Making your website autism-friendly

More than 700,000 in the UK alone are autistic, which is more than 1 in 100. Autism has no nationality or cultural barrier and will affect people from all walks of life.

On Autism Awareness Month, we’re investigating the things that businesses can do to make the online experience of those with autism a little easier. How can you change your website to better reflect the needs of those on the autism spectrum?

What is autism?world autism awareness day

First of all, it’s important to understand what autism is, and how it affects people. Autism is a spectrum condition, a lifelong developmental disability, that affects how people perceive their surroundings and interact with people around them. Whilst no autistic person is the same, each person varies in condition and severity, they have a number of similar traits.

Many autistic people say that they feel as though the world is overwhelming, which can lead to a significant amount of anxiety. In particular, understanding and relating to other people can be a challenge, making everyday social situations an overwhelming experience.

How is autism diagnosed

There are a number of ways that autism is diagnosed, based on a number of factors that are thought to be the main symptoms of autism:

  • Social communication – many autistic people have difficulty with understanding facial expressions, tone of voice and jokes/sarcasm. It is sometimes difficult for them to understand the direction of the conversation and what is intended by the other person.
  • Social interaction – autism can make it difficult to read other people and have empathy or sympathy, this can often come across as them being insensitive. They also may seek out time alone, not seek comfort from other people and perhaps do things that would be perceived as strange to others.
  • Repetitive behaviour – The world can seem like a very confusing and overwhelming place for people with autism, this means that to keep them at ease, they commonly use repetitive methods. People on the autism spectrum will not like change but are often more receptive to change if it’s planned well in advance.
  • Highly-focused interests – Many autistic people have intense and highly-focused interests, often from a young age, and can be anything from football or music, to cars or computers.
  • Sensory sensitivity – A lot of autistic people can experience over- or under-sensitivity to sounds, touch, taste, smell, light, colour, temperature or pain. What may seem like a slight inconvenience to those not on the spectrum, it may be a huge distracting or aggravating inconvenience to those with autism.

Making your website autism-friendly

Sensory issues

As mentioned above, those who are on the autism spectrum can often have heightened sensitivity to sensory triggers. It’s important to ensure that your website:

  • Is uncluttered and is fairly simplistic in design
  • Is set up so that any movement that is not triggered by the user can be stopped.
  • Has white, or black space to separate content, allowing the user to digest content easily.
  • Avoid time-sensitive information, such as ‘sale ending in XXX’ with a countdown. Whilst this may help improve conversions, an autistic user is likely to become anxious or overwhelmed by the pressure.

Communication

Those with autism communicate much differently to those who are not on the spectrum, and it can create a communication error. This is why it’s important, in your web content, to:

  • Provide visual alternatives to text. I.e. if you are explaining by text, create a diagram explanation.
  • Avoid ambiguous language, this includes the use of metaphors, similes and exaggeration of any kind.  
  • Be careful with the use of sarcasm or jokes, they can be misinterpreted easily by an autistic user.
  • Ensure all jargon is explained or, at least, provide a definition of the jargon term.
  • Ensure that all abbreviations are un-abbreviated after their first use. For example, when using ‘GDPR..’, ensure that the first time it is used, include the unabbreviated version. E.g. ‘GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations)…’

Consistency

Making a website consistent is incredibly important, whilst it’s great for those with autism, it also helps every user navigate your site. So, make sure to:

  • Ensure that the navigation of your site remains consistent throughout – no matter what page you are on, make sure the navigation is the same.
  • Ensure that the layout of each page is consistent (exceptions for blog/home/contact pages).
  • Make sure all the links on your website are consistently the same colour and are always obvious.

Why create an autistic-friendly website?

As previously stated, more than 1 in 100 people are affected by autism that is diagnosed. It is, however, thought that many more people across the UK are left undiagnosed as the severity of it does not warrant a diagnosis. With that, there are still more than 700,000 people who are autistic who may want to access your website.

Whilst it’s always an advantage for those with autism, the above steps are also instrumental in implementing a good user experience, this helps those with or without autism navigate the site. So in a wider sense, you’re not just improving the overall user journey for those on the autism spectrum, but also those who are not.

Finally, building trust amongst autistic users is a massive benefit, if an autistic user finds your website to be suitable to their needs, they won’t change who they use, you’ll find a life-long and committed customer, all by being a bit more accessible.

Need help?

We appreciate that as a business, you may not have the capacity, resource or expertise to carry out these changes effectively…that’s where we can help. We work with the Shaw Trust Accessibility Services to create accessible digital services for anyone that has disabilities. This includes disabled user testing, using real-life disabled accessibility assessors.

If you want to see how accessible your website is, try out our free website accessibility health check for a no-obligation report on your digital services.

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