How People with Disabilities
Use the Web
Due to WAI of W3C.ORG
Scenarios of People with
Disabilities Using the Web
• Please note that the scenarios do not represent actual individuals,
but rather individuals engaging in activities that are possible using
today's Web technologies and assistive technologies.
• The reader should not assume that everyone with a similar disability
to those portrayed will use the same assistive technologies or have
the same level of expertise in using those technologies.
• In some cases, browsers, media players, or assistive technologies
with specific features supporting accessibility may not yet be
available in an individual's primary language.
• Disability terminology varies from one country to another, as do
educational and employment opportunities.
• online shopper with color blindness (user control of style sheets)
• reporter with repetitive stress injury (keyboard equivalents for mouse-driven
• online student who is deaf (captioned audio portions of multimedia files)
• accountant with blindness (appropriate markup of tables, alternative text,
abbreviations, and acronyms; synchronization of visual, speech, and braille
• classroom student with dyslexia (use of supplemental graphics; freezing
animated graphics; multiple search options)
• retiree with aging-related conditions, managing personal finances
(magnification; stopping scrolling text; avoiding pop-up windows)
• supermarket assistant with cognitive disability (clear and simple language;
consistent design; consistent navigation options; multiple search options)
• teenager with deaf-blindness, seeking entertainment (user control of style
sheets; accessible multimedia; device-independent access; labelled frames;
appropriate table markup)
Online shopper with color
• Mr. Lee wants to buy some new clothes,
appliances, and music.
• As he frequently does, he is spending an
evening shopping online.
• He has one of the most common visual
disabilities for men: color blindness, which
in his case means an inability to
distinguish between green and red.
Mr Lee Again
• He has difficulty reading the text on many Web sites.
When he first starting using the Web, it seemed to him
the text and images on a lot of sites used poor color
contrast, since they appeared to use similar shades of
• He realized that many sites were using colors that were
indistinguishable to him because of his red/green color
• In some cases the site instructions explained that
discounted prices were indicated by red text, but all of
the text looked brown to him. In other cases, the required
fields on forms were indicated by red text, but again he
could not tell which fields had red text.
Mr Lee Continued
• Mr. Lee found that he prefered sites that used sufficient color
contrast, and redundant information for color. The sites did this by
including names of the colors of clothing as well as showing a
sample of the color; and by placing an asterix (*) in front of the
required fields in addition to indicated them by color.
• After additional experimentation, Mr. Lee discovered that on most
newer sites the colors were controlled by style sheets and that he
could turn these style sheets off with his browser or override them
with his own style sheets. But on sites that did not use style sheets
he couldn't override the colors.
• Eventually Mr. Lee bookmarked a series of online shopping sites
where he could get reliable information on product colors, and not
have to guess at which items were discounted.
Reporter with repetitive stress
• Mr. Jones is a reporter who must submit
his articles in HTML for publishing in an
• Over his twenty-year career, he has
developed repetitive stress injury (RSI) in
his hands and arms, and it has become
painful for him to type.
• He uses a combination of speech recognition
and an alternative keyboard to prepare his
articles, but he doesn't use a mouse.
• It took him several months to become sufficiently
accustomed to using speech recognition to be
comfortable working for many hours at a time.
There are some things he has not worked out
yet, such as a sound card conflict that arises
whenever he tries to use speech recognition on
Web sites that have streaming audio.
More Mr Jones
• He has not been able to use the same Web
authoring software as his colleagues, because
the application that his office chose for a
standard is missing many of the keyboard
equivalents that he needs in place of mouse-
• To activate commands that do not have
keyboard equivalents, he would have to use a
mouse instead of speech recognition or typing,
and this would re-damage his hands at this time.
More Mr Jones
• He researched some of the newer
versions of authoring tools and selected
one with full keyboard support.
• Within a month, he discovered that several
of his colleagues have switched to the new
product as well, after they found that the
full keyboard support was easier on their
• When browsing other Web sites to
research some of his articles, Mr. Jones
likes the access key feature that is
implemented on some Web pages.
• It enables him to shortcut a long list of
links that he would ordinarily have to tab
through by voice, and instead go straight
to the link he wants.
