As you may know I occasionally write posts that touch on web design/development. Even more infrequently I sometimes write posts that touch on autism _and_ web design/dev issues. This will be one.
One of the core skills any halfway decent web designer/developer should have is that of making a site accessible. A lot of sites are not accessible. What ‘accessible’ means is ways a designer can code a solution to ensuring that their end product (usually a web page) can be read by as wide a range of visitors as possible, regardless of disability.
A small easy to understand example: blind users may use a device called a Screen reader which basically sits between the browser and the user and does exactly what it says – reads the screen. Most software of this type is far from perfect and much room could be given to making this type of software operate in a more standardised way.
However, as designers/developers we have a responsibility too. We need to use the appropriate markup and to not put extra barriers in place. A small example of a barrier: many of my autism blogger colleagues use Blogspot.com to host their blogs. Its easy to use and free. Good deal. However, they also use comment authorisation routines that include those little graphics of random letters and numbers that a commenter must fill in (official name CAPTCHA). These tests are totally inaccessible. As they are randomly generated and rendered as images, screen readers cannot read the text embedded in the image and thus anyone who utilises a screen reader cannot post on a blog that has a CAPTCHA solution implemented. Google (who own Blogspot.com) are experimenting with audio based CAPTCHA’s to get around this issue.
There are hardware and code-able solutions for users with a variety of physical and cognitive disabilities but its strikes me that autism is…_other_…its not defaultly a cognitive disability and its not defaultly a sensory disability. In fact, its not truly a disability in the strictest sense of the word at all. However, it further strikes me that there are almost certainly a whole host of design/interface issues that face a person who is autistic when they try to use websites. I cannot guess what those may be although I would tentatively surmise that maybe the branding aspects of a design do not have the same level of emotional impact that they would on a non-autistic person.
So what I want to do is throw open the comments to as many autistic people as possible so I can get a sense of what issues (if any) you may face when browsing a website, what works for you, what doesn’t work for you. What are examples of good sites and bad sites. Do you like short pages, long pages, don’t care? What colours are good, or bad? Are icons more intuitive or plain text links? Lots of imagery a good thing or a bad thing? Do websites ever get so ‘busy’ that they lead to a point of overload? If so, why? What _design_ aspects may lead you to purchase via a website – or put you off purchasing via a website?
Let me have it :o) Feel free to crit this site if you feel moved to. Feel free to comment anonymously if you’d rather.