Seven usability tools to try (when you don't know your UX from your alt tag)


Not every business has a team of developers on call to ensure their website meets the latest accessibility standards. What free or low-cost usability tools are out there to help ensure your website content is accessible to all?

Here are some of the new suggestions we picked up at usability conference Camp Digital, plus some of our favourites. But it’s in no way an exhaustive list – do add your own suggestions in the comments below.

We also have lots of tips to share in our round-up from this excellent event: Usability is sexy. Accessibility is hot. Clarity is…phwoar! Give it a read when you’ve finished this one…

1. Try a screen reader

NVDA is free software which reads out the text in your website. How does your own site sound?

The founders believe that every blind and visually impaired person deserves the right to freely and easily access a computer. The tool they’ve developed is used by visually impaired people in 200 countries and has been translated into 43 different languages.

There are lots of others available, and with this one being free it’s a great place to start.

2. Install the NoCoffee extension

This is a simply brilliant Chrome extension which shows how your website could look to people with different conditions or levels of vision impairment. Hat tip to Sarah Richards for highlighting this in her Camp Digital talk.

This is how the BBC Weather page could look to someone with macular degeneration, for example.

NoCoffee BBC weather

How to use NoCoffee:

1. Install the extension

2. Play with the settings to simulate things like visual blur, cloudiness or glaucoma symptoms

3. Open up a website on a new tab. See the result…

Suddenly you realise that your beautiful palette actually causes problems to people with colour blindness. You understand how that paragraph of incredibly dense text is impenetrable to someone with cataracts.

From there, you can make design decisions to help ensure your website is more usable by your audience.

3. Open up the Microsoft Inclusive Toolkit

Great to see Microsoft leading the way here, and making these tools available. Obviously they’re targeted at developers but there’s plenty here for the lay person to get to grips with.

microsoft inclusive design.jpg

Download the Microsoft Inclusive Design toolkit and try out the Inclusive 101 manual or inclusive activities to get you into the accessibility mindset.

4. Put up these accessibility posters

OK, so these are not tools. But it’s a brilliant way of creating a culture of accessibility in your organisation.

I came across them while doing training in writing for the web at a Government department. They were displayed prominently, which I thought was such a good idea that when I got back to Sookio HQ I printed them off, framed them and did exactly the same.

Created by Home Office Digital, they offer clear tips on designing for users who are deaf, visually impaired, have motor disabilities and other issues. This page also offers a ton of tips on the dos and don’ts of designing for accessibility

Download the accessibility posters, print, display, off you go!

5. Have a play with Hotjar

This tool shows you all sorts of interesting things.

Like heatmaps to show you which areas of your website really capture visitor attention. You can even record their journeys around the site, and see where they drop off. Online forms! Why aren’t people filling them in?

Hotjar is aimed at commercial businesses, and priced accordingly, but there’s also a free version to get you started.

hotjar heatmap.JPG

6. Try a five-second test

When people visit your website, you have mere seconds to grab their attention. And do they really understand who you are and what you offer?

This tool offers a very effective way of seeing if your website potentially has high usability - meaning people will be able to do the thing they want to do - or if it will slow people down. To use the five-second test, simply:

  • Upload a screengrab plus a simple question about the design

  • Groups of testers have five seconds to look at the page, then answer your question. You then get to see the responses. Great!

7. Get advice from the Hemingway Editor

The Hemingway app helps you write with clarity. It highlights lengthy sentences, suggests more everyday language, and stops you being so passive.

The outcome? Language that your audience understands. Text that is easier to read if you’re visually impaired or have lower levels of literacy.

And if people understand what you’re saying, they’re more likely to stay on your site, return another day and, you never know…they might actually buy something!

What tools do you use to boost usability?

We’d love to hear your recommendations - please do comment below.

And take a look at the sister post to find out how accessible web content will help you win the hearts of your customers.