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Accessibility.Blog

How Web Accessibility Affects People with Autism

April 2, 2018 1:24:00 PM EDT

Monday, April 2, is World Autism Awareness Day 2018. For the 11th straight year, people across the globe will be shining a light on the hurdles faced by people with autism and their loved ones on a daily basis. Autism, more accurately described as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), describes a range of conditions that affect how people relate to their environments, including challenges with social interactions, communication skills, and repetitive behaviors.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that one in 68 children in the U.S. has been diagnosed with ASD, representing a major rise from even a few years ago. As ASD diagnoses become more common, it’s increasingly important to consider how people with autism use the internet and how web developers and organizations can make their websites more accessible to people with autism.

The Importance of Web Accessibility for People with Autism

When you consider the phrase “web accessibility,” you might only think of assistive technologies for people with visual and hearing disabilities, such as screen readers and closed captioning. However, web accessibility is no less important for people with cognitive disabilities, such as autism.

People with Autism often have behaviors, communication patterns, and desires that are different from people who are not on the autism spectrum. For example, many people with autism have heightened sensory awareness and can be distracted by web pages that are too cluttered with elements. People with autism also tend to prefer consistency and dependability, including web pages with a predictable layout and navigation.

Autism and WCAG 2.0

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 are the most popular standard for web accessibility, and have been cited by the U.S. Department of Justice as an acceptable metric for compliance  with the Americans with Disabilities Act. WCAG 2.0 contains several guidelines to help people with four different classes of disabilities: vision, hearing, motor, and cognitive.

People on the autism spectrum have a wide range of conditions, and many of them can face difficulties with cognition when using the internet. Some of the most relevant WCAG 2.0 recommendations for people with autism are:

  • Navigation and layout should be consistent across the entire site. Performing the same or similar actions on similar user interface elements should produce similar results.
  • The site should still be usable at larger text sizes and should still function with images and styles disabled. However, images, icons, and graphics that help with comprehension can be included.
  • Clutter and distractions should be minimized. Style and white space should separate content and direct the user’s attention as appropriate.
  • The text should be as simple as possible, while providing definitions for any non-standard terms, such as idioms, jargon, and abbreviations and acronyms. Correct grammar and spelling are important.
  • Users should have as much control as possible over the site’s behavior. Avoid time limits on content or automatic refreshes whenever possible. Provide clear instructions and error messages when filling out forms.

Conclusion

BoIA fully supports World Autism Awareness Day, which marks the beginning of World Autism Month, each April. To learn more about how you can help raise funds or participate in an event, visit the World Autism Month website. For more information about web accessibility for people with autism and other disabilities, follow the BoIA blog for all of our latest news and updates.

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