Online student who is deaf
• Ms. Martinez is taking several distance
learning courses in physics.
• She is deaf. She had little trouble with the
curriculum until the university upgraded
their on-line courseware to a multimedia
approach, using an extensive collection of
• For classroom-based lectures the university provided
interpreters; however for Web-based instruction they
initially did not realize that accessibility was an issue,
then said they had no idea how to provide the material in
• She was able to point out that the University was clearly
covered by a policy requiring accessibility of online
instructional material, and then to point to the Web
Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 as a resource
providing guidance on how to make Web sites, including
those with multimedia, accessible.
• The University had the lectures transcribed and
made this information available through their
Web site along with audio versions of the
• For an introductory multimedia piece, the
university used a SMIL-based multimedia format
enabling synchronized captioning of audio and
description of video. The school's information
managers quickly found that it was much easier
to comprehensively index the audio resources
on the accessible area of the Web site, once
these resources were captioned with text.
• The professor for the course also set up a chat
area on the Web site where students could
exchange ideas about their coursework.
• Although she was the only deaf student in the
class and only one other student knew any sign
language, she quickly found that the Web-based
chat format, and the opportunity to provide Web-
based text comments on classmates' work,
ensured that she could keep up with class
Accountant with blindness
• Ms. Laitinen is an accountant at an
insurance company that uses Web-based
formats over a corporate intranet. She is
blind. She uses a screen reader to
interpret what is displayed on the screen
and generate a combination of speech
output and refreshable braille output.
• She uses the speech output, combined with
tabbing through the navigation links on a page,
for rapid scanning of a document, and has
become accustomed to listening to speech
output at a speed that her co-workers cannot
understand at all.
• She uses refreshable braille output to check the
exact wording of text, since braille enables her to
read the language on a page more precisely.
• Much of the information on the Web documents used at
her company is in tables, which can sometimes be
difficult for non-visual users to read. However, since the
tables on this company's documents are marked up
clearly with column and row headers which her screen
reader can access, she easily orients herself to the
information in the tables.
• Her screen reader reads her the alternative text for any
images on the site. Since the insurance codes she must
frequently reference include a number of abbreviations
and acronyms, she finds the expansions of abbreviations
and acronyms the first time they appear on a page
allows her to better catch the meaning of the short
versions of these terms.
• As one of the more senior members of the
accounting staff, Ms. Laitenen must frequently
help newer employees with their questions.
• She has recently upgraded to a browser that
allows better synchronization of the screen
display with audio and braille rendering of that
• This enables her to better help her colleagues,
since the screen shows her colleagues the same
part of the document that she is reading with
speech or braille output.
Classroom student with dyslexia
• Ms. Olsen attends middle school, and
particularly likes her literature class. She
has attention deficit disorder with dyslexia,
and the combination leads to substantial
difficulty reading. However with recent
accommodations to the curriculum she
has become enthusiastic about this class.
• Her school recently started to use more online
curricula to supplement class textbooks.
• She was initially worried about reading load,
since she reads slowly.
• But recently she tried text to speech software,
and found that she was able to read along
visually with the text much more easily when she
could hear certain sections of it read to her with
the speech synthesis, instead of struggling over
• Her classes recent area of focus is Hans
Christian Andersen's writings, and she has to do
some research about the author.
• When she goes onto the Web, she finds that
some sites are much easier for her to use than
• Some of the pages have a lot of graphics, and
those help her focus in quickly on sections she
wants to read. In some cases, though, where the
graphics are animated, it is very hard for her to
focus, and so it helps to be able to freeze the
• One of the most important things for her has
been the level of accessibility of the Web-based
online library catalogues and the general search
functions on the Web.
• Sometimes the search options are confusing for
• Her teacher has taught a number of different
search strategies, and she finds that some sites
provide options for a variety of searching
strategies and she can more easily select
searching options that work well for her.
Retiree with several aging-related
conditions, managing personal finances
• Mr. Yunus uses the Web to manage some of his
household services and finances. He has some
central-field vision loss, hand tremor, and a little
short-term memory loss.
