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Inclusive Design: Understanding How Disabled People Navigate the Digital World

Kimberly Springs

Jeff Rodgers

September 18 15 min read

Accessibility is a fundamental aspect that all website owners and developers should consider. Understanding how disabled people navigate the digital world is the first step in creating an accessible website.

Web developers and designers take note!

In this article, we’ll dive into the different ways individuals with different types of disabilities navigate the digital world, shedding light on the tools, technologies, and strategies they rely on to overcome barriers.

From assistive technologies like screen readers and alternative input devices to website design considerations, we give you invaluable insights to help make your website more inclusive for everyone!

The Challenges Faced by Disabled People in Navigating the Digital World

Disabled individuals face numerous challenges when navigating the digital world. For those with significant impairments, most websites can be virtually inaccessible.

However, if a website is not designed with assistive technology (AT) in mind, the information may not be properly conveyed, leaving users frustrated and unable to navigate effectively.

Individuals with motor disabilities also face challenges navigating the digital landscape. Traditional input devices like mice and keyboards may not work for those with limited dexterity or mobility.

Alternative input devices such as touchscreens, voice recognition software, and switch devices allow individuals to interact with digital content in a way that suits their abilities.

However, if a website does not support these alternative input methods and AT, individuals with disabilities may face significant barriers when navigating or using online services.

Additionally, people with cognitive disabilities may struggle with websites that are cluttered, confusing, or lack clear navigation. Websites that use complex language or require users to complete multiple steps can be particularly challenging for many.

By considering the needs of individuals with disabilities, website owners and developers can make their content more accessible and user-friendly.

Accessibility Fact: 96% of Website home pages have detectable WCAG Failures!

The Role of ADA Compliance in Enhancing User Experience for People with Disabilities

ADA compliance plays a significant role in enhancing the user experience for people with disabilities. It’s not just about ticking boxes or avoiding lawsuits; it’s about ensuring everyone can engage with digital content.

Websites that are accessible have features such as alternative text for images (for screen readers to translate), captions for videos, and the ability to be navigated by using a keyboard.

These features are crucial for individuals with impairments to interact with the content effectively.

More than just practical, ADA compliance shows respect for all users!

ADA compliance acknowledges and values the diversity of the online community and advocates for equal digital rights. It fosters an inclusive experience that encourages participation from all demographics, enhancing usability, user satisfaction, and engagement.

Legal Implications of Non-Compliance with ADA Requirements

Non-compliance with ADA requirements can have severe legal implications. Businesses that fail to make their digital platforms accessible can face lawsuits, fines, and damage to their reputation.

There has been a surge in ADA-related lawsuits in recent years, with plaintiffs arguing that inaccessible websites violate their rights under the ADA. These lawsuits are not only costly to defend but can also result in substantial settlement fees.

Moreover, non-compliance can damage a company’s reputation. In today’s socially conscious environment, businesses that do not prioritize accessibility can be viewed as discriminatory or exclusionary. This perception can lead to a loss of customer trust and loyalty, which can be far more damaging in the long run than any legal penalties.

Understanding Different Types of Disabilities

The first step in making your website more accessible is to understand the types of disabilities and their conditions.

There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to disabilities. Let’s clarify a few things for those who may not be familiar with the types and categories of disabilities.

There are four main types of disabilities:

  1. Physical

A condition impacting a person’s normal body movement or control.

  • Emotional or Behavioral

Among other conditions, these impact a person’s ability to learn, such as ADHD.

  • Developmental

Physical or mental impairments people are born with, such as Autism.

  • Sensory Impaired

When one or more of a person’s senses are not functioning at an average level.

These four types can be divided into four conditions:

  • Permanent

What most people think of when it comes to a disability.

  • Temporary

Disabilities that may improve over time, such as a broken limb or injury.

  • Situational

Impacted by a situation or environment. Such as having both arms full, being in a loud environment, or driving.

