November 04, 2014

Understanding Users With Disabilities

Understanding accessibility first requires an awareness of the types of disabilities, and the special needs of each user group. These can encompass everything from motor restrictions to learning and cognitive inabilities. A person with a disability may encounter multiple barriers when accessing a website, requiring more than one solution to their accessibility needs. These can be alleviated or even eliminated by accessible web content, assistive technology, and the underlying operating system software and hardware platform.

The 4 main categories of disabilities are visual, hearing, mobility, and cognitive.

Visual Disabilities

Users with visual disabilities are individuals who are blind, have low vision, or have color blindness. Users with visual disabilities require alt text for images to provide a description, and often use their keyboard to navigate the website or application. Color blind users require multiple attributes are used, such as images, icons, or fill patterns, along with color to convey information.

Users with visual disabilities may use the following tools:

  • Screen readers or navigable audiobooks;
  • Refreshable Braille displays or Braille embossers; or
  • Large monitors or screen magnification software.

These devices allow users to turn text into speech or Braille, or enlarge the content beyond simple font enlargement. They also allow them to move quickly through structured content.

Hearing Disabilities

People who are deaf or hard of hearing require visual representations of auditory information.

Users with hearing loss often rely on:

  • Captions
  • Audio/text descriptions, or
  • Transcripts to interpret audio content.

Some people, such as those using sign language as their first language, may rely on images to understand context. The primary goal is to ensure that audio output information is provided in a redundant equivalent visual form.

Mobility Disabilities

Users with mobility disabilities or dexterity disabilities have physical impairments that substantially limit movement and fine motor controls, such as lifting, walking, and typing. Examples of these disabilities include muscular dystrophy or arthritis, where the user can be limited in their ability to use their hands, limbs and other body parts.

Mobility impaired individuals experience difficulties in using the computer's input devices and in handling storage media.

Solutions for these users include:

  • A specialized mouse, keyboard, pointing devices, or software to navigate the web. This may include switches, latches, and controls that are easy to manipulate, as well as media that is easy to insert and remove.
  • A speech recognition software, an eye-gaze system, or other assistive technologies to make commands — all of which require additional time, control and focus to operate.

Many of these needs are supported by assistive technology, operating systems, and hardware platforms.

Cognitive Disabilities

Users with developmental and learning disabilities, such as dyslexia and short-term memory deficit, may be deterred from using websites that are overly complex, distracting, or poorly organized. Flashing content can trigger seizures for people with a seizure disorder such as epilepsy.

Depending on their particular needs, people with cognitive and neurological disabilities need:

  • Clearly structured content that facilitates overview and orientation.
  • Consistent labeling of forms, buttons, and other content parts.
  • Predictable link targets, functionality, and overall behavior.
  • Redundant input, such as providing both an audio file and a transcript of a video.
  • Different ways of navigating websites, such as through a hierarchical menu or search option.
  • Options to suppress blinking, flickering, flashing, rotating, or otherwise distracting content.
  • Simpler text that is supplemented by images, graphs, and other illustrations.

Next Wednesday we’ll be hosting our fourth semi-annual GOVTalks event with GOVTalks: Accessibility. We will be focusing on all aspects of accessibility, including the information above. If you are a beginner looking to learn more or a Priority 3 expert in the field of accessibility, I highly encourage you to attend the conference. We will have subject matter experts from AMAC Accessibility Solutions speaking at the event, and provide a hands-on workshop that will have everyone creating accessible websites and documents for all users.

Visit the Web Accessibility Initiative for more information on how people with disabilities use the web.

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