Understanding how people with disabilities use the web can help us understand how to improve accessibility. However, the abilities and requirements of people with disabilities vary widely, and each person with a disability will have their own combination of techniques and technology. 

Types of disabilities relevant to web accessibility

When we talking about web accessibility for people with disabilities, we usually need to consider four types of disabilities: visual, auditory, motor and cognitive, as well as seizure disorders.

People with visual disabilities including blindness, low vision and colour blindness

How they use the web:

  • They may use screen readers, which read web pages out loud, or braille readers, which can form braille characters
  • They may use their browser controls to increase the text size of pages where the text is too small
  • They may set their computer or their browser to use large text and high contrast colours
  • They may not use a mouse if they can’t see the pointer

How we ensure accessibility:

  • When we put an image or video on a web page, we also provide the same information as text. This includes alternate text for images and multimedia, and transcripts or captions on video.
  • We use proper headings in our web pages, to enable screen reader users to get an overview of a page and jump to the relevant section
  • We use link text that makes clear where the link goes, and avoid generic links like “click here”
  • We provide content as web pages rather than Word documents or PDFs, as this is the most usable and accessible format for screen readers
  • We avoid using colour alone for meaning (e.g. red for warning or green for good)
  • We ensure all content and functionality can be used without a mouse

More information on visual disabilities

People with auditory disabilities

This can include people who are Deaf and use sign language, people who are deaf and do not use sign language, and people who have some hearing loss.

How we ensure accessibility:

  • If we give any information by audio, we also provide that information as text. This includes transcripts of audio recording or captions on a video.
  • For the highest standard of accessibility (Level AAA), we provide sign language interpretations with video

More information on auditory disabilities

People with motor disabilities

This can include conditions where movement is reduced or impaired, such as quadriplegia, arthritis and multiple sclerosis, and where there is involuntary movement or tremors, such as cerebral palsy and Parkinsons disease.

How they use the web:

  • They may use just a keyboard and not a mouse
  • They may use a mouse but slowly or with difficulty
  • They may use other technologies such as a joystick, or mouth control, or voice control.

How we ensure accessibility:

  • We make sure a website works with just with a keyboard
  • If there is something on the page that moves or animates, such as drop-down menus or rotating banners, we make sure it works without a mouse or for somebody who finds a mouse difficult to use
  • We make it easy for people to jump to different parts of a page

More information on motor disabilities

People with cognitive disabilities

This includes disabilities which affect memory, problem solving, attention and comprehension. Some important examples in a university setting are dyslexia, which affects how written information is processed, and ADHD, which affects focus and attention.

How we ensure accessibility:

  • We make our content straightforward and consistent.
  • We avoid long blocks of text on web pages, and instead use headings, bullets and numbers to make the page easier to read
  • We provide content as web pages rather than Word documents or PDFs, to ensure people with cognitive disabilities can access our content in a way that suits them. For example, people with dyslexia may want to change the text colour and background colour, or use a screen reader or browser plug-in to read out text.

More information on cognitive disabilities

People with seizure disorders

Some people have disorders where seizures, migraines, nausea or dizziness can be triggered by flashing, flickering and strobing content.

How we ensure accessibility:

  • We don’t publish any content which flashes, flickers or strobes
  • If there is a good reason to publish such content (for example, as part of a research project):
    • we check the exact types of flickering and flashing which may cause problems
    • there is a clear warning displayed before the content is shown

More information on seizure disorders

Usability, writing for the web and standards compliance

Because it may require more time and effort for them to use the web, people with all types of disabilities and users of all types of assistive technologies need web content and web applications to be:

  • clear and straightforward
  • consistent and predictable
  • easy to scan, search, browse and navigate
  • compliant with web standards
  • designed to work with the widest possible range of technologies
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