The issue of web accessibility has grown steadily more evident since the global pandemic hit us in 2020. While many Americans have adapted to the reality of living, working, and socializing on a digital platform, there still remains a large percent of the population who hasn’t had such a smooth transition into the new normal — and within this population, children and adults with autism are asking for help.
It has become increasingly clear that many of the world’s standard digital platforms are not sensory-friendly, flexible to accessibility tools such as screen readers, and more. When it comes down to it, much of the internet is not aptly equipped to be accessible for many people with autism. Because of this, if society is intent on remaining in this “new normal” of a digital, remote world, websites need to change and be updated to follow certain guidelines allowing all of their users to effectively browse with the same level of ease.
What Changes Can Be Made?
When it comes to making web pages more accessible, sometimes the adjustments are simple — removing auto-play videos and sounds, changing the text color or font style on busy backgrounds, removing moving pictures and animations that can be both distracting and overwhelming to visitors, and so on. But web developers and business owners need to know, it’s about more than just websites — mobile apps need to be considered, as well.
Design Changes Everything
When it comes to basic design changes suggested for ASD sensitivities in mind, some of the most common include:
- Setting contrast between fonts and backgrounds.
- Avoiding bright, vivid colors, especially if they move/flash around on the page.
- Avoiding using images as page backgrounds.
While these traits are the most obvious on a homepage, there are others that make the overall experience more accessible. For example, simplified navigational tools and menus, clear typography, directional links (“Back to homepage,” “Next article,” etc.) obvious on the page, and a standardized interface or layout across all pages is important. For business owners, these adjustments can also go a long way in retaining customers, as sometimes it’s as simple as having an easy time navigating the site that makes one memorable.
For adults who are more sensitive to color and color changes, it’s especially important that websites avoid bright, clashing colors, distracting images, and hard-to-read font colors. For web developers, business owners, as well as even just someone with a blog, it’s important to keep in mind intentional color schemes that are appealing and sensory-friendly to a wide range of audiences.
Sounds Are Important, Too
Aside from the visual parts of a website, sound also plays a big role. How many times have you gone to a website, minding your business, only to be overcome with a video suddenly playing somewhere on the page? Especially when you weren’t expecting the sudden sound, compounded with being unable to find the source to mute it, it can be an overwhelming experience.
Because of this, it’s important for web designers to keep in mind what happens exactly when a visitor lands on a page. If a video begins to auto-play, is it obvious where it’s coming from? Is there a clear and easily-accessible means of pausing or muting the video? Better yet, avoid autoplay at all, and simply direct the visitor to the video or piece of content to be watched. That way, depending on the person’s sensitivities, they can choose to watch the media or just read about it, instead. It’s simple decisions like these that can improve the overall accessibility of a site for visitors with autism, without having to undergo an entire design upheaval.
Improving the Web for People With ASD
For those with ASD who are struggling to navigate the newly digital and remote world, especially in the context of work, school, or more, there are resources available to help. Especially for those also living with chronic illness that furthers their accessibility needs, it’s important to understand the rights offered through ADA and other programs than ensure you’re provided with the tools and resources you need to be successful.
While these rights might not extend to privately-owned businesses, social media, and other apps, there is work we can do as a community to ensure business owners, web developers, and more, are aware of the needs not being met by their media and content. By speaking out and encouraging change, we can educate, inspire, and make changes for those who otherwise are unable to speak out for themselves.
For a world in which there is growing equality across a number of social issues, equal web accessibility should not be up for debate. The web was meant to be for all, but can only actually be used by all when brands become more conscious of the needs of those who are neurodivergent, disabled, chronically ill, and more. Through speaking out and raising awareness, hopefully, the web as a whole will become more accessible to those who want and need to use it.
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