Experience a Disability and Change Your Website

The best way to understand how someone with a disability experiences your website is to step into their bodies for a few minutes. I wrote a few articles about tactical ways to create websites for more disability-friendly interfaces and features. Yet while major companies acknowledge that accessibility is a good thing, they often refuse to build in accessibility features due to budget and timeline constraints. The best way to convince someone of their error is to allow them to experience a disability for themselves first hand.

In the wake of Easter, many of us heard about the trials Jesus faced during the last week of his life. If you attended a Good Friday service, you undoubtedly heard one of the Gospel accounts of the events that led him to the cross. If you are Catholic, you may have walked through the Stations of the Cross. Either way, we are reminded in explicit detail of what Christ experienced during his arrest, torture, crucifixion, and death. It helps us understand the cost of our sin, and the burden that was carried. While dealing with a disability is a far cry from torture, experiencing it first hand is a great way to comprehend why your website needs to be accessible.

In this article I will examine several easy ways to explore your church website as someone with a disability would.

Blindfolded

Using your website with a blindfold on is obviously a way to mimic what it feels like to be blind. You will have to rely on today’s screen reading technology. Try downloading free or trials of screen reading technology and see how difficult it is to use a computer, let alone navigate your church website. For example, without good semantic document structure (using heading tags), there is no easy way to navigate text-heavy pages. ALso, while images may not be seen, you can write descriptions to accompany them.

Adjusted Monitor Settings

What would it be like to view the world as someone completely color blind? Most monitors have color and contrast settings to allow you to mimic eyesight conditions that are not 100% debilitating, but could make parts of your site more challenging to use. Consider distinctions that rely solely on colors (icons that are the same shape but different color), or two items that are too close in color for easy distinction (such as text and a background color). Then consider if you should adjust their settings.

No Mouse

While some users have enough sight to use a computer with a keyboard, they cannot see the well enough to track a mouse pointer. In other cases, they may have arthritis and cannot perform the wrist movements a mouse requires. Either way, you are limited to tabbing through the site. Depending on how elements are coded, this may be astoundingly laborious. Ask your development team to try this, and ask if they think it is worth re-writing their code.

Heavy Gloves

While it is hard to comprehend having hands and fingers that will not respond to your brain’s commands, heavy gloves should make clicking and nudging the mouse more difficult. Visitors with any cognitive disabilities, such as Parkinson’s or Cerebral Palsy may have a difficult time moving the mouse to click on any items, let alone small buttons and links. See first hand how frustrating it is to not be able to click on the call to action on a page.

Ear Plugs

While we often browse the Internet without sound playing, experiencing streaming video or recordings of your services would be nearly pointless without closed captioning. You might be proud of finally getting your sermons recorded and posted as a podcast, yet if you do not provide transcripts your deaf visitors will be lost.

Action Item: This does not cover all disabilities and scenarios, but even with these few examples you website steering committee should quickly see that ignoring website accessibility is a big mistake. Conduct one or all of these experiments during a workshop. Your know church would not stand to have no wheelchair ramps; so do not allow the same obstacles for your website. Everyone should have access to the technology that will help them grow in faith and strengthen their ties with the online church community.

Note: This article was inspired by A Web for Everyone and its associated podcast

Author: Stephen Morrissey

I have been making websites since 1996, and using social media since 2006. My current profession is designing user experiences for corporate software, websites, and mobile applications. I started sharing my knowledge with the world in 2011, about a year after a revival in my faith.

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