Skip to Main Content

Beta Content Test: Accessibility and Usability


At the core of St. Thomas Libraries web development is:

  • Accessible (WAI)
  • Usable (UI)
  • User and User Experience Centered Design (UX)
  • Universal Design (UD) and Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Decisions about design and content should be focused on evidence, study, and equitable access. User expectations evolve over time and therefore our methods must reflect current best practices.


Learn more about usability studies and find articles and resources to improve your content and design in the Digital Services SharePoint site for Usability and Accessibility (Library Staff Only)


Buttons, navigation, and links. They all serve a similar purpose and their style and placement on the page can assist the user in understanding what will happen once clicked (and if it is clickable!).

It is up to the designer and developers to make sure buttons and navigation elements stand out. It is up to the content owners to make sure the links in the content part of the page stand out and are usable.

The following list of guidelines is from, and explained in greater detail in, the article "15 Usability Guidelines For Designing Web Site Links" by Justin Mifsud on Usability Geek.

  1. Be blue
  2. Be underlined*
  3. Not be in all uppercase or lowercase characters
  4. Not consist of generic instructions (e.g. "More", "click here")
  5. Not start with "e-" or "internet"
  6. Not look like buttons if they are not clickable
  7. Not contain made up words
  8. Not have the same name
  9. Open in the same window if they link to other HTML pages
  10. Not open in the same window if they link to non-web documents
  11. Become highlighted or change colour on mouseover
  12. Indicate whether they will take the users to a different web site**
  13. Not contain the company name
  14. Be long enough to be understood but short enough to avoid wrapping
  15. Start with keywords

* A more recent article, also on Usability Geek and referenced as updated from with Mifsud's article, supports a different idea: Hyperlink Usability: Guidelines For Usable Links by Cassandra Naji.

** There are plans in St. Thomas LibGuides to implement icons and screen reader text to note that links go outside of a website, open in a new window, or open in a non-web format.


The importance of readable, understandable, and friendly URLs is often debated as various browsers hide the full contents of the address bar (or hide it completely) and more and more users type in searches rather than URLs.

However, URLs are structured and can provide metadata for search algorithms as well as users who come across raw URLs in documents such as syllabi, emails, and printed and visual media. We should also not fail to think about having to convey URLs via audible means, such as over the phone, video call, or for non- or low-sighted users.

Wikipedia, WordPress, LibGuides, and countless other platforms allow for the use of friendly URLs, as they still serve a purpose even though they might not have the presence in front of users as they once did.

Universal Design Principles can be applied to URLs that are landing pages, starting points, or close to the top of a site's hierarchy (first or second spot in a breadcrumb).

Therefore, "friendly" URLs should be conveyable. A short, understandable, keyword which is somewhat memorable.

  • Short: Aside from blog posts that convey the article title in the link, friendly URLs should not be more than two or three keywords.
  • Understandable: Use keywords separated by hyphens (easier to read and convey vocally). While discouraged, abbreviations may be used for recognizable titles or departments within an organization. Note that users outside an organization may have trouble understanding abbreviations. Even though 'hr" is recognized among English speakers in the United States and could be used, "human-resources" is preferred. And, although "oiss" may not be recognized outside of the institution, spelling it out would be too long. Abbreviations should be recognized outside of the library (i.e. at least university-wide).
  • Hierarchical: Use the slash "/" to denote hierarchy. Search engines use this to determine a site's hierarchy and how pages relate to each other. Google, for example, has begun to create breadcrumbs on its search results.

It is recognized that not all platforms allow for friendly URLs, but when given the option it should be used.

In LibGuides, for example, note that not only can a guide have a friendly URL, but also each page under it.

Additional resources

"URL as UI" by Jakob Nielsen on Nielsen Norman Group (From 1999 but updated in 2005 and 2007 and will continue to be updated as user habits and expectations change.)


An alt attribute should be used for all images even if it is blank.

Need help deciding what to put in your alt attribute? Use the Web Accessibility Tutorial alt Decision Tree!

WebAIM also has a great Alternative Text walk-through that not only helps you decide how to describe images but also how to make your descriptions better for everyone.


The LibGuides content editor does not provide an easy method to add notes on abbreviations. However, if you go into the source view of the content editor you should be able to add the <abbr> tag.

<abbr title="Web Content Accessibility Guidelines">WCAG</abbr>
WCAG covers many accessibility concepts.


Understanding cognitive load

During a session for student employee supervisors, when discussing a healthy learning and working environment during COVID-19, a professor said:

Think about everything they have to know and then cut the rest.

Read what Kathryn Whitenton from the Nielsen Norman Group says about cognitive load:

  • "Minimize Cognitive Load to Maximize Usability." Summary: The total cognitive load, or amount of mental processing power needed to use your site, affects how easily users find content and complete tasks. By Kathryn Whitenton (2013)

Sending messages: casual read/listen

What messages are you sending to those with different abilities or experiences than you?

The "House on the Moon" is a short story by William Alexander and was published in the September/October 2018 (issue 24) of Uncanny Magazine: Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction.

A school-aged girl living on the moon is on a class trip to an old castle that was brought up piece by piece from Earth by an eccentric businessman years ago. The businessman has long disappeared and the castle is now a historical monument, but the design and past do not make her feel welcome in such a place.

There is a podcast version of the story read aloud in the link on the magazine's website. The story was also featured and read by LeVar Burton (Roots, Reading Rainbow, Star Trek) on the podcast LeVar Burton Reads (September 30, 2019) available on Apple Podcasts.

Your Librarian

Profile Photo
Chad Kluck
O'Shaughnessy-Frey Library | LIB 207