7 things disabled people need from your website

Written by Ben Leach on

As inclusion advocates, we delve into what a disabled person wants from your website or digital service. From clear and concise content to smart choice of colour

When creating a digital service, including disabled user testers is absolutely vital in ensuring everybody can access and make the most of your website or service.

Categorisation of disabilities

There are many variations of disability. And, each disabled person will use a website in different ways. But, to make things easier, disabilities are usually categorised into four broad categories:

  • Visual (affecting the ability to see something)
  • Hearing (affecting the ability to hear something
  • Motor (affecting movement)
  • Cognitive (affecting memory and thinking) 

It’s important to note that these disabilities can be further broken down into the following sub-categories:

  • Permanent/Long-term disability (e.g. Blindness, Deafness, Loss of limb, Autism)
  • Temporary disability (e.g. sunshine on a screen, loud environment, broken limb, concussion)

What disabled users want from your website

There are many things that a disabled user will want from your website to be able to use it properly.

We’ve broken down some of the things your websites should be including that help people in a wide variety of scenarios.

Write in Plain English

Your website should contain content that is clear and concise. A user, no matter of their level of literacy or disability, should be able to understand the information you are giving them.

To add to this, there are 7.1 million people in the UK who are classified as having low literacy skills. Equally there are many people who are not fluent in English who may be using your website.

But Plain English doesn’t just benefit those with low literacy skills or who have a different first language. Plain English is beneficial for everyone, it helps reduce confusion, speeds up reading, and helps users understand the info they want better.

Design clear and consistent layouts

Regardless of who your user is, clear and consistent layouts and easy to use navigation benefits everyone.

Websites and digital services shouldn’t be complicated to use or require in-depth instruction of how to use it. A site should be intuitive for people to use and have a clean layout so as to not draw their attention to less relevant aspects of the website.

Users with autism, ADHD and other processing difficulties can struggle to use websites that have an inconsistent layout. Unpredictable layouts can also induce panic into those that suffer from anxiety.

Use alt text for images

Alt text is used to describe the content of an image for those that are unable to see an image.

This is particularly useful for blind users who utilise screen readers to view your website. A screen reader will read aloud the description of the image, allowing the user to understand what the image is of, and its context.

Alt text is also useful for those with slow internet as alt text will display for images that cannot load. Also, some users with cognitive impairments opt to use a form of screen reader that reads text. These programs will also read alt text in images.

Use meaningful links

Many users will benefit from meaningful link text. Instead of creating hyperlinks that say “click here” or “Read more”, reference the page that the user will go to when clicking on a hyperlink.

This is a great addition for screen readers, who can navigate a page via links. If there are multiple ‘Click here’ links, they will not know where this link will take them.

Also, users with cognitive impairments will benefit from meaningful link text, they will know where a link is taking them without having to worry.

Subtitles and transcripts for audio and video content

You may think that subtitles only benefit those who are Deaf or Hard of hearing, but that’s far from true.

Subtitles and transcripts benefit almost everyone. One study found that 80% of people have benefitted from using captions on a video at least once.

Users who are in noisy environments benefit from subtitles, as do those who understand written English better than spoken English. But above all, captions help Deaf and those who are hard of hearing understand a video or audio content.

Utilising colour control

Practicing smart colour choice is useful for a website with any kind of audience. It’s important to avoid garish colours and be careful of using certain colours.

Good colour contrast benefits users who are colourblind, as well as those that have other visual impairments. It’s also vital that you do not present information via only colour. Provide text alternatives rather than a green box signalling yes and a red box signalling no for example.

Colour contrast also benefits those that are outside and have sun glare on their phone or laptop screens.

Including an accessibility statement

All users, regardless of disability will appreciate an accessibility statement. For public sector organisations in the UK, this is required by law.

An accessibility statement helps all users identify the areas they may have problems navigating and accessing. It should also provide details of who to contact should a user have a difficult time accessing an area of a website, or should a user require alternative format of content.

This should also outline your commitment to accessibility as an organisation, giving users an idea of when you plan to fix certain items and what the plans are for accessibility in the future.

Generic accessibility design is nearly impossible

It’s incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to design for accessibility in a ‘generic’ way. There is such a wide variation of disabilities, temporary and permanent, it’s impossible to design something for everyone. In fact, in some cases, there will be contrasting needs of users.

For example, a Blind user who has gone blind in later life may benefit from long alt text description, allowing them to visualise what an image is showing based on what they can remember seeing. Whereas, a blind since birth user may not require a lengthy description. Sometimes accessibility comes down to personal preference.

Using good design principles helps increase accessibility

The list above is by no means exhaustive, there are plenty of technical considerations when it comes to accessibility. But these are just a few things that disabled users across the board rely on to make their web experience a much more accessible one.

And you’ll notice, these are things that everyone can benefit from, not just those with disabilities. Who wants to navigate a complicated, garishly coloured website? No one!

We’ll leave you on a quote that resonates very well with the subject, “A disabled person is not disabled by their condition or circumstance, but rather, by their environment.” It’s up to web editors, developers, designers, content writers and wider web teams to remove those disabling factors.

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