Accessibility Users And The User Interface

Understanding Your Users

Note for screen reader users: After pressing Enter key on the Show element, you may have to update the screen reader buffer (JAWS Insert+Escape) to read the expanded content.

User Diversity

How do people who cannot move their arms use your website? What about people who cannot see well or at all? Or people who have difficulty hearing or understanding, or have other accessibility needs? Each individual is unique. People have diverse abilities, skills, tools, preferences, and expectations that can impact how they use the Web. "Disability is part of the human condition," says WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan. "Almost every one of us will be permanently or temporarily disabled at some point in life. We must do more to break the barriers which segregate people with disabilities, in many cases forcing them to the margins of society." WHO and the World Bank world report shows more than 1 billion people with disabilities face substantial barriers in their daily lives, June 9, 2011

There are many reasons why people may be experiencing varying degrees of auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech, and visual disabilities. For instance, some may have disabilities from birth, an illness, disease, or accident, or they may develop impairments with age. Some may not consider themselves to have disabilities even if they do experience such functional limitations. As of April 2012, 53% of American adults ages 65 and older use the internet or email. Pew Research Center Report, Internet adoption and Older Adults And Internet Use BY KATHRYN ZICKUHR AND MARY MADDEN, JUNE 6, 2012

Accessibility solutions benefit people with and without disabilities and are becoming increasingly available in standard computer hardware, mobile devices, operating systems, web browsers, and other tools. People with disabilities access and navigate the Web in different ways, depending on their individual needs and preferences. Sometimes people configure standard software and hardware according to their needs, and sometimes people use specialized software or hardware that help them perform certain tasks.

International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) is the WHO framework for measuring health and disability at both individual and population levels. ICF was officially endorsed by all 191 World Health Organization (WHO) Member States in the Fifty-fourth World Health Assembly on 22 May 2001 (resolution WHA 54.21) as the international standard to describe and measure health and disability.
Website accessibility: disability statistics, Mark Rogers, October 1, 2015


  1. Vision - Low-Vision, Blindness, Deaf-Blind, Colour-blindness
    Visual disabilities range from mild or moderate vision impairments in one or both eyes (low vision or partial sight), to substantial and uncorrectable loss of vision in both eyes (blindness). Some people have reduced or lack of sensitivity to certain colours (colour blindness), or increased sensitivity towards excessive brightness in colours. These variations in perception of colours and brightness can be independent of the visual acuity. It is estimated that about 8 percent of the male population, and about 1 percent of females, experience colour blindness.
    Designing For (and With) Color Blindness
    What Is It Like to Have Low Vision? A New Sight Simulator Can Help You Understand, Maureen Duffy, March 13, 2017
    How Does a Blind Person Use a Computer or Smartphone Anyway, Thoughts from David Goldfield
    How does a deaf-blind person send a text message using a braille display and an iPhone - Jerry Berrier demonstration, iCanConnect Tech Minutes.

  2. Hearing - Deafness and Hard-of-hearing
    Auditory disabilities range from mild or moderate hearing impairments in one or both ears (hard of hearing), to substantial and uncorrectable impairment of hearing in both ears (deafness). Some people with auditory disabilities can hear sounds but sometimes not sufficiently to understand all speech, especially when there is background noise. This includes people using hearing aids or other approaches to improve the sound. Hearing loss increases with aging.

  3. Motor - Limited fine motor control
    Physical disabilities (sometimes called motor disabilities) include weakness, limitations of muscular control (such as involuntary movements including tremors, lack of coordination, or paralysis), limitations of sensation, joint problems (such as arthritis), pain that impedes movement, or missing limbs.

  4. Cognitive - Learning disabilities, Distractibility
    Cognitive and neurological disabilities involve disorders of any part of the nervous system, including the brain and the peripheral nervous system. This can impact how well people hear, move, see, speak, understand information, and inability to remember or focus on large amounts of information. Cognitive and neurological disabilities do not necessarily affect the intelligence of a person.

  5. Speech - Verbal information
    Speech disabilities include difficulty producing speech that is recognizable by others or by voice recognition software. For instance, the loudness or clarity of someone's voice might be difficult to understand.

  6. Medical - Invisible disabilities, aging, and Temporary
    Age related or temporary disabilities will effect everyone at some point in their life. When driving you need hands free devices. When in a noisy environment you need text and images.
    Read stories on how people with disabilities use the web

Interface Diversity

The Market for Accessible Technology A Research Report Commissioned by Microsoft Corporation and Conducted by Forrester Research, Inc., in 2003. People use different approaches to enter text and activate commands. For instance, some people do not use a mouse, keyboard, or both, while others use specific configurations for keyboard and mouse, or use alternative hardware or software altogether.

