Web accessibility according to people with disabilities

Post date: 
Thursday, 13 July 2017
Woman squinting at her laptop screen

One tweet kick-started a conversation about what people with visual impairments and other disabilities struggle with when using the web. Hampus Sethfors from Axess Lab summarises their thoughts.

“If you have a disability, what’s the hardest thing about browsing the web?” The answers to Safia Abdalla’s tweet are truly eye-opening and show us what web accessibility should really be about.

The tweet that started it all

Safia Abdalla @captainsafia: “I'm curious to know: if you have a disability, what's the hardest thing about browsing the web? Retweet for visibility, please and thanks!”

In this article, I’ll summarise and group the main topics that people bring up in the thread – but do click on the tweet and read through all the answers. It’s an awesome read for anyone interested in making the web a better place for all. And, in my opinion, a far better place to learn about accessibility than reading any checklist or standard.

Lack of captions

Videos without captions (subtitles) was by far the obstacle that most people commented on.

Carol Carpenter @carolmcarpenter: “I'm hard of hearing so a big pain for me is video with no captions. Tweets or articles [that] just say "can you believe he said this?" and no summary.”

Non-existing captions is something that can completely exclude users who are deaf or hard of hearing. But it affects many others as well. For example, anyone on the bus who forgot their headphones or some autistic users.

act up, fight back @UntoNuggan: “I'd also just like to point out that captions are amazing and great for more than the [deaf] and [hard of hearing] community. More videos need captions…I'm autistic and when I get overloaded, it's harder to process auditory input, especially if the person talking is off-screen or something.”

Many are hoping that automatic captioning solves this problem. But alas, not yet!

Robin @tohereknowswhe: “YouTube's auto subtitling is not accurate enough.”

And the auto-captioning feature sadly isn’t available for most languages. So it’s still up to the video creators to caption.

Small font size

Amazingly there’s no minimum font size requirement in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, even though it affects so many low vision users.

Brandon Savage @brandonsavage: “Fonts are often too small and sites break when I increase font sizes.”

Zooming problems

Some users with low vision point to layout and navigation problems when zooming or increasing font-size.

Kir Kolyshkin @kolyshkin: “My daughter has low vision and has to use 300-500 per cent magnification. Many web sites are hard to navigate at this level.”

Walls of text

Many replies, especially from people with dyslexia or cognitive impairments, were about large chunks of text:

AvaJarvis @AvaJarvis: “Huge paragraphs. A page on Wikipedia often consists of many long paragraphs with long sentences. I lose my place within seconds.”

The solution is so simple, just create more paragraphs and sub-headings – and throw in more bulleted lists. Voilà!

Low contrast and images with text

One of the cornerstones of accessibility, colour contrast, is still a major problem in a lot of interfaces.

Megan Lynch @may_gun: “Lack of contrast between font color and background color. Photo backgrounds that overpower the text on top of them…Text rendered as graphics instead of text with no alt tags, no image description. From websites to memes.”

So it is vital for web designers and art directors to understand how to measure and create accessible colour schemes. Check out Axess Lab’s list of seven great, free colour contrasts tools.

Bright colour schemes

Bright or overly glaring colour schemes, can be a big problem for users with low vision and they don’t get enough attention in accessibility discussions. It was interesting how many commented on it in the thread, and the different strategies they had to get around the problem:

Callie @heygalaxsea: “Visual impairment; looking at white screens (especially with lines of text) all day working on classes is very headache inducing/eye straining…so this is fairly simple, but I really appreciate the ‘night’ modes that some things have – less eye strain that way.

Relying only on colour

This is also a cornerstone of accessibility that so many miss.

Dan EUC @phrawzty: “Colourblind. Text on background is usually fine, but things like colour-coded toggles, heatmaps, etc can be hard.”

It’s really easy to test, just view your site in greyscale. And it’s not only people who are colour blind who need information to be conveyed in other ways than colour:

Taylor Hunt @tigt_: “Sleep disorder: I have to read after 5pm with f.lux cranked up all the way, so sites that assume hyperlinks can be blue w/no underline.”

*F.lux is free software that warms up your computer display at night, to match your indoor lighting.

Mouse-focused sites

Even in this day of the touchscreen revolution, too many sites still rely on mouse interaction – especially for navigation on large screens. That needs to change.

Zack @zkline: “The number of sites which insist on using mouse-over as the only means of menu triggering.”

For some users with motor impairments that navigate using only their keyboard, a clear focus outline is vital to being able to navigate the web.

nuton.dev @NutonDev: “Lack of focus outlines. Especially on links (they look ugly to most designers so they remove them) and custom components (for example dropdowns).”

Too small touch targets

This topic is related to the mouse-focused heading above. Many people bring up the problem with too small touch targets.

Self crytptid @plathituudes: “Mobile twitter is also really hard because I have a tremor and visual-spatial processing issues. Often I will click on the wrong thing by mistake.”

A great new insight for me came from Dave Ross who brought up the problem of too large click targets:

Dave Ross @csixty4: “Click/tap targets that are too small to aim for or bigger than they need to be (whole headline and excerpt vs just headline)…(Sometimes I have hand tics that make precise mouse control hard or I tap a touchscreen screen unnecessarily).”

Multi-touch gestures are also a deal-breaker for some users.

Amy @EhlersDanlost: “Hand tremor. Anything I can accidentally click/tap (especially the "only click 1x" buttons for buying stuff) or can't purposefully click/tap.”

Kristen Anne Strater @KristenAnneSF, replying to @EhlersDanlost: “Yes! Kindle app has this ‘tap twice and hold’ to get to the menu for display settings on books and it is super difficult. (Hand deformity).”

Motion, animations and cluttered pages

Motion and animation can be annoying to anyone, but is extra frustrating to many users with cognitive impairments:

mkb @mojinations: "Assuming ADHD counts, it's hard to locate content on overly busy pages and animations are a nightmare of distraction.”

MIPS @elementnumber46: “Related, I'm also autistic and can get frustrated with, or repelled by, glitzy mouse-over effects/animations, sudden auto-play, etc.”

Do your users a favour by not distracting them with auto-playing videos, advertisements or image carousels.


Finally, we end with a classic accessibility failure: the dreaded CAPTCHA. Annoying everyone who comes across it, but completely locking out many with visual impairments or learning disabilities.

Danny Does Code @DannyDoesCode: “My mom, who's visually impaired, recently sent this to me. It's been a great resource. https://accessibility.blog.gov.uk/2016/09/02/dos-and-donts-on-designing-... …As to what drives her nuts, non-accessible captchas are the top. It can severely limit which services are available to her.”

Final thoughts

Reflecting on the answers to this thread, a few things become clear:

  • Web accessibility is about so much more than just blind people with screen readers.
  • Basically everything that people with disabilities comment on are things that annoy everyone, so fixing these issues makes your interface better for all users.
  • A lot of what people comment on is not covered by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, so you need to test with users with disabilities!

So thank you Safia Abdalla for Tweeting your question and thanks for everyone who responded and taught me (@hampelusken), and many others, a lot about accessibility.

Source: This article originally appeared on the Axess Lab website.