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When factoring in solutions for temporary and situationally limitations, the case for organizations and corporations to be fully vested in web accessibility has never been stronger. Not only is there a strong ethical imperative to pursue inclusive web access and liability benefits, but there are also competitive business advantages. This includes enhancing your users’ experience and ability to adapt to use your website no matter their condition or present circumstances.

Websites built and equipped to assist people with a wide range of abilities ultimately benefit everyone, including those without disabilities. This is the advantage of considering the diversity of functional limitations rather than categorizing people according to different classifications.

While the large majority of individuals will never experience the challenges and barriers of long-term and permanent disabilities, chances are they will one of the following, which all benefit when a site meets Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG):

  • Temporary limitation
  • Situational limitation
  • User preference

We don’t normally consider how fragile the “average user experience” is. People are often in unpredictable environments where assistive tools and accessibility design can provide alternative routes to reliably access digital resources. The use of eyes, ears, neck, back, hands and fingers are all commonly affected by disorders, sickness and injury, and people may find themselves reliant on assistive tools and web accessibility features for a season of their life. Lastly, user preferences are infinitely unique, and accessibility tools and design provide users with the ability to customize and experience your site completely on their terms.

The World’s Largest Demographic

Because of how complex and broad temporary and situational limitations can be, it makes this group the largest demographic of users worldwide. According to the Council for Disability Awareness, in America alone, in a single year 5%, or 16.5 million working Americans will experience a short-term disability (six months or less) due to illness, injury, or pregnancy — and that doesn’t consider situational disabilities. Additionally, as many as one in four 20-year-olds can expect to be out of work for at least a year due to a disabling condition before they retire.

Apart from pregnancy, the most common short-term disabilities are musculoskeletal disorders and fractures, sprains, and strains. Combined, these conditions account for 30% of temporary disabilities and can significantly affect a user’s ability to navigate and frequent websites.

Let’s break this down in detail with more examples.

Temporary Limitations

People can experience temporary limitations as the result of an injury, surgery, or certain medication. For example, someone who has broken their hand or arm may find that using a mouse or trackpad is difficult for them and they begin to rely heavily on keyboard commands to navigate the web and continue to perform their responsibilities efficiently.

Screen Readers & Voice Assistant — Individuals who have developed cataracts or have had their eyes dilated during a procedure may find the use of screen readers and voice assistants to be critical for them through recovery and treatment. Voice assistants have also become essential for safety for those who are driving and need to make calls or respond to or read a text
without looking away from the road.

Large & Resizable Text — If someone has hurt their neck or back, or has had recent surgery, it is likely their ability to move a display or screen closer to their eyes so they can read text will be limited. The options and ability to resize and respace text and words can be essential. The same thing can apply to someone who has lost or misplaced their prescription glasses.

Situational Limitations

Someone’s surroundings and circumstances can often and unpredictably result in constraints that resemble the challenges and needs of long-term disabilities. For example, someone may be in a loud coffee shop and unable to hear the audio on a video they’re trying to enjoy. Closed captioning or a viewable script would mean that, regardless of their situation, their ability to access these products is unaffected.

Alt-text & Closed Captioning — One of the situational issues someone may encounter is low internet latency and poor bandwidth. The presence of alt-text and captioning provide a means to continue to consume images and video resources on a website without having to load the full
site.

Time-Based Media — If some content is time-based, text alternatives or options to force animations to pause can be of great benefit for those who are in settings where they are distracted and unable to devote their unbroken attention to a website.

User Preference

Some site guests want display customization simply by virtue of their individual preferences. Every user brings their own set of unique preferences and desires into their website experience. The broader the options and abilities a website can accommodate, the larger the net to attract and retain certain users.

Keyboard Navigation — Perhaps someone finds they work faster and more focused when they can navigate sites and pages through keystrokes and not interrupt their flow by lifting up their hands to reposition a cursor or caret on the screen. A website or product designed according to web accessibility standards for motor disabilities could likely accommodate this individual’s preference.

Dark Mode & High Contrast — One of the most prominent examples of user preference is the rise in the popularity of dark or high contrast mode. The majority of browsers, websites, and mobile apps now feature dark mode settings for users to toggle.

According to an informal survey by a Google web developer, around 83% of participants stated that they prefer to use dark mode on their devices. While a key component of WCAG accessibility compliance includes dark or high-contrast mode, it also provides users with a number of benefits. These range from decreased battery consumption, easier readability, lowered eye strain and certain aesthetic appeal.

Measures that Benefit Everyone

As you can see, a website that is only built and equipped for the average user not only excludes those with long-term disabilities but is ultimately likely to exclude the average user depending on their circumstance, environment, and preference. Building sites that comply with WCAG standards and provide customizable display and navigation options not only opens your website up for people with disabilities, but it also provides invisible and residual benefits for those without long-term impairment.