Infinite scrolling, or perpetual scrolling, is a website design feature that loads content as an endless single page. Infinite scrolling saves users from moving between multiple distinct pages (pagination), and it's sometimes considered good for browsing when users are in the mindset to explore. It can also present a visually appealing design.
A page built for endless scrolling continuously draws on a database as a visitor moves down the page. Social networks often use this design, which works well for a site built with a flat hierarchy. For some users who wish to simply consume information, infinite scrolling is can be perfect.
But this endless page presents accessibility challenges. There are a number of issues with user experience for many people, but its impact on individuals who use assistive technology can be especially problematic.
Impact on website accessibility
Navigation and search options become limited after users begin scrolling, especially when using assistive technology. That’s because these navigational tools are usually kept "above the fold," or the portion of the page that’s visible upon arrival. When content is continuously loaded, visually impaired users who rely on screen readers and keyboard commands have a difficult time navigating the screen and searching for specific content.
For example, the "back" button that used to take users to a previous screen no longer functions appropriately, making it impossible for a screen reader to locate previously accessed content.
Infinite scrolling also presents several difficulties for physically disabled users:
- Inability to quickly navigate page content: Sites with news feeds that provide infinite scrolling might be filled with additional links, forcing users to navigate through the active elements for each feed, making efficient navigation a challenge.
- Difficulty locating content: Screen readers might not render content that moves off the screen as the user scrolls down, so screen-reader users might have difficulty locating content using their reader’s search features or navigation keystrokes.
- Inability to get to the end of page: As continuous content is fed to the user, assistive equipment users face a challenge of getting to the bottom of a page. For instance, the CTRL+End keyboard command will not function properly in most cases.
- Inability to access footer content: Because getting to the end of a page becomes challenging, assistive technology users have difficulty identifying and navigating to the footer.
Options for improving accessibility?
One option is to limit automatic infinite scrolling with a "load more results" type of button or a link that explicitly invites the user to add more content. That action can then be read by a screen reader or responded to with a keyboard command.
In the end, a website designed for pagination is often the best choice. The navigation and search functionality available makes it much easier for all web users to experience the page content.