• He uses a screen magnifier to help with his
vision and his hand tremor; when the icons and
links on Web pages are bigger, it's easier for him
to select them, and so he finds it easier to use
pages with style sheets.
• When he first started using some of the
financial pages, he found the scrolling
stocktickers distracting, and they moved
too fast for him to read.
• In addition, sometimes the pages would
update before he had finished reading
• Therefore he tends to use Web sites that do not
have a lot of movement in the text, and that do
not auto-refresh. He also tended to "get stuck"
on some pages, finding that he could not back
up, on some sites where new browser windows
would pop open without notifying him.
• Mr. Yunus has gradually found some sites that
work well for him, and developed a customized
profile at some banking, grocery, and clothing
Supermarket assistant with
• Mr. Sands has put groceries in bags for customers for
the past year at a supermarket.
• He has Down syndrome, and has difficulty with abstract
concepts, reading, and doing mathematical calculations.
• He usually buys his own groceries at this supermarket,
but sometimes finds that there are so many product
choices that he becomes confused, and he finds it
difficult to keep track of how much he is spending. He
has difficulty re-learning where his favorite products are
each time the supermarket changes the layout of its
• Recently, he visited an online grocery service
from his computer at home. He explored the site
the first few times with a friend.
• He found that he could use the Web site without
much difficulty -- it had a lot of pictures, which
were helpful in navigating around the site, and in
recognizing his favorite brands.
• His friend showed him different search options that were
available on the site, making it easier for him to find
items. He can search by brand name or by pictures, but
he mostly uses the option that lets him select from a list
of products that he has ordered in the past. Once he
decides what he wants to buy, he selects the item and
puts it into his virtual shopping basket. The Web site
gives him an updated total each time he adds an item,
helping him make sure that he does not overspend his
• The marketing department of the online grocery wanted
their Web site to have a high degree of usability in order
to be competitive with other online stores.
• They used consistent design and consistent navigation
options so that their customers could learn and
remember their way around the Web site.
• They also used the clearest and simplest language
appropriate for the site's content so that their customers
could quickly understand the material.
• While these features made the site more
usable for all of the online-grocery's
customers, they made it possible for Mr.
Sands to use the site.
• Mr. Sands now shops on the online
grocery site a few times a month, and just
buys a few fresh items each day at the
supermarket where he works.
Teenager with deaf-blindness,
• Ms. Kaseem uses the Web to find new
restaurants to go to with friends and classmates.
• She has low vision and is deaf.
• She uses a screen magnifier to enlarge the text
on Web sites to a font size that she can read.
• When screen magnification is not sufficient, she
also uses a screen reader to drive a refreshable
braille display, which she reads slowly.
• At home, Ms. Kaseem browses local Web sites
for new and different restaurants.
• She uses a personal style sheet with her
browser, which makes all Web pages display
according to her preferences.
• Her preferences include having background
patterns turned off so that there is enough
contrast for her when she uses screen
• This is especially helpful when she reads on-line
sample menus of appealing restaurants.
• A multimedia virtual tour of local
entertainment options was recently added
to the Web site of the city in which Ms.
Kaseem lives. The tour is captioned and
described -- including text subtitles for the
audio, and descriptions of the video --
which allows her to access it using a
combination of screen magnification and
• The interface used for the virtual tour is
accessible no matter what kind of assistive
technology she is using -- screen magnification,
her screen reader with refreshable braille, or her
portable braille device.
• Ms. Kaseem forwards the Web site address to
friends and asks if they are interested in going
with her to some of the restaurants featured on
• She also checks the public transportation sites to find
local train or bus stops near the restaurants. The Web
site for the bus schedule has frames without meaningful
titles, and tables without clear column or row headers, so
she often gets lost on the site when trying to find the
information she needs.
• The Web site for the local train schedule, however, is
easy to use because the frames on that Web site have
meaningful titles, and the schedules, which are laid out
as long tables with clear row and column headers that
she uses to orient herself even when she has magnified
the screen display.
• Occasionally she also uses her portable
braille device, with an infrared connection,
to get additional information and directions
at a publicly-available information kiosk in
a shopping mall downtown;
• and a few times she has downloaded
sample menus into her braille device so
that she has them in an accessible format
once she is in the restaurant.
