with a focus on usability and accessibility. Jonathan has done a great deal of work bridging the gap between research and practice.
    • Episode 4: Structured Negotiations with Lainey Feingold (April 17, 2014)
      If you work in user experience or accessibility, you probably spend part of your time on advocacy—making the case for a new design idea or a new way of working. Structured Negotiations are a collaborative process that can help you reach your goal with an agreement that is a win for everyone. Lainey Feingold joins us to tell us how it works.
    • Episode 3: Larry Goldberg on CVAA (April 3, 2014)
      If you work in media broadcasting or telecommunications you have probably heard of the U.S. legislation called CVAA, shorthand for the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act. Like most legal documents, CVAA is difficult to decipher. Lucky for us, Larry Goldberg is here to explain the key points and what actions we need to take.
    • Episode 2: Easy Checks (March 20, 2014)
      Sharron Rush heads the Easy Checks project at the Web Accessibility Initiative. These simple steps help you get an idea of whether a site meets some of the basics for good accessibility, without any special technology or tools. She joins Whitney Quesenbery for this episode of A Podcast for Everyone to answer some of these questions.
    • Episode 1: Introducing A Podcast for Everyone (March 3, 2014)
      In this premiere episode of A Podcast for Everyone, Sarah Horton and Whitney Quesenbery speak with UIE’s Adam Churchill about the book that inspired the podcast, and give a preview of what they will be talking about in upcoming episodes.

Let us know what you want to hear in a future podcast at awebforeveryone@gmail.com.


A Podcast for Everyone is brought to you by:


UIE’s All You Can Learn will give you the skills and techniques you need for a competitive design advantage, with 24/7 access to UX experts and topics.


Rosenfeld Media offers unequaled UX expertise in print and in person–their experts consult, teach, and write books like A Web for Everyone.


The Paciello Group helps organizations make their technology accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities.


O’Reilly Media publishes definitive books on computer technologies for developers, administrators, and users.


I was an only child, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I grew up thinking the world revolved around me. In fact, I’ll be the first to admit that I was a pretty selfish kid. Well behaved, certainly, but not terribly concerned with how my actions affected others.

As an only child, the Golden Rule my grandparents insisted was so important—Do unto others as you would have them do unto you—didn’t really resonate. But I was a kid, what did I know? I was sheltered. I was young. I was the sole beneficiary of my parents’ love, time, and money. I had a pretty good life, but I lacked perspective.

I like to think I’ve grown immensely in the intervening years. Through my work, travel, and moving around a lot, I’ve experienced dozens of cultures, and I’ve met hundreds of new people, each with their own life experiences, needs, and desires. Exposure to their unique perspectives has broadened my own and helped me break down the psychological barriers I maintained between me and the “others.”

But it wasn’t until I started working on the web that I came to a full understanding of the importance of the Golden Rule. Prior to becoming a developer, the ramifications of my decisions were fairly limited. But on the web, every decision I make can have a profound effect on hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people’s lives. I can make checking into a flight a breeze, or I can make it a living hell.

That’s a lot of power. And to quote Stan Lee: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

My mom always told me that if you choose to do something, you should do it well, so I made it my mission to make the web an easy-to-use, friendly, and accessible place. I chose to make the Golden Rule central to my work.

As schmaltzy and self-aggrandizing as all that may sound, it’s also pretty shrewd. The Golden Rule can do wonders for your business. After all, what is good customer service if not treating someone like a human being worthy of your time, consideration, and respect? If we spend every day looking for new ways to make our customers’ lives better, we’ll create a lasting legacy and build a strong base of customer advocates along the way.

A commitment to universal accessibility is the highest form of customer service. It recognizes that we all have one special need or another at one time or another in our lives, and that fact should not preclude us from experiencing all the web has to offer. It’s about providing everyone with equal opportunity to engage with your brand experience, even though they may do so in different ways. It breaks down the barriers between “us” and “them” and recognizes the humanity in our customers.

And it’s really not that hard.

In the pages that follow, Whitney and Sarah beautifully lay out the case for accessibility, show you what it looks like, and demonstrate just how simple it is to achieve. They introduce us to a series of personas—Trevor, Emily, Jacob, Lea, Vishnu, Steven, Maria, and Carol—and help us effortlessly slip into each of their shoes, to see the struggles they experience when using the web, and to recognize our own needs and desires in their own.

In a time when many of us are scrambling to keep up with technological advancements and the opportunities they create, this book grounds us in what really matters: people. This book is a roadmap to providing incredible customer service and realizing the Golden Rule in our work and—much like the code we write and experiences we design—the ripple effect it generates is sure to bring about a more equitable web.

Aaron Gustafson
Author, Adaptive Web Design: Crafting Rich Experiences with Progressive Enhancement


It takes a village to build an accessible website, and just as large and varied a group of people to help us write this book.

The people we profile in the book were generous with their time, often talking to us for several hours, and then later reviewing the book. Thanks to Giles Colborne, Ethan Marcotte, Derek Featherstone, Valerie Fletcher, Steve Faulkner, Larry Goldberg, Mike Paciello, Ginny Redish, and Ben Shneiderman.

We are grateful to Aaron Gustafson for his beautiful foreword, reminding us that for all our technological advances, it all comes down to recognizing everyone’s humanity.

Still more people provided valuable feedback, ideas, and assistance in working through the ideas in this book. Thanks to Jimmy Chandler, Dana Chisnell, Gerry Gaffney, Caroline Jarrett, Steve Krug, Jonathan Lazar, Karen Mardahl, Amanda Nance, Daivee Patel, Sharron Rush, Glenda Sims, Julie Strothman, and Jennifer Sutton. Hallway conversations and social media exchanges with too many people to count, let alone mention, helped shape our thoughts over the years. Calls for help to #accessibility on Twitter and the WebAIM discussion group provided fact checks and more ideas.

Thank you, Marta Justak, Lou Rosenfeld, Karen Corbett, Danielle Foster, and everyone at Rosenfeld Media.

The personas were brought to life by Tom Biby, who worked with us to pack a lot of information into a set of small images. Drew Davies also assisted with diagrams and illustrations, making clear concepts out of our scribbles.

Even more people gave us permission to use part of their work in ours, for which we are enormously grateful. They include Deborah Adler, Naomi Alderman, David Andrews, Boér Attila (calcium.ro), Tom Biddle, Ann Chadwick-Dias and Marguerite Bergel, Giles Colborne, Alan Dalton, Drew Davies, Jessica Enders, Lainey Feingold, Sandra Fisher-Martins, B.J. Fogg, Tema Frank, Natascha Frensch, Steve Green, Shawn Lawton Henry, Glenn Johnson, Gunta Klavina, Dennis Lembree, Ethan Marcotte, Michael McAghon, Miguel Neiva, Christopher Phillips, Scotty Reifsnyder, Cliff Tyllick, Gregg Vanderheiden, Luke Wroblewski, Sean Zdenek. Organizations also allowed us to use images from their products: A List Apart, Amara, Apple, Career One Stop, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, ColorAdd, Commission on a Bill of Rights (UK), CSS Zen Garden, EasyChirp, Google, IDEO, Microsoft Corporation, Mijkensaar, Morgan’s Wonderland, National Cancer Institute (NCI), National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM)/WGBH, National Park Services (NPS), Nomensa, OpenAjax Alliance, OXO, Readability, Simple, Six to Start and Naomi Alderman, Target, Trace R&D Center, Twitter, University of Wisconsin-Madison, U.S. Forestry and Wildlife Services, Wikipedia, WordPress, Zombies, Run!