Digital Accessibility and Autism

Autism includes a whole range of symptoms and characteristics, so that only a few general statements can be made.

In general, autistic persons seem to have two symptoms in common:

  • Autistic persons need routine and regularity.
  • Autistic persons react more strongly to sensory stimuli than non-autistic persons.

Let's try to apply the whole thing to the world wide web.

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social interaction

Social interaction should be easier for autistic persons on the internet than in face-to-face contact. You can take a lot of time to formulate an email or a forum post. Except for chats or instant messaging, hardly anyone expects true real-time communication - not even on Twitter. In this respect, the possibility of contacting us by e-mail or contact form is a significant relief. There are still plenty of facilities without a website - ergo without a digital contact option that can be found: Medical practices, therapists, hairdressers...

Unfortunately, Germany is still in the year 2000 when it comes to completing administrative tasks via the Internet. A reasonable and accessible designed e-government offer would not only be a huge relief for all groups of disabled persons.

Websites are relatively stable, some pages probably haven't been significantly remodeled in ten years. But it should not only be a relief for autistic persons if websites are gradually redesigned and not in a tabula rasa relaunch. I'm a proponent of incremental optimization. A relaunch will certainly make many things different and some things better, while others will become worse. A fresh design does not necessarily mean an improvement in functionality.

The consistency of websites should now be taken for granted. We don't change the structure of a website within a website, sometimes hide a column, leave out the banner here and show images all over the place. Element designations should also be consistent. That is, we name the same things the same and different things differently. Sounds banal, but is rarely done.

Let's assume that we should avoid all elements that can trigger strong sensory stimuli. This can include the use of strong and bright colors, pink, orange, yellow. That can be difficult, because the websites are usually designed according to the company colors and one does not do without the corporate design lightly. However, we have the ability to override colors via a user style sheet or browser settings, as do the visually impaired. This means that in the end we refrain from using many graphics and especially images with such garish colors. Otherwise, the website should be adaptable to individual needs.

A serious problem are advertising banners. As an eye-catcher, they are almost always designed to be conspicuous. Since the banners are exchanged regularly, there is no continuity. Flickering GIF or Flash animations are still one of the most distracting elements on a website. The solution here is very simple: throw it away if it has no use and is only used as a decorative element in advertising. And above all, get rid of it when they keep fidgeting endlessly. It's no problem to set a Flash animation to stop playing the animation after the third run. And if you haven't noticed them after three times, you won't do it the 10th time either.

Video or audio files that start when the page is called up are also a bad idea. This is to be expected on YouTube, all other sites should only start the video or audio if the user wants it to start.

language and text design

For the linguistic design of texts, satire and metaphors should be avoided. In any case, very few persons understand them in the intended way.

The texts should also be designed to be distraction-free. Do not use special formatting such as bold, italics or capital letters. Organize the text neatly with subheadings and a logical structure. The images should underline the content, there should be no links or decorative elements within the continuous text. They distract from the content with underlining or color. Text should also not be emphasized by changing color.

multiple disabilities

The range of abilities of autistic persons seems to vary greatly. For example, autism can be associated with motor disorders or a learning disability.

Multiple disabilities are a particular challenge for accessibility. However, the needs have largely been clarified. persons with learning difficulties need texts in simple language and a clear, simple page structure. Persons with motor disabilities want keyboard usability and large click areas. These are the hard criteria of accessibility, as they have been known for years.

Accessibility in do-it-yourself

Websites for mobile devices can also be of interest to many persons with disabilities. Alternative versions for special target groups are rightly frowned upon. But mobile sites cater to everyone. They have the great advantage that they reduce the functions to the essentials, gimmicks with JavaScript and Flash are largely dispensed with and advertising is only marginal.

While special versions of websites for the disabled are frowned upon, that doesn't mean we can't make our own versions. For example, a modified Firefox would be conceivable for persons with learning disabilities. The version might have Flash and AdBlocker pre-installed. While JavaScript is often problematic, many sites no longer function adequately, and gradually removing the scripts may often be too tedious, even for able-bodied users. There are also extensions that highlight the content area and hide the rest. This allows for distraction-free reading. We can also easily access the browser's print preview if a reasonable print style sheet has been deposited. This allows for trouble-free reading.

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