  • Gradual

These increase over time, such as Alzheimer’s or hearing loss due to age.

It’s easy to see how accessibility positively impacts usability by addressing different conditions.

Accessibility Fact: Screen Readers are Interactive Tools!

Did you know that screen readers are not just a text-to-speech tool? They also allow users to interact with the digital world and can locate on-screen information.

Therefore, testing a website with a screen reader is better than using a simple text-to-speech tool.

How Disabled People Navigate the Digital World: Common Challenges and Solutions

Navigating the digital world can present unique challenges for people with disabilities.

For instance, visually impaired individuals may struggle to read content or navigate websites that are not optimized for screen readers. Similarly, people with hearing impairments may miss critical information in videos lacking captions.

However, these challenges can be overcome with the right tools and accommodations.

Assistive technology such as screen readers like JAWs, NVDA, Talkback, and Voiceover, along with screen magnifiers and braille displays, can significantly enhance the digital experience for people with disabilities.

Moreover, simple adjustments to web design, such as using sans-serif fonts, high-contrast colors, and simple navigation structures, can make digital platforms more accessible.

Accessibility Fact: The most common accessibility issue is missing alt text for images, which is also the easiest to fix!

By understanding and addressing these challenges, businesses can create a more inclusive digital experience for all users.

Assistive Technologies Explained: Screen Readers, Screen Magnifiers, and Braille Devices

Assistive technologies are tools and devices that help persons with disabilities perform tasks that might otherwise be difficult or impossible. They play a critical role in making the digital world accessible.

Screen readers like JAWS and NVDA translate on-screen information into speech or braille. They allow visually impaired individuals to read text on a screen and navigate websites and applications. Talkback and Voiceover are similar tools built into Android and iOS devices.

One misconception non-users have about screen readers is that they are just text-to-speech tools. When, in fact, screen readers perform many functions, including allowing users to interact with elements on the screen.

Accessibility Fact: JAWS (Job Access with Speech) is the most widely used screen reader.

Screen magnifiers enlarge the content on a screen, making it easier for people with low vision to read and interact with digital content.

Some people do a similar function by zooming within their web browsers. A function that many web developers disable because they want to control the layout. However, disabling zooming is not a good practice, as well as a WCAG violation.

On the other hand, Braille displays convert text into braille characters that can be felt with the fingers, enabling blind individuals to read digital content.

All these technologies are vital in breaking down digital barriers and allowing individuals with disabilities to navigate the digital landscape independently.

Accessibility Fact: Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android all have built-in assistive technology!

Examples of Commonly used Assistive Technology

There are a variety of commonly used assistive technologies that aid individuals with disabilities. For instance, speech recognition software allows users with mobility impairments to control their computers using their voices.

Similarly, eye-tracking technology can enable individuals who cannot use a mouse or keyboard to navigate digital platforms.

Refreshable Braille displays are another common assistive technology. They translate the on-screen text into braille characters, allowing blind individuals to read digital content.

Switch access, commonly used by individuals with severe physical disabilities, allows users to control their devices by triggering switches with movements they can comfortably perform.

By understanding how these technologies work, developers and designers can ensure their digital platforms are accessible to a wide range of users, thus broadening their audience and demonstrating their commitment to inclusivity.

Examples of Common Barriers

For blind users, common barriers include unlabeled images, lack of keyboard navigation, and text that screen readers cannot read.

Deaf users often struggle with videos without captions and audio content without transcripts.

Mobility-impaired users may find it difficult to use websites that require precise mouse movements or have short time limits on forms. Autistic users may be overwhelmed by complex layouts, flashing or auto-playing content, and unpredictable navigation.

“One of the biggest mistakes developers seem to make is that [they] follow a ‘one solution fits all’ approach when it comes to accessibility. They fail to consider that people may have multiple disabilities.”

Rick Flores, Lead Auditor with Accessiblü

Accessibility Fact: Every person’s Disability is Different!

