Increasing Online Accessibility

December 5, 2023

The problem

Have you ever walked into a room and forgotten why is it you entered? How about those moments when someone tells you something and not a single word registers in your brain?

These instances are frustrating and are all too common for stroke survivors. After stroke people often describe having poor concentration, increased forgetfulness or fuzzy thoughts. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as brain fog. Joan, a lady who suffered a stroke three years ago, has made a good physical recovery but still struggles with her cognition. She recalls recently getting on a bus, sitting down and during her journey, forgetting where she should get off.

Online navigation can be equally challenging, but it shouldn’t be because the variables can be controlled for. It is our job as developers to add clarity to a situation fraught with unforeseen challenges. Think of your user as being a contestant on The Cube struggling to navigate a course blindfolded with only one attempt remaining at the task, why not give them a lifeline?

The solution

Here are a few ‘lifelines’ you can offer to your users:

  • Using contrasting colours
  • Having text and elements that scale when text size is increased or the user zooms in on the page
  • Keeping text and messaging concise
  • Using white space effectively
  • Being able to navigate the site without a mouse
  • Making elements legible for a screenreader
  • Removing unnecessary banners and pop-ups

There is no better resource for optimising the design of your site or app than Material Design. This covers everything from colour palettes to Alt text for a screenreader. Using white space effectively is something that designers have an intuitive sense of but can be easily developed with a little bit of careful observation. When you’re browsing on the internet, make note of how information is presented, paying particular attention to the space between different elements. You’ll begin to notice that the absence of content is as important as the content itself. Even while writing this piece, I kept screening for waffle: could this be explained more concisely, would a picture or video be better than my rambling?

Our thoughts (on design and biscuits)

You’ll notice that our site doesn’t track cookies. We’re not interested in our user’s online activity, although we recognise its value, and the team aren’t all that keen on edible cookies either - give us a pack of digestives any day. Biscuits aside, stroke survivors consistently tell us how much friction incessant pop-ups introduce. I find them annoying but if your brain is having difficulty processing information then these could put an abrupt stop to your browsing experience. If you need to track cookies then a pop-up for consent is essential. In this case try to introduce the pop-up in a way that is unobtrusive.

Increasing accessibility will widen your potential audience, make everyone’s browsing experience better and could make a significant difference to someone who is struggling. In the pursuit of brevity, that’s about all I have to say on the matter.