Accessibility Issues for Learning Disabilities

March 3, 2006

Topics: Accessibility, Web Development, Web standards.

My last post discussed accessibility as it relates to devices. The most common understanding of accessibility relates to visual disabilities. But learning disabilities are also an important aspect to making a website accessible. Learning disabilities are also the most difficult aspect of accessible planning.

Determining how to make your site accessible to an individual with a high function disability such as dyslexia or Asperger syndrome can be challenging – and making it accessible to individuals with more severe disabilities such as severe autism or other pervasive developmental disorders can be a serious problem.

Use Plain Language

To a degree, with major developmental disorders, I feel that you can take into consideration the likelihood that the information on your site will be needed by these individuals. Also, you can consider that many people with severe developmental disorders will have assistance in acquiring the information you need. However, for high-function autism or dyslexia, you must assume that your page may be useful to these individuals!

If you’re writing about particle physics, the basic knowledge and understanding required to gain from the article is quite high, and you don’t need to write it at a 4th grade level if the targeted audience is expected to have doctorates. However, you still need to use plain language when it is appropriate – use of idiomatic speech can be confusing to people on the autism spectrum or speakers of your language as a second language.

Use Supporting Graphics

One method to assist the learning disabled is the incorporation of graphic icons which clearly indicate important activities. Dyslexics may find text confusing, and may process graphical information more quickly. The graphic icons should be clear and consistent to add the best assistance. Avoid flashing text, animation, or variations in font faces. Visit Dyslexia.com for some further tips on designing for dyslexics.

Graphics can’t be the only resource you provide, however. Any graphic element you include should be considered a secondary marker for text, not a substitute.

The issues with autism and web design are related to your real content, not an abstract idea of content. Your audience, your terminology, and your topics. When you’re writing, you need to be considering the appropriateness of your writing to your audience.

In general, the difficulty an individual with autism will have is in interpreting human interaction. For a website, this means being careful to construct your text in a logical, consistent manner. Avoid idiomatic speech or other language constructions which do not convey a literal meaning, since these may simply be confusing.

It is not possible to construct a web site, or any other information resource, which will be ideal for everybody. With any site design, your first consideration must be your primary group of users – however, all websites should also consider the needs of anybody who will visit their site. You have no justification for assuming that your own needs will answer for all your visitors.

6 Comments to “Accessibility Issues for Learning Disabilities”

  1. Designing a website with accessibility in mind is very hard. But it would be great if there was a web browser where the end user can determine the look and feel of a particular site by setting the font and placement of images, without breaking up the flow.

    The iPad is a step in the right direction, but there need to be many more apps that are actually useful for people with disabilities.

  2. I most certainly did not say that designing a web site with disabled people in mind is not feasible. I said that it wasn’t possible to create a web site which was “ideal for everybody.” That is a far, far greater challenge than creating a web site which takes disabilities into account.

    Designing web sites with accessibility has many challenges — but the problem of impossibility only arises in creating a resource which attempts to compensate for all disabilities.

  3. I think it is a noble idea that we design websites with disabled people in mind, but much like your post said it really just isn’t feasible. How many disabled friendly websites do we see online? There really isn’t many, which is a pity. It just isn’t limited to the internet though. They usually get the raw end of stick in all aspects of society.

  4. It is a great challenge in creating a web site for special people. You need to consider everything on your site, specially the content. However, it would be good if you design the page as you want and just create a link or an icon that someone can click on if they have accessibility issues. In that way, you don’t need to sacrifice your design and will also have special access to those who need it.

  5. Great article, i think adding that blog assisstant which reads out important text on the page can be pretty useful for those people who have weak eye-sight or loss of vision!

  6. Thankyou for a great post – this was very useful and something that a lot of people should really think about more often !
    cheers !