Understanding Specific Needs: Navigating the Digital World with a Disability

The specific needs of individuals with different disabilities vary greatly. Understanding these needs is crucial in creating an inclusive digital experience.

Blindness and Low Vision

Like most disabilities, visual impairments vary from person to person. While some may have a complete lack of vision, others may have some degree of sight or even be able to sense light and dark.

Persons with visual impairments utilize a variety of assistive technology and benefit from:

  • Menus and interactive elements that work with screen readers and keyboards.
  • Consistent structure and proper use of headings and landmarks.
  • Bypass blocks on web pages.
  • Accurate Alt+Text for images.
  • Not having zooming disabled within the HTML code.


Color blindness affects approximately 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women globally. These individuals have difficulty distinguishing between certain colors, which can create barriers in the digital world.

  • Avoid using color [only] to convey meaning or specific information.
  • Use patterns or symbols in addition to high-contrast colors.
  • Use a color contrast checker to check your site.

To accommodate colorblind users, choose color combinations that are easily distinguishable for colorblind individuals. Tools like color contrast checkers can help ensure your color choices are accessible.


The most important thing to understand about people with dyslexia is that it differs for everyone.

Do not assume that one special font or widget can fix dyslexia for all users!

For more information, check out’s Dyslexia Basics webpage.

While individuals with dyslexia may struggle with small fonts and dense blocks of text, designers can do a few things to help readers with dyslexia.

  • Use clear, simple layouts.
  • Use bullet points.
  • Do not disable zooming for web pages.
  • Use easy-to-read San-serif fonts.

The option to increase font size can significantly enhance their digital experience. Provide audio versions of important information, documents, and content if possible.

Deaf and Deafblind

Deaf and deafblind individuals rely heavily on visual cues and written communication. Thus, captions, transcripts, and clear, high-contrast visuals are essential.

For podcasts, audio, and video:

  • Provide transcripts and audio descriptions.
  • All sounds, not just speech, should be described.
  • Proofread captions for grammar and spelling!


To accommodate neurodiverse and autistic individuals, avoid sensory overload. Overwhelming visuals, autoplaying media, and complex navigation can cause distress. Use simple, consistent navigation and clear instructions.

  • Avoid videos and audio that auto-plays.
  • Avoid carousels and images that auto-scroll.
  • Ensure all audio and video elements have controls to pause and stop.
  • Have consistent navigation menus and layouts.

Allow users to control their experience. For instance, provide options to stop animations, adjust volume levels, or change the color scheme.

Also, be sure to give users enough time to read and understand the content. Avoid time-limited activities or provide options to extend the time limit.


Users with limited mobility may struggle using traditional controlling devices such as keyboards and mice. There are quite a few approaches that can be beneficial to users with different mobility needs.

  • Avoid small, close-together clickable areas.
  • Avoid short time limits on forms or on-screen actions.
  • Ensure all pages can be navigated via keyboard alone.

Also, avoid pop-ups or automatic redirects that can disorient users and make navigation difficult.

Accessibility Challenge: See if you can use only a keyboard to navigate a webpage!
Hint: Use the tab and arrow keys to navigate. Use the Space bar or Enter key to select.

Why overlays often make websites worse and fail to help disabled people navigate the web.

Overlays are software solutions that promise to make websites accessible with the click of a button. However, they often fall short of their promises, making websites worse for disabled users.

First, overlays can interfere with assistive technologies. For instance, they can prevent screen readers from correctly interpreting content or disrupt keyboard navigation.

Secondly, overlays often use AI to interpret and modify web content. However, AI is not perfect and can make mistakes, such as misinterpreting or mislabeling content.

Businesses often rely on overlays as a quick fix instead of making long-term website improvements. This reliance on a flawed solution can hinder accessibility and inclusivity.

Want to know more about why Overlays Fail? Check out our blog on Overlays.

