Disability Types

Assistive technologies work best when used in conjunction with eAccessibility techniques. Most people who use assistive technology are individuals who live with visual disabilities, deafness or auditory disabilities, motor/mobility disabilities, cognitive disabilities and/or seizure disorders. It helps to know more about how the user interacts with the electronic content to know the best way to create it. 

The following information gives you an overview about each impairment and describes what to keep in mind when designing accessible electronic content or purchasing accessible electronic materials.

Visual Limitations

Visual limitations include blindness, low vision, and color blindness, hindering what the learner can see. Screen readers read the words on the page aloud and screen magnifiers zoom in on the screen, making content larger. 

Things to keep in mind when designing content for users with visual impairments: 

  • Navigation is not based on moving a cursor around the screen.
    Make sure all content can be accessed by keyboard-only navigation in addition to the mouse.

  • Screen readers cannot interpret visual materials.
    Use alternative descriptions or audio descriptions to describe what images or videos mean.

  • Screen reading software cannot interpret semantics.
    Use headers and lists or table headers to convey meaning, structure and reading order.

  • Screen readers read everything out loud, including links.
    Use short descriptive links to provide context about where they lead, being mindful to use abbreviated URL’s where possible. 

  • Screen readers do not announce colors, styles or position.
    Do not use color, bold, italics, position or size alone to convey an idea.

  • Screen magnifiers work more efficiently with legible text and graphics.
    Choose foreground and background colors with sufficient color contrast and avoid very small text or graphics. 

Auditory Limitations

Auditory limitations include people who are deaf or hard of hearing, and obstruct what the learner can hear. Electronic information is best conveyed through text on the screen or, in the case of in-person lectures, a sign language interpreter. 

Things to keep in mind when designing content for auditory disability limitations:

  • Screen readers need text to read pre-recorded visual content:
    Electronic content containing audio, e.g. podcasts, videos, interactive elements, etc., need text transcripts and captions.

  • Screen readers need text to read live visual content:
    Electronic live events, e.g. real-time online seminars, presentations, etc., need to incorporate live captioning.

Motor/Mobility Disabilities

Motor/Mobility disabilities vary from individual to individual. Those who are most impacted by accessible electronic content are users who have lost the ability to use or have limited use of their hands. Tremors, pain, or difficulty in dexterity, among other reasons, make using the mouse and/or trackpad difficult if not impossible. 

Things to keep in mind when designing content for motor/mobility disability limitations:

  • Keyboard or mouse alternatives will encounter keyboard traps if online content is not designed properly.
    Use keyboard only navigation.

  • Keyboard navigation requires tabbing to content.
    Use headers and lists or table headers to convey meaning, structure and reading order. 

Cognitive Disabilities & Seizure Disorders

Cognitive disabilities and seizure disorders affect a learner’s brain in physiological or biological ways, but it are not always well-defined. Those who have less severe cognitive disabilities can benefit from accessible electronic materials. 

Things to keep in mind when designing content for cognitive disability limitations or seizure disorders:

  • Large amounts of information may be distracting or overwhelming.
    When supplying electronic information, provide clear instructions and keep content clear and concise.  

  • Videos or multimedia may convey information too quickly.
    Use captions so information can be absorbed in an alternative way and provide an accessible media player.

  • Some elements in graphics, animations, movies or other objects can cause certain individuals to have seizures.
    Avoid any flashing, flickering or strobing elements, especially those faster than three flashes per second. 

Access a printable summary of considerations for all disability types from Deque University.

Written for the Accessibility Network by IT@UC's Communication Coordinator.