Different Disabilities that Can
Affect Web Accessibility
• This section describes general kinds of
disabilities that can affect access to the Web.
There are as yet no universally accepted
categorizations of disability, despite efforts
towards that goal.
• Abilities can vary from person to person, and
over time, for different people with the same type
• People can have combinations of different
disabilities, and combinations of varying levels of
• The term "disability" is used very generally in
• Some people with conditions described below
would not consider themselves to have
• They may, however, have limitations of sensory,
physical or cognitive functioning which can affect
access to the Web.
• These may include injury-related and aging-
related conditions, and can be temporary or
• The number and severity of limitations
tend to increase as people age, and may
include changes in vision, hearing,
memory, or motor function.
• Aging-related conditions can be
accommodated on the Web by the same
accessibility solutions used to
accommodate people with disabilities.
• Sometimes different disabilities require similar
• For instance, someone who is blind and
someone who cannot use his or her hands both
require full keyboard equivalents for mouse
commands in browsers and authoring tools,
since they both have difficulty using a mouse but
can use assistive technologies to activate
commands supported by a standard keyboard
• Many accessibility solutions described in this
document contribute to "universal design" (also
called "design for all") by benefiting non-disabled
users as well as people with disabilities.
• For example, support for speech output not only
benefits blind users, but also Web users whose
eyes are busy with other tasks; while captions
for audio not only benefit deaf users, but also
increase the efficiency of indexing and searching
for audio content on Web sites.
• Following is a list of some disabilities and
their relation to accessibility issues on the
• visual disabilities
– low vision
– color blindness
• hearing impairments
– hard of hearing
• physical disabilities
– motor disabilities
• speech disabilities
– speech disabilities
• cognitive and neurological disabilities
– dyslexia and dyscalculia
– attention deficit disorder
– intellectual disabilities
– memory impairments
– mental health disabilities
– seizure disorders
• multiple disabilities
• aging-related conditions
• Blindness (scenario -- "accountant")
• Blindness involves a substantial,
uncorrectable loss of vision in both eyes.
• To access the Web, many individuals who
are blind rely on screen readers --
software that reads text on the screen
(monitor) and outputs this information to a
speech synthesizer and/or refreshable
Text Based Browsers
• Some people who are blind use text-based
browsers such as Lynx, or voice browsers,
instead of a graphical user interface
browser plus screen reader.
• They may use rapid navigation strategies
such as tabbing through the headings or
links on Web pages rather than reading
every word on the page in sequence.
• Examples of barriers that people with blindness
may encounter on the Web can include:
• images that do not have alternative text
• complex images (e.g., graphs or charts) that are
not adequately described
• video that is not described in text or audio
• tables that do not make sense when read
serially (in a cell-by-cell or "linearized" mode)
• frames that do not have "NOFRAME" alternatives, or that
do not have meaningful names
• forms that cannot be tabbed through in a logical
sequence or that are poorly labelled
• browsers and authoring tools that lack keyboard support
for all commands
• browsers and authoring tools that do not use standard
applications programmer interfaces for the operating
system they are based in
• non-standard document formats that may be difficult for
their screen reader to interpret
Low vision (scenarios --
"teenager" and "retiree")
• There are many types of low vision (also known as "partially sighted"
in parts of Europe), for instance poor acuity (vision that is not sharp),
tunnel vision (seeing only the middle of the visual field), central field
loss (seeing only the edges of the visual field), and clouded vision.
To use the Web, some people with low vision use extra-large
monitors, and increase the size of system fonts and images. Others
use screen magnifiers or screen enhancement software. Some
individuals use specific combinations of text and background colors,
such as a 24-point bright yellow font on a black background, or
choose certain typefaces that are especially legible for their
particular vision requirements.
