It’s easy to think about physical accessibility accommodations for people with different abilities, but information accessibility often takes a back seat. The telecom industry first used closed captioning in 1972 with Julia Child’s “The French Chef,” marking the earliest initiative to enhance information access on a broader scale.
Today, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates accessibility to all places of public accommodation, and the Supreme Court interpreted the mandate to apply to websites. Roughly 13% of the population has a cognitive limitation such as ADHD and as many as 20% have some type of dyslexia. The ethical question facing designers is, "How can we ensure equal access to information when building digital experiences?"
The Web Accessibility Initiative prepared Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which provide straightforward information accessibility techniques to help people with visual impairments get the information they need online. Forward-thinking designers are using and expanding on those techniques as a springboard for designs that improve accessibility for all, especially those with cognitive impairments like ADHD.
Here’s a look at the latest design trends to broaden website accessibility for people who have unique needs when it comes to deciphering and using digital content.
1. Optimizing the Experience with Accessible Color Schemes
Color plays a major role in designing for individuals with dyslexia, which can present difficulties when designing for accessibility. For example, the contrast of black text on a white page is helpful for those with visual limitations, but dyslexia affects how people see color, so a black-on-white color scheme can cause words to blur together. People with dyslexia benefit from a more subtle contrast, such as dark gray on off-white or pale blue.
Designing a one-size-fits-all color scheme that works for people with differing abilities can be difficult. Often times brands can adjust their color palette to optimize content based on legibility and accessibility. However, when corporate branding guidelines prohibit major changes to their color scheme, tools can be implemented that allow users to select alternative text and background colors based on their needs.
This option solves accessibility for a multitude of disabilities, including dyslexia, poor visual acuity, and at times ADHD.
2. Decision Fatigue: A User-Centric Approach for ADHD
The inability to make decisions can render users paralyzed. Decision fatigue, or decision paralysis, is:
- When the fear of making an error outweighs the realistic expectation.
- The value of success in a decision is not able to be determined in a timely manner.
People with ADHD often face difficulties with indecisiveness, which can create a significant challenge, leading to a state of paralysis where they're unable to make any decisions. In most cases, they avoid decision-making because they lack a clear path to follow or are worried about repeating past mistakes.
Best practices suggest keeping content concise and providing one, prominent, clearly defined call-to-action on content cards to avoid decision fatigue. Additionally, making the results and disadvantages of a user’s action clear so they can understand the consequences of their actions will help them when considering how decision fatigue might affect them.
3. Less is More: A Minimalist Approach
Minimalist designs with plenty of white space provide a distraction-free experience for those with ADHD and certain visual limitations. Clear icons and static content also help people focus on and absorb important information.
Apple is a leader in this type of distraction-free design. Simple copy, recognizable icons, and lots of white space work both from an aesthetic perspective and an accessibility one.
Fonts are also a part of the “less is more” approach. Research shows that a 12- or 14-point San Serif typeface, no italics, and a maximum of 70 characters per line are optimal for those with dyslexia and ADHD.
4. Empowering User Control Through Intuitive & Consistent Navigation
“Findability” is essential for individuals with cognitive impairment. Intuitive navigation that's consistent across the site makes it easier for people to click through the site and find the information they're looking for. This goes beyond basics such as placing the menu bar in the same location on all pages to include robust sub-navigation and thoughtful use of breadcrumbs. Consistency provides a more intuitive experience and gives users more control over how they interact with the site.
Furthermore, simple navigation structures that don't rely on global search functionality and don't include multiple levels of utility have been proven to improve a user’s ability to focus on information without distraction. When considering users with attention and cognitive disorders, a simple, browsable navigation will allow them to find relevant information faster.
5. Timing Optimization for Inclusive Experiences
Timing is a critical factor influencing the user experience when individuals with varying abilities interact with your website. The initial and foremost principle in creating an accessible design is to eliminate time-related limitations, ensuring that users can engage with your content at their own pace. A clear illustration of this concept is timed form completion.
A more subtle example is animated, blinking, or moving content, which prevents access to those with ADHD, dyslexia, and literacy issues. WCAG addresses the need for pause, stop, and hide functionality so users can control their experience.
Incorporating a pause button for elements like carousels empowers users to control the pace at which they access content. This feature can also be applied to halt auto-playing videos, a source of significant distraction for individuals with ADHD. Ideally, content should refrain from automatic changes on the screen to provide a more user-friendly experience.
6. Beyond Plain Text: Alternative Formats for ADHD & Dyslexia
An often misunderstood aspect of accessibility for individuals with ADHD and dyslexia is the assumption that plain text is the ultimate solution for presenting information. Research points to a different reality. Many people with dyslexia, when given a choice, lean towards accessing content in audio formats or through engaging mediums like infographics.
While it's true that not all content suits audio or non-text formats, if you possess the means to provide diverse options for users to engage with your content it's a step worth taking.
7. Simplify UX: Crafting Intuitive Forms & Error Messages
If you’ve ever tried booking travel online or setting up an account online, you're probably no stranger to the frustration of dealing with non-intuitive form fields and cryptic error messages. Sometimes, errors are highlighted in glaring red, other times they're denoted with a mere tick mark, and sometimes deciphering what went wrong feels like a puzzling riddle.
But for people with cognitive disabilities, navigating this labyrinth of confusion can be a daunting task. What they truly need are clear, text-based error messages that pinpoint the issue and offer straightforward suggestions for rectifying it.
In the example below, Mailchimp gives clear, problem-specific error messages that explain what information is needed to validate the form:
The U.K. government website also excels in delivering clear messaging surrounding errors, giving detailed instructions to help the user find the missing information:
The Bottom Line for Delivering Inclusive Experiences
The ability to independently access the information on a website is a right, not a discretionary feature. Organizations bear the responsibility of eliminating design barriers that hinder individuals with cognitive disabilities from exercising their right to access. By not obliging to this fundamental practice, you're organization is missing out on engaging with a large part of the population.
For people with dyslexia and ADHD, these barriers can be boiled down into three essential needs:
- A Website that's User-Friendly and Understandable: Websites should be designed with simplicity and clarity in mind, ensuring that users can easily navigate and comprehend the content. Clear headings, logical navigation, and a straightforward layout are essential.
- The Ability to Access Content and Complete Tasks without Distractions: It's imperative to create an online environment that minimizes unnecessary distractions. This includes reducing excessive animations, auto-play videos, and pop-ups that can disrupt the user's focus.
- Support in Avoiding, Recognizing, and Correcting Mistakes: Incorporating features like spell-check, auto-suggestions, and easy error correction mechanisms can significantly assist individuals with cognitive disabilities.
Summary: Website Accessibility for Dyslexia & Designing for ADHD Users
Website accessibility for dyslexia and design for ADHD users are vital for an inclusive digital experience. Design improvements that cater to these needs not only empower individuals with cognitive disabilities but also enhance the overall user experience for everyone who visits your website.
Techniques, like including accessible color schemes and minimalist design for cognitive impairments, can enhance online experiences for individuals with cognitive impairments and serve as the foundation for creating inclusive websites. We've also covered the importance of user-centric approaches to combat decision fatigue, the benefits of intuitive and consistent navigation, the significance of timing optimization for inclusive experiences, and the value of offering alternative formats for ADHD and dyslexia. Additionally, we've emphasized the need for crafting intuitive forms and error messages to facilitate easy interaction for individuals with cognitive disabilities.
Is your website both user-friendly and free of distractions? Reach out to us and we can explore whether your site adheres to essential design and usability principles, implementing improvements to ensure a universally accessible user experience.