Accessibility Needs of Autistic Web Users

Digital Experience

United Nations has dedicated April 2nd  of every year as World Autism Awareness Day to highlight and bring awareness to the challenges faced by people falling in the Autism spectrum world over.

Covid 19 has added to the plight of a vast majority of adults with autism. Physical restrictions caused by the pandemic narrows down the reach of the differently-abled citizens to others and limits interactions to what is possible through the digital space.

Web search and websites  are some of the predominant way by which people find out about things. However many websites remain inaccessible to differently abled people especially people in the autistic spectrum. This is despite collective efforts to promote accessibility through Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provides a set of technical standards to address concerns of content comprehension, visibility, navigability, audio visual detection, and cross-platform sustainability.

Web accessibility checklist 
Image Source: Web Accessibility Checklist

Almost all web accessibility features are simple and easy to implement while being economical if implemented at the outset itself. But the main challenge regarding this is that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to address the various challenges faced by people with different special needs.

According to the “AASPIRE web accessibility guidelines for autistic web users” article published in the National Library of Medicine website, “Internet spaces made by and for autistic users may incorporate accessibility features naturally; however, there is little guidance for developers of websites, including those who may want to take advantage of some autistic people's affinity for the Internet, to develop resources for autistic adults. Clear guidelines, informed by autistic end users and developed through a systematic process, are needed.”

According to the article, some of the tips include

For intellectual accessibility:

  • Decreasing clutter by  Increasing the use of white space and avoiding the use of horizontal lines as separators 
  • Reducing scroll to make all navigation and key page elements visible in a browser window
  • Positioning similar elements in the same place on various pages, and add “breadcrumbs”
  • Reinforcing information architecture with icons

For social accessibility:

  • Increasing explicitness by using words on the home page to make it very clear what the site is about and why someone might use it

For physical accessibility:

  • Providing alternatives, including a theme with a dark background and a theme with a light background, for both the low- and high-contrast palettes.

Autism Speaks, a not-for-profit site on Drupal 9 is dedicated to advancing research into the causes and treatments for autism spectrum disorders and promoting solutions for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. Drupal, the Free and Open Source CMS follows the most widely adopted and internationally accepted World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA standards for site-building.

Drupal has resolved many problems in the API  faced in accessibility including color contrast, headings, hidden content, web forms, images & videos. There are a bunch of tools including WAVE Toolbar to help test Drupal sites for accessibility.  
Here is to making a better world for everyone, whether digitally or otherwise!


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