• Web pages with absolute font sizes that do not change
(enlarge or reduce) easily
• Web pages that, because of inconsistent layout, are
difficult to navigate when enlarged, due to loss of
• Web pages, or images on Web pages, that have poor
contrast, and whose contrast cannot be easily changed
through user override of author style sheets
• text presented as images, which prevents wrapping to
the next line when enlarged
• also many of the barriers listed for blindness, above,
depending on the type and extent of visual limitation
Color blindness (scenario --
• Color blindness is a lack of sensitivity to certain colors.
Common forms of color blindness include difficulty
distinguishing between red and green, or between yellow
and blue. Sometimes color blindness results in the
inability to perceive any color.
To use the Web, some people with color blindness use
their own style sheets to override the font and
background color choices of the author.
• color that is used as a unique marker to
emphasize text on a Web site
• text that inadequately contrasts with
background color or patterns
• browsers that do not support user override
of authors' style sheets
• Deafness (scenario -- "online student")
• Deafness involves a substantial uncorrectable
impairment of hearing in both ears. Some deaf
individuals' first language is a sign language, and they
may or may not read a written language fluently, or
To use the Web, many people who are deaf rely on
captions for audio content. They may need to turn on the
captions on an audio file as they browse a page;
concentrate harder to read what is on a page; or rely on
supplemental images to highlight context.
Barriers Deaf People
• lack of captions or transcripts of audio on the
Web, including webcasts
• lack of content-related images in pages full of
text, which can slow comprehension for people
whose first language may be a sign language
instead of a written/spoken language
• lack of clear and simple language
• requirements for voice input on Web sites
Hard of hearing
• A person with a mild to moderate hearing impairment
may be considered hard of hearing.
To use the Web, people who are hard of hearing may
rely on captions for audio content and/or amplification of
audio. They may need to toggle the captions on an audio
file on or off, or adjust the volume of an audio file.
Barriers encountered on the Web can include:
• lack of captions or transcripts for audio on the Web,
• Motor disabilities (scenario -- "reporter")
• Motor disabilities can include weakness,
limitations of muscular control (such as
involuntary movements, lack of coordination, or
paralysis), limitations of sensation, joint
problems, or missing limbs.
• Some physical disabilities can include pain that
impedes movement. These conditions can affect
the hands and arms as well as other parts of the
• To use the Web, people with motor disabilities
affecting the hands or arms may use a
• a keyboard with a layout of keys that matches
their range of hand motion;
• a pointing device such as a head-mouse, head-
pointer or mouth-stick;
• voice-recognition software;
• an eye-gaze system; or other assistive
technologies to access and interact with the
information on Web sites.
• They may activate commands by typing single
keystrokes in sequence with a head pointer
rather than typing simultaneous keystrokes
("chording") to activate commands.
• They may need more time when filling out
interactive forms on Web sites if they have to
concentrate or maneuver carefully to select each
Barriers (Motor Difficulties)
• time-limited response options on Web
• browsers and authoring tools that do not
support keyboard alternatives for mouse
• forms that cannot be tabbed through in a
• Speech disabilities
• Speech disabilities can include difficulty producing
speech that is recognizable by some voice recognition
software, either in terms of loudness or clarity.
To use parts of the Web that rely on voice recognition,
someone with a speech disability needs to be able to
use an alternate input mode such as text entered via a
Barriers that people with speech disabilities encounter
on the Web can include:
• Web sites that require voice-based interaction and have
no alternative input mode
Cognitive and neurological disabilities
Visual and Auditory Perception (scenario --
• Individuals with visual and auditory perceptual
disabilities, including dyslexia (sometimes called
"learning disabilities" in Australia, Canada, the
U.S., and some other countries) and dyscalculia
may have difficulty processing language or
• They may have difficulty processing spoken
language when heard ("auditory perceptual
disabilities"). They may also have difficulty with
Visual and Auditory Perceptual
• To use the Web, people with visual and auditory
perceptual disabilities may rely on getting
information through several modalities at the
• For instance, someone who has difficulty
reading may use a screen reader plus
synthesized speech to facilitate comprehension,
while someone with an auditory processing
disability may use captions to help understand
an audio track.
