The following stories of people with disabilities using the Web highlight the effect of accessibility barriers and the broader benefits of accessible websites and web tools.
Luis has Down syndrome and has difficulty with abstract concepts, reading, and math calculations.
Luis works at a market, bagging groceries for customers. Typically he buys his groceries at the same market where he works, but he is sometimes confused by the large number of product choices and sometimes has problems finding his favorite items when the store layout is changed.
Recently, a friend showed him an app for online grocery purchases that has consistent, easy-to-use navigation with clear and direct instructions. Luis is able to add the list of his most frequently purchased items into the app and save it for additional purchases. He also likes the search functionality that makes suggestions for mistyped or misspelled words. The app also keeps a running total of the items in his virtual shopping cart which helps him keep up with how much he is spending.
His friend also showed him several accessibility features in his mobile phone that he finds very helpful including word prediction which provides a selection of possible word choices based on the first characters he enters and the text-to-speech functionality which allows him to listen to reviews posted by other users on the grocery app. With the use of these tools, Luis has begun posting his own reviews of items he has purchased.
Luis now uses the shopping app a couple of times a month for frequently purchased items and buys a few fresh items regularly from the store where he works.
Kaseem is a teenager who is deaf and recently became legally blind too, which means she can see only small portions of a screen and read text when it is significantly enlarged.
Kaseem’s portable electronic Braille notetaker includes a calendar, e-mail, web browsing, and note-taking functionality. Her mobile device includes GPS which helps her orient herself and navigate around the city.
Kaseem uses the public transportation online site to plan her trips and view bus schedules, but encounters problems when she enlarges the text and it does not reflow or wrap properly, making the maps very difficult to use. She has a better experience viewing the train schedules that are properly marked up and allow text reflow.
Kaseem found the web team contact information listed at the public transportation website and sent a message to the team informing them of the problems she encountered using their site. She also sent them the link to the train website and described how that site works better for her.
She recently received an email message thanking her for her information and informing her that the public transportation web team plans to implement accessibility improvements in the launch of their new website.
Yun is an 85 year-old with reduced vision, hand-tremor, and mild memory loss; common age-related impairments for someone his age. Yun regularly browses the web reading news sites. In recent years he also started using social media to stay in touch with his family and friends. He maintains his own blog where he posts articles on art history and other topics he enjoys.
Like many older individuals, Yun has difficulty reading small text and clicking on small links and form elements. His daughter showed him how to enlarge text in the web browser, which works well on many websites. He encounters problems when text does not reflow when it is enlarged and he is forced to scroll back and forth to read the enlarged content, which means he easily loses track of his place.
He also has problems with CAPTCHA images found on many social media sites. The text is so distorted, even when he enlarges it, that he often cannot accurately enter the text. He has a better experience on sites that use alternative CAPTCHA options, unfortunately only a small number currently do.
Yun’s daughter gave him a special mouse that is easier to control with his hand tremors. He also uses a web browser that saves thumbnail images of his frequently visited sites, which makes it easier for him to keep track of the sites he goes to most often.
Preety is a middle school student with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder with dyslexia. Although she has substantial difficulty reading, she particularly enjoys her literature class.
Preety’s school recently started using online digital textbooks. Preety was initially worried about using this new format, but with the use of text-to-speech software that highlights the text on the screen as it reads it aloud, she has found that she can focus on the content more easily instead of struggling over every word. The text-to-speech software is also helpful with other online text; however, Preety’s experience with websites varies greatly from one site to another.
Some sites use graphics and illustrations in a way that helps her to focus on the sections and content that she would like to read, while other sites have a lot of advertisements and moving content that is very distracting. She also experiences problems with online content when the navigation is not clearly evident. She finds websites and apps that provide multiple means of navigation such as a navigation bar, search box, bread-crumb trails, and a sitemap to be much easier to use.
Preety’s school is also using a new online library catalog with improved accessibility. Before the new catalog was implemented Preety had to physically visit the library to receive assistance in searching and locating material. Now she can search the catalog on her own using her mobile phone, tablet, or laptop. Preety still struggles with spelling but has found that search functionality that suggest alternative spellings and provide error corrections are very helpful and greatly improve her experience.
Ilya is blind. She is the chief accountant at an insurance company that uses web-based documents and forms over a corporate intranet and like many other blind computer users, she does not read Braille.
Ilya uses a screen reader and mobile phone to access the web. Both her screen reader and her mobile phone accessibility features provide her with information regarding the device’s operating system, applications, and text content in a speech output form.
When accessing web content, the screen reader indicates aloud the structural information on a webpage such as headings, column and row headers in tables, list items, links, form controls, and more that enable her to better navigate the page, complete and submit forms, and access information in an effective manner. She is able to listen to and understand speech output at a very high speed. Ilya encounters problems when websites are not properly coded and do not include alt text descriptions on images.
These sites are unnavigable and require large amounts of time to read text from the top of the page to the bottom without navigation cues. Occasionally she finds herself trapped in areas on a webpage unable to move to another area and must abandon the page altogether.
As a senior member of her organization, Ilya provides training to employees in online environments through the use of video conferencing applications, document and slide sharing applications as well as chat rooms. Ilya and her staff evaluated a number of training tools before finding an effective application with accessibility features that meet the needs of a diverse staff with diverse abilities.
Martine is 62 years old and has been hard of hearing since birth. She can hear some sounds, but not enough to understand speech. As a child she learned sign language and during her early school years learned written language. She is currently a student again, taking online college courses.
The university she attends provides sign language interpreters and Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) writers who provide written verbatim text interpreting of spoken language for her courses. However, Martine has encountered barriers when video and other media content are not captioned.
The university became aware of the need and requirement to provide captioned media and transcripts for audio content and is now working with a captioning provider to caption all content posted on university websites, including all course content in learning management systems. In addition to providing access to the content for students who are deaf or hard of hearing, the university has found that the use of captions and transcripts has added benefits.
Transcripts facilitate easier production of subtitles in a number of languages and also improve the indexing of online content. Improved indexing provides improved search engine optimization and improved discoverability of the university’s online content.
The university follows WCAG guidelines in providing the captioned content.
Alex has worked as a reporter for more than 20 years and has developed a repetitive strain injury that makes it painful to use a mouse and to type for extended periods of time.
Though it took considerable research, time, and commitment to learn, he is able to work with less pain using the following modifications to his work environment:
Alex encounters problems when websites and other online content cannot be navigated by keyboard commands alone. He frequently encounters web forms that do not have keyboard equivalents. Sometimes it is also difficult to skip content and navigate to sections on a webpage without using many keyboard commands, which is very tiring and limits the time he can spend working comfortably.
He also recently began to explore the use of assistive touch on his mobile phone which also helps him use fewer gestures and work for longer periods of time.
As a temporary fix, Alex’s employer has built several custom work arounds that provide keyboard support for his use of the company’s internal Content Management System with the intention to implement improved keyboard support to benefit all users on the next release of the software.
Lee is colorblind and encounters barriers when shopping online. He has one of the most common visual disabilities that affect men: red and green color blindness. Lee frequently shops online and sometimes encounters problems on websites and with apps where the color contrast of text and images is not adequate and where color alone is used to indicate required fields and sale prices. When red and green color combinations are used, Lee cannot distinguish between the two, since both look brown to him. It is also very difficult for him to make product choices when color swatches are not labeled with the name of the color.
Lee has better experiences with online content and apps that use adequate contrast and allow him to adjust contrast settings in his browser. He is also better able to recognize when information is required when asterisks are used. Lee can more easily identify the products he would like to purchase, especially clothing, when the color label names are included in the selection options rather than color swatches alone.