Guide to Digital Accessibility for Neuropathy

Published June 11, 2024

June 11 marks Neuropathy Action Awareness Day, an annual event dedicated to raising awareness about neuropathy. Neuropathy is one of many types of nerve impairment, and it can impact a person's ability to use the technology needed to access digital services and content.

Neuropathy can have so many causes that it's difficult to accurately estimate how many people it affects. And, just like other users, those with neuropathy have a right to equal access to digital resources.

What is neuropathy?

Neuropathy is a condition that affects the peripheral nerves. It's classified as a disability when it significantly impacts an individual's ability to perform daily activities and participate fully in society. Diabetes, autoimmune disorders, infections, hereditary factors, or certain medications can cause it. And symptoms can include numbness, tingling, pain, muscle weakness, and impaired coordination.

What accessibility challenges come with neuropathy?

Neuropathy can pose significant challenges when accessing and using digital resources.

The symptoms of neuropathy can influence:

  • Fine motor skills – Neuropathy can affect fine motor skills, making it challenging for individuals to perform precise movements, such as using a mouse, typing on a keyboard, or navigating touchscreens. This can hinder their ability to interact with digital interfaces and access online resources.

  • Sensory perception – Individuals with neuropathy may experience diminished or altered sensory perception, such as reduced tactile sensitivity or body awareness. As a result, they may struggle to accurately perceive touch or pressure, making it difficult to operate touchscreens, trackpads, or other input devices effectively.

  • Dexterity and coordination – Neuropathy can impact hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity, leading to difficulties with accurately controlling input devices. Tasks like clicking small buttons, dragging and dropping elements, or using complex gestures may present challenges.

  • Visual impairments – In some cases, optic nerve damage, diabetic retinopathy, and other vision-related complications can be associated with neuropathy. These impairments can impact a person's ability to visually perceive text, images, and other content on digital platforms.

  • Pain and fatigue – Neuropathy-related pain and fatigue can make prolonged digital engagement uncomfortable or even intolerable for some people, limiting how long they can spend interacting with digital content and services.

To address these barriers and improve digital accessibility for individuals with neuropathy, implementing inclusive design practices and adhering to accessibility guidelines is essential.

Designing for users with neuropathy

Inclusive design always plays a role in making digital content more accessible. Consider the following when incorporating inclusive design principles:

  • Make designs clean and readable – Even if a user's neuropathy doesn't present with any visual impairment, streamlined, well-organized interfaces are easier to use. Leave white space around content to increase clarity and avoid confusion.

  • Keep navigation intuitive – Rather than reinventing the wheel, stick to well-established organization and layout patterns for navigation and page structures. Predictable navigation makes it easier for users to interact with the interface to find what they want. Include skip links and landmarks for users who rely on screen readers or alternative navigation methods.

  • Make interactive elements obvious – Buttons, calls to action, and other elements that a user is meant to interact with should be easy to identify and access without requiring a lot of precision.

  • Reduce friction – Avoid building pages that require excessive scrolling or that put unnecessary time pressure on users. These design patterns can cause stress and make it difficult for users to achieve their goals.

  • Support assistive tools – Don't assume everyone can use a mouse or touchscreen. As alternative input devices become more widely available and commonly used, ensuring your content is compatible with them is all the more important.
  • Follow basic accessibility best practices – Provide descriptive alt text, captions, and transcripts for non-text media as appropriate. Use semantic HTML, make content responsive and cross-compatible, and reference the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines to ensure compliance throughout the design and development process.

  • Get user input – Seek users' input with neuropathy during testing to gather valuable insights and feedback. And stay open to user feedback even when you're not in a testing phase. Getting ongoing insight into ways to improve will help ensure your digital assets remain accessible into the future.

Assistive technologies and tools

Supporting assistive tools can help keep your site, app, or other content accessible to users with neuropathy. But what devices should you focus on? Some commonly used assistive technologies include:

  • Screen readersScreen reading software converts on-screen text into synthesized speech or braille output so users can access written content without relying on vision.

  • Speech recognition softwareSpeech recognition tools allow users to navigate content, dictate, and control devices using spoken commands.

  • Alternative keyboards and input devices – Adaptive keyboards, Ergonomic mice, eye-tracking devices, and other specialized input devices can comfortably help individuals who can't interact with more common devices.

New assistive tools are being developed all the time, so following the news and asking users what they use can help you stay ahead of the game.

Conclusion

All people have a right to access digital services, information, and other resources that are becoming more essential to daily life. Neuropathy Action Awareness Day is an opportunity to be supportive and spread awareness about neuropathy in general. Still, it's also an opportunity to advocate for the importance of digital design and development practices that consider the needs of users living with neuropathy.

By considering diverse user needs and following best practices, designers, developers, and content creators can make resources more accessible, usable, and inclusive.

 

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