Estimated time to complete: 10 minutes
What are accessibility challenges and barriers to access?
There are many accessibility challenges that should be considered when creating web content. These challenges only become barriers when websites do not account for these challenges in their design. For example, a visual disability may change the way a user interacts with a website, but if the website is properly accessible, this does not become a barrier to this user accessing the site’s content.
Too often, accessibility is a retroactive or reactive element in the design process and the responsibility to advocate for accommodations falls to the user. To help prevent this scenario, further modules in this training include design tips that can help reduce or eliminate some of the most common barriers faced by website users.
First, though, it may be helpful to have some examples of how disabilities and other accessibility challenges change the way a user might interact with web content, as well as the most common changes made to address these challenges.
Keep in mind, though, that accessibility is not a one-size-fits all solution. If a user requests additional or alternative accommodations to those we recommend here, address their needs.
As stated in the last module, the main goal of accessibility is to enable access to persons with disabilities. Disabilities encompass a broad range of experiences that may change the way the user interacts with web content.
The following examples are not comprehensive, but rather meant to help you understand some common ways in which disabilities may change the experience of accessing a website and how these experiences can be enabled with accessibility-focused design.
- Visual disabilities, such as low vision, blindness, colour-blindness, etc.
- Example: a user with low vision or blindness may use a screen-reader to assist them in accessing web content. Therefore, web content needs to be in a format that can be processed by the screen-reader, such as using alt text for images and anchor text for hyperlinks.
- Auditory disabilities, such as low hearing, D/deafness, or auditory processing disorders, etc.
- Example: a user with low hearing or D/deafness may require captions to access the audio content of a video. Therefore, accurate captions with correct timings are required.
- Mobility / dexterity impairments
- Example: a user with a mobility or dexterity impairment may have difficulty manipulating a mouse to click on a small checkbox on a web page. Therefore, ensure that clickable elements such as buttons, link text, or checkboxes have a greater area that can be clicked.
- Cognitive impairments and learning disabilities
- Example: a user may have difficulty concentrating on or processing complex language. Therefore, using plain language where possible is encouraged.
- Neurological disorders, such as migraines or seizures
- Example: bright or flashing lights may trigger migraines or seizures for some users. Therefore, content must not be designed in a way that is known to induce this response.
Other accessibility challenges
Disabilities are not the only accessibility challenge users may face when accessing web content. Other challenges can be circumstantial, environmental, or even societal or cultural:
- Illness (including mental illness)
- Example: a user experiencing illness may have a reduced ability to concentrate on content. Content should be divided into short paragraphs and use plain language where possible.
- Sleep deprivation
- Example: similar to the example above, a sleep-deprived user may also have a reduced capacity for focus and concentration. Again, short paragraphs, bullet points, and plain language help make content accessible for users in these circumstances
- Example: certain stimuli, such as images, sounds, or content may evoke a trauma response in users. Clearly signaling where potentially triggering content may appear and giving the user the option to skip such content (while still receiving all of the necessary information on the page) is necessary.
- Connectivity issues such as a weak Internet connection
- Example: a user might live somewhere with a weak Internet connection, meaning that their network is unable to load images and videos quickly or regularly. Including text alternatives for these slower loading types of content enables access for someone in this situation.
Designing for accessibility
You might notice that some of the examples above suggest the same solution. While every user’s needs are different, the design best practices in this training are intended to address some of the most common accessibility challenges. When implemented properly, designing for accessibility uses one solution to overcome many barriers at once.
For example, consider several situations in which captions on a video can benefit users:
- Providing a written alternative for users who have low hearing or D/deafness
- Helping a user with an auditory processing disorder to make out the meaning of what they are hearing
- Allowing a user in a noisy environment to read instead of listen to the content
- Offering support to someone who is more familiar with reading and writing the language of the video than they are with speaking and hearing it
- Assisting someone looking to quote the video content in a written format with the process of translating spoken language into written language
This is just one example of how one design solution accommodates several accessibility challenges, removes barriers, and increases accessibility for everyone.