One aspect of the Americans with Disabilities Act is design standards for newly-designed or -altered government, public, and commercial facilities. The idea is that our public spaces should be as accessible as possible to all, regardless of disability.

Just as with public spaces, it is difficult for an individual to accomplish all they need to in their day-to-day life without adequate access to the internet. Truly, the internet is a public space of its own.

This is why the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has created its own guidelines for web accessibility. W3C is the primary organization that creates standards for the World Wide Web. Their web design standards can be found in the document Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0).

Man with cerebral palsy using a computer

These guidelines are based on four principles that everyone who designs websites or creates content for the internet should become familiar with. For neurology, these principles take on particular importance as many patients who need to use a neurologist’s website have varying degrees of disability.

The four principles and examples of how they benefit users with varying levels of disability follow:

1. Perceivable Information and User Interface

Site visitors must be able to perceive the content.

Case in Point: A gentleman with poor tracking ability and low vision needs to enlarge the text on his screen. But when he enlarges the text on your site, it enlarges off-screen. He has difficulty keeping track as he scrolls back and forth to take in the width of the text.

Consider how your website is perceived by individuals who have a variety of disabilities. A visually impaired person will understand how the image contributes to the content only when relevant text is in place for screen readers. Providing text alternatives to audio content will improve the experience for the hearing impaired.

2. Operable User Interface and Navigation

Users must be able to perform any operations required to use the website.

Case in point: Your patient with a tremor has difficulty moving her mouse to click the navigation buttons on your website because they are so small.

Make sure the operations you require on your site are usable. To this end you can make them available by keyboard for those who cannot use a mouse. If you have portions of your site that time-out and require a fresh login, be sure users can accomplish what they need to within the time limit.

3. Understandable Information and User Interface

Site visitors must be able to understand the information and interact with it appropriately.

Case in point: A new patient wants to learn more about his diagnosis from the articles you have posted on your website. However, he is visually impaired and relies on software to read the content aloud. There are too many images on the page without meaningful alternative text. He must abandon the page because his software can’t provide a meaningful interpretation.

Be sure text is as understandable as possible to both human readers and assistive technology. Avoid complex jargon or provide definitions when possible. Add relevant descriptive text to images. Make sure the navigation menus are clear and repeated from page to page.

Blind person working on computer with screen reader and braille

4. Robust Content and Reliable Interpretation

Users need to be able to access the content as new technologies emerge for their use.

Case in point: A patient with sensory issues is excited that her new phone offers assistive touch technology. But when she visits her neurologist’s website she finds that it is not mobile-responsive, rendering her unable to use the site on her phone as she hoped.

As new technologies develop to improve accessibility for individuals with disabilities, content must be compatible with a variety of browsers and technologies. Updating with the latest versions of software and eliminating unnecessary content and code will allow your site to be interpreted the most reliably across a variety of platforms.

As those who care for individuals with a variety of disabilities, the medical community must take the lead in embracing tactics to improve web accessibility. These are just a few illustrations of the need for accessibility and how it can be improved, but there are many ways to improve the user experience of your web visitors.

Take a look at your site through the eyes of all of your patients, and see what steps you can take to make more accessible.