Accessibility according to actual people with disabilities

“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 shows us what web accessibility should really be about.

Person sitting close to phone with sunglasses on. Photo, black and white.

Photo: Francis Clarke for Wikimedia

The tweet that started it all

In this article I’ll summarize 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. Here is what a few had to say:

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

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

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

Motion, animations and cluttered pages

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

Do your users a favor by not distracting them with autoplaying videos, advertisements or image carousels.

Wall of text

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

The solution is so simple. Just create more paragraphs and sub-headings! And throw in more bullet-lists. Voilà!

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.

Zooming problems

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

Low contrasts and image of text

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

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

Bright color schemes

Bright color schemes can be a big problem for users with low vision and is something that gets too little focus 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:

Relying only on color

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

It’s really easy to test, just view your site in greyscale. Here’s an example of a toggle that’s really difficult to understand when you take colors away. Which one is on and which one is off?

Black and white image of toggles that rely on color to convey meaning.

And it’s not only people who are color-blind who need information to be conveyed in other ways than color:

Mouse-focused sites

Even in this day of the touch-screen-revolution, too many sites still rely on mouse interaction. Especially for navigation on large screens. That needs to change.

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.

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.

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

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

These are actually some of the more common problems we find in our Accessibility Reviews ever since mobile browsing became the norm. Fingers are never as precise as a mouse pointer, even with perfect motor skills.


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.

Text that's really hard to read on a CAPTCHA. Screenshot.

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.

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