Accessibility: Autism Spectrum Disorder & the Web.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects the brain’s ability to receive and process information.

In 2016, Karwai Pun presented a series of posters outlining the dos and do-nots of designing for autistic users on her Accessibility Blog. Although we are covering only ASD here, as a taster of her work, she also produced overviews for;

  • Screen Readers
  • Low Vision
  • Physical or Motor Disabilities
  • Deaf or Hard of Hearing
  • Dyslexia

The posters are available in; English (en-UK), Deutsche, Español, Français, Nederlands, 台灣 (Taiwanese), and 普通话 (Mandarin). Both .pdf and .svg formats can be downloaded via the UKHomeOffice GitHub repository.

Here are the key rules.

Do keep colors soft

Opt for simple, soft colors as opposed to bright, highly contrasting ones. Users with ASD may be more sensitive to things like colors, which can cause distress, anxiety or confusion.

Don’t use figures of speech

Write in clear, plain English and cut out figures of speech. This isn’t a reflection of the user’s intellect, which can be highly advanced. Rather, it’s the preoccupation with small details of the structural language that makes figurative speech harder to understand and thus be taken literally.

Do break up text

Other design principles to follow include using simple sentences and bullet points to allow people with ASD to scan content more easily. Avoid creating walls of text as this can be overwhelming and cause cognitive problems. An autistic user would find it hard to filter out the important bits.

Don’t overcomplicate things

Simple and consistent layouts help reduce clutter and allow information to be processed more easily. Make buttons descriptive (e.g. ‘Attach files’) so users have control over what to expect. Vague button actions (e.g. ‘Click here’) are unpredictable and may cause unease.

Do test with users

There are some areas where the design advice here may contradict that given for other conditions. For example, using bright, contrasting colors may actually work better for people with poor vision. The ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ are not hard and fast rules, but should only be taken as general guidance. When designing sites and services, you should always test with various users to get the right balance.

The design principles listed in the poster are not meant exclusively for users on the autism spectrum. By highlighting the autistic user, the poster aims to raise awareness of the condition. Good, accessible design applies to everyone.


Information based on publications from the Government Digital Service, UK and Karwai Pun (@krwpn), who is an interaction designer at the Home Digital Office, working on making digital public services accessible.

net April 2017

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