The importance of video captions and tips on how to improve captions.

Video captions are crucial in making digital content accessible to the deaf and individuals with low hearing. However, their benefits extend beyond this group.

Captions can also aid comprehension for non-native speakers, individuals with learning disabilities, and even users in noisy or quiet environments.

Here are some tips to improve captions:

  • Make sure they are accurate, complete, and synchronized with the audio.
  • They should convey all relevant information, including non-speech elements like sound effects or speaker identification.
  • Captions should be clear and easy to read. Use a simple, legible font and ensure there is enough contrast between the text and background.

Also, subtitles are not the same as captions. Subtitles are for translating a different language and do not include descriptive audio information.

Why alt+text is important and tips for crafting good descriptions for images.

Alt text is a description of an image that screen readers can read aloud. It is essential for visually impaired users as it provides information they would otherwise miss.

Here are some tips for crafting great ALT+Text:

  • Be concise and not too wordy.
  • Explain the content and purpose of the image without adding unnecessary details.
  • Avoid using “image of” or “picture of. Screen readers already announce the presence of an image.
  • For images with text, include the words in the picture.

Need more Alt+Text help? Check out our blog:

The Art of Alt+Text: Mastering Alternative Descriptions for Images

Why true ADA compliance can only be achieved through testing by persons who are regular users of assistive technology.

While automated tools can help identify some accessibility issues, true ADA compliance can only be achieved through testing by individuals who are regular users of assistive technology.

This is because automated tools cannot fully understand the user experience. They can’t gauge the comprehensibility of alt text, the clarity of instructions, or the usability of a navigation system.

Accessibility Fact: A “perfect” accessibility score does not mean there are no barriers.

However, individuals who regularly use assistive technology can provide valuable feedback on these aspects.

  • They can identify barriers that might not be apparent to able-bodied individuals or automated tools.
  • They can also suggest solutions based on their personal experiences.

How to Make Your Website ADA Compliant: Practical Tips and Guidelines

Making your website ADA-compliant may seem daunting, but it is achievable with careful planning and execution.

  1. Start by familiarizing yourself with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which provide a comprehensive overview of what an accessible website should entail.
  2. Next, conduct an accessibility audit of your website. While automated tools are a good start, a manual test is crucial.
  3. Consider involving individuals who use assistive technology for a more thorough evaluation.
  4. Based on the audit findings, make necessary adjustments to your website. This could involve adding alternative text for images, ensuring all functions can be performed using a keyboard, or improving color contrast.
  5. Finally, consider providing accessibility training for your team. This can help ensure that all future content is designed with accessibility in mind.

The importance of considering disabled persons when Implementing ADA Compliance in Your Digital Strategy.

Considering disabled persons when implementing ADA compliance in your digital strategy is crucial. It helps you meet legal requirements and improves the user experience for a significant portion of your audience.

By considering the needs of disabled individuals, you can design a digital strategy that is inclusive and accessible. This can result in higher user engagement, improved customer satisfaction, and a stronger brand reputation.

Moreover, it demonstrates your commitment to diversity and inclusion, which can have positive implications for your corporate social responsibility initiatives.

Conclusion: The importance of inclusive digital experiences.

Inclusive digital experiences are not just a legal requirement but a moral imperative. They ensure that everyone can participate in the digital world regardless of their abilities.

By understanding and addressing the challenges that individuals with disabilities face, businesses can create digital platforms that are truly accessible. This enhances the user experience and fosters a sense of belonging and respect.

In conclusion, ADA compliance is not just about ticking boxes or avoiding lawsuits. It’s about recognizing and valuing the diverse needs of the online community and striving to create a digital world where everyone has an equal opportunity to participate.

Don’t leave ADA compliance to chance. Have your website or app checked for accessibility by persons with documented disabilities at Accessiblü. Together, we can create a more inclusive digital world.

Further reading: Accessiblü Blog: A guide to creating inclusive websites.