• Barriers that people with visual and
auditory perceptual disabilities may
encounter on the Web can include:
• lack of alternative modalities for
information on Web sites, for instance lack
of alternative text that can be converted to
audio to supplement visuals, or the lack of
captions for audio
Attention deficit disorder (scenario --
• Individuals with attention deficit disorder
may have difficulty focusing on
• To use the Web, an individual with an
attention deficit disorder may need to turn
off animations on a site in order to be able
to focus on the site's content.
• distracting visual or audio elements that
cannot easily be turned off
• lack of clear and consistent organization of
Intellectual disabilities (scenario
-- "supermarket assistant")
• Individuals with impairments of intelligence
(sometimes called "learning disabilities" in
Europe; or "developmental disabilities" or
previously "mental retardation" in the United
States) may learn more slowly, or have difficulty
understanding complex concepts.
• Down Syndrome is one among many different
causes of intellectual disabilities.
• To use the Web, people with intellectual
disabilities may take more time on a Web
site, may rely more on graphics to
enhance understanding of a site, and may
benefit from the level of language on a site
not being unnecessarily complex for the
site's intended purpose.
• Barriers can include:
• use of unnecessarily complex language on
• lack of graphics on Web sites
• lack of clear or consistent organization of
Memory impairments (scenario --
• Individuals with memory impairments may have
problems with short-term memory, missing long-term
memory, or may have some loss of ability to recall
To use the Web, people with memory impairments may
rely on a consistent navigational structure throughout the
Barriers can include:
• lack of clear or consistent organization of Web sites
Mental health disabilities
• Individuals with mental health disabilities may have
difficulty focusing on information on a Web site, or
difficulty with blurred vision or hand tremors due to side
effects from medications.
To use the Web, people with mental health disabilities
may need to turn off distracting visual or audio elements,
or to use screen magnifiers.
Barriers can include:
• distracting visual or audio elements that cannot easily be
• Web pages with absolute font sizes that do not enlarge
• Some individuals with seizure disorders, including people with some
types of epilepsy (including photo-sensitive epilepsy), are triggered
by visual flickering or audio signals at a certain frequency.
• To use the Web, people with seizure disorders may need to turn off
animations, blinking text, or certain frequencies of audio. Avoidance
of these visual or audio frequencies in Web sites helps prevent
triggering of seizures.
• Barriers can include:
• use of visual or audio frequencies that can trigger seizures
Multiple Disabilities (scenario --
• Combinations of disabilities may reduce a user's
flexibility in using accessibility information.
• For instance, while someone who is blind can
benefit from hearing an audio description of a
Web-based video, and someone who is deaf
can benefit from seeing the captions
accompanying audio, someone who is both deaf
and blind needs access to a text transcript of the
description of the audio and video, which they
could access on a refreshable braille display.
• Similarly, someone who is deaf and has low
vision might benefit from the captions on audio
files, but only if the captions could be enlarged
and the color contrast adjusted.
• Someone who cannot move his or her hands,
and also cannot see the screen well, might use a
combination of speech input and speech output,
and might therefore need to rely on precise
indicators of location and navigation options in a
(scenario -- "retiree")
• Changes in people's functional ability due to aging can
include changes in abilities or a combination of abilities
including vision, hearing, dexterity and memory. Barriers
can include any of the issues already mentioned above.
Any one of these limitations can affect an individual's
ability to access Web content. Together, these changes
can become more complex to accommodate.
• For example, someone with low vision may need screen
magnification, however when using screen magnification
the user loses surrounding contextual information, which
adds to the difficulty which a user with short-term
memory loss might experience on a Web site.
6. General References
– "Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines 1.0", J. Treviranus, C.
McCathieNevile, I. Jacobs, and J. Richards, eds., 3 February
2000. W3C Recommendation: http://www.w3.org/TR/2000/REC-
– "Curriculum for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines,"...
– "Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language,"..
– "User Agent Accessibility Guidelines", J. Gunderson and I.
Jacobs, eds., 28 July 2000. W3C Recommendation:
– "Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0", G. Vanderheiden,
W. Chisholm, and I. Jacobs, eds., 5 May 1999. W3C
– "WAI Home Page", 1997-2000. http://www.w3.org/WAI/.
– "WAI Resources", 2000-2001.
• 7. Further Reading