Autism specific needs for digital accessibility

This is one of those topics I realize I’ve read about and always have had a lot more to add and extend the topic. Like when everything was written from the wrong perspective, by nonautistics trying to draw conclusions from what they observe. So let’s write from inside out (and I’ll be glad to expand on this, so do share any good links to more).

So what kind of different needs would those with asperger’s or other shades of autism have for digital and online life when compared to neurotypical population? You’ll have as much variety as you have people with each category (autistics and nonautistics). Which certainly doesn’t make it easier.

Don’t assume on other accessibility needs. This  is especially relevant since lots of people on the spectrum can have other issues as well. Blind, or being low vision, or deaf or hard of hearing, or a combination of sight and hearing issues… some have also other language issues, such as coming from a different language and culture. Some have mobility issues, from EDS to CP to fibromyalgia and back. So design on a way that you can use your product no matter what. Described audio, pictures with good descriptions, closed captions on all videos, transcripts for all audio and video…

Colors are another issue that apparently matters. Meaning… apparently some color combos are more autism-friendly. Like use blues or muted colors but avoid brights, I’ve read somewhere. Wait. But since you have also the colorblind or colordeficient populations to consider, just keep it simple. My personal preference for colors is white text on black background, with the options to zoom in the text and resize everything as I need fit. Add 1-2 highlight colors and that’s it. Make the design work in grayscale. I don’t care if you use blue or gray or purple or brown or whatever color you want – when I can’t see it, it’s VoiceOver time (so all audio), or text to speech time. I don’t care what the site or the colors look any more.

Animations can be a huge issue. Some autistics like to use animated gifs or those small little looping movies of a few seconds showing some kind of facial expressions. Some don’t. I personally hate all animated content on my screen unless I’m actually trying to watch a movie. When trying to read an article? Having giant moving pixel vomit when your article is supposed to be about books or news is insulting. Many autistic people also have or have had epilepsy. Guess how fun those animated gifs or animated movie loops or flashing lights are? Zero fun. When I try to read content with those, it’s also screenreader time. Please just use your words to describe how you emotion, or use an emoji (they are all described so I know when “smirking face” emoji happens, but can’t decipher animated gifs).

Wording matters. We take things literally. If you tell me to break a leg, I’ll make you sign a waiver, and then will break your leg. “Do you always have to take everything so literally?” Well, it’s not like there’s an option to turn me into a different mode. I can switch to a different language and my thinking will be different (the joys of being multilingual), but the problems literal thinking represent follow in all language. Think of many expressions as whether you’d have to explain them to someone who’s not native in your language, would the expression need to be explained? If yes, don’t use it. Reword. Otherwise you’ll have words that make no sense. The same goes for medicalese and legalese: unless you are writing for other speakers of medicalese or legalese, skip your jargon. Idiomatic expressions are so annoying that let me use a few from different languages here to prove my point: you are breaking my boxes by using them. If some of my expressions in other languages are wood hay, don’t pull peas in your nose. Who digs a hole to every second person… (gibberish? Yes, because I’d have to explain what each means in their original language, and I only remember because I was told the meaning of those so many times).

Other matters: dyslexia. Again, don’t assume… or rather assume that yes, some will have that too, and you better service all the readers with some simple modifications. Some people will read better with good illustrations and graphics. (If you use either, make sure they are described with enough details for those who don’t see pictures). All will benefit if the text has a good structure. No too long chapters. Even better: put a brief summary of your content at the beginning of your long texts. Is this 50 page thing going to be of any interest for me? Oh, let’s just read the brief here in the beginning…

Other needs to consider: communication. Some will use phones or computers to talk. Some will prefer to type, some will sign, some will be comfortable with whatever. (Just ask the person).

So here’s the brief. I’m sure I’ve missed probably something, so this is where I leave it open for questions. “How do you…?” “What kind of…?” just ask.


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