The potential of adaptive interfaces as an accessibility aid for older web users (Loughborough University Institutional Repository) This paper discusses the difficulties in matching people with less severe, but multiple, impairments with the most appropriate accessibility features at a given time, and explores the role of automated or semi-automated adaptations as a solution for this problem. Supporting effective and enjoyable Web usage by people with sensory, motor and cognitive impairments requires more than just accessible Web content. There is an additional task of matching people with an accessibility solution that best accommodates their particular needs - which, especially for older Web users, may fluctuate in severity, number and combination. Lack of awareness of one's own accessibility needs and the solutions that may exist to accommodate them may lead to a reduced quality Web browsing experience or even abandonment. This paper also considers the potential ethical issues of automated and semi-automated accessibility adaptations on the wellbeing of older Web users, and how these might best be managed in a suitably sensitive way.

Towards ubiquitous accessibility, capability-based profiles and adaptations, delivered via the semantic (Loughborough University Institutional Repository) The continuing proliferation of mobile devices, content and applications presents barriers to the mainstreaming of Assistive Technologies (ATs), despite their potential utility for users in demanding situations or with minor-to-moderate impairments. This paper proposes that user profiling based on human rather than machine-oriented capabilities, coupled with a shift from conspicuous ATs to considering a broader range of adaptations presents opportunities for platform and AT vendors to support many more users. However there has not been a standard, consistent and, most importantly, straightforward way to deliver these benefits. This delivery gap can be bridged by using the semantic web and related technologies, so the potential benefits of the capability-based approach may be realized. Read about web usage diversity in How People with disabilities access and navigate the Web, and How websites that are designed for people with disabilities benefit everyone.

Some Common Approaches For Interacting With The Web:

  1. Assistive Technologies
    Software or hardware that people with disabilities use to improve interaction with the web. These include screen readers that read aloud web pages for people who cannot read text, and screen magnifiers for people with some types of low vision. Voice recognition software and selection switches for people who cannot use a keyboard or mouse. View the YouTube user experience video Accessibility Matters: Technologies at Goldman Sachs.

  2. Adaptive Strategies
    Techniques that people with disabilities use to improve interaction with the web, such as increasing text size, reducing mouse speed, or turning on captions. Adaptive strategies include techniques with standard software, mainstream browsers, or with assistive technologies.
    Video demonstration of Screen Magnification and Reflow in Acrobat Reader
    Making technology easier to see, hear and use! Microsoft Accessibility Blog, August 9, 2016

  3. Keyboard only
    By people with cognitive, physical, and visual disabilities.

  4. Touch screen only
    By people with cognitive and physical disabilities. Video demonstration of On-Screen Keyboard Demo

  5. Mouse and keyboard
    With software that compensates for hand tremor.

  6. Voice recognition
    Speech input and other hands-free interaction.
    Video demonstration of Dragon NaturallySpeaking in browsing the web
    Video demonstration in using Microsoft Word with Dragon NaturallySpeaking

User Simulations


Using The JAWS Screen Reader

Web Page Navigation:

Making accessible documents ensures that they are usable by the widest range of users, but also ensures your document is easier to edit and navigate. For example, many people with visual disabilities use screen readers which read aloud information on the screen such as text or image descriptions provided through alternative text (Alt Text). If you plan, format, and structure your document correctly in the beginning, it will ensure the file is not only accessible but can also be converted into a variety of different alternate formats (E.G. PDF or HTML) while retaining its accessibility features.

JAWS presents Web pages using the JAWS Virtual Cursor. This allows users to read and navigate a Web page as though it were a text document. Users press the ARROW keys to read line by line, word by word, character by character, and so on. JAWS also provides Navigation Quick Keys, which are alpha-numeric keys that move the Virtual Cursor to features of the page such as links, headings, and form controls. In addition, users can press the TAB key to move between focusable elements on the page. Using the ARROW keys or Navigation Quick Keys to change the position of the Virtual Cursor does not change the actual focus point in the application. This means that even if JAWS reads the text of a given link on a Web page for example, that link doesn't necessarily have the keyboard focus. Conversely, pressing the TAB or SHIFT+TAB key to navigate moves the focus point and the Virtual Cursor follows the focus. Learn more about screen readers and speech synthesis: WebAIM Screen Reader User Survey, and Lucy Hawking Speaking On The Origin Of Synthesized Speech (BBC podcast).

JAWS Navigation Keys:

The JAWS Navigation quick keys make it faster and easier to move around on a Web page and anywhere else the Virtual Cursor is active. These commands are all assigned to keys on the main part of the keyboard and are easy to remember and use. A web page well structured with the HTML tags, make it possible for JAWS user to quickly navigate the page and gain an understanding of the page content. For more information view the screen reader resources:
learn more about JAWS keystrokes (Freedom Scientific Support),
Accessibility and Usability Information - Freedom Scientific Training,
Basic screen reader commands for accessibility testing: Jaws, Narrator, NVDA, VoiceOver (Leonie Watson, The Paciello Group).