Different Accessibility Issues with Web Content

This article appeared originally in the October newsletter of the Guild of Accessible Web Designers (GAWDS) and provides the framework of a session that I will be presenting at this years
OzeWAI conference. Anyone who has experiences that they would like to share regarding using the Web whilst suffering from fatigue issues is invited to mail me at the address at the bottom of the page. (Note that this is a temporary address, subject to frequent change; those who know my real address are encouraged to use it.)


When creating accessible Web content, we need to consider the needs of people with a number of issues which include but are not limited to:

  • Sensory impairments
  • Impaired mobility
  • "Different" hardware/software (not a PC with Internet Explorer with an 800×600 screen resolution)
  • Cognitive and print disabilities

I guess that most people reading this are nodding at this point, saying, "yes, I am aware of all these issues, and a load of other ones".

Allow me to introduce an issue which is rarely mentioned, or considered. I write from direct, personal, experience but am sure that others will be able to identify with at least some of the aspects.

Chronic Fatigue and Friends

I am tired. I am tired all the time to the point of incapacity. Whilst this has been tagged conveniently as "Chronic Fatigue" I have two underlying issues – sleep apnoea (apnea to our friends in the USA) and thyroid/adrenal insufficiencies.

Note that the effects of my fatigue problems, whilst ongoing for me, can affect other people for other reasons – jetlag, over-work, teething infants, and more.

So what has this got to do with accessible Web design? Everything.

Before my sleep apnoea was treated, I used to suffer from "microsleeps" this is where I would, throughout the day, keep falling asleep for fractions of a second (like narcolepsy). On an everyday basis, this meant that I
could not safely drive, use power tools, have a bath, etc.

When trying to read a Web page, I would often have to start a good ten, twelve times (and still had to give up on many occasions). This problem was worst when there were large, unbroken blocks of text and/or wide columns.
My work-around was to increase the font size, although this did not help me when language was excessively complex. A clear layout with small chunks of text and plain language made my life much easier in this respect.

Multi-column layouts (more than two) were an issue for me in the apnoea days and still are in "Chronic Fatigue Mode" although slightly less so. I hate cluttered layouts; when the mind is tired and wandering, bits of content all over the place – especially when there are bits of navigation in several different places – is hugely distracting and very frustrating.
Blogs are amongst the worst offenders – what is with trying to cram so much onto a single page? Something to linearise the layout would help me here, a simple and tidy design would eliminate the need.

Movement. Argh! I would like to see a guideline "Do not allow any form of movement on a page without first asking the user’s permission." When the slightest distraction can make a page hard to read, any movement (often advertisements in the form of animated images or Flash) can actually push
"hard to read" to the level of "unuseable" As a user of the Firefox user agent (Web browser), the AdBlock extension is my saviour here, allowing me to "ban" distracting and/or annoying advertising (and other) content.

One thing that I would point out is that those with fatigue issues can be very irritable (just ask my wife). The hard-to-read page full of distractions can make for one very annoyed reader (take my word for it); if you are trying to influence that reader to buy something, support a cause, vote for someone – you may well have just sent them off to the