Elias, retiree with low vision, hand tremor, and mild short-term memory loss in Stories of Web Users, How People with Disabilities Use the Web

Note: This is a story of one particular person – it doesn’t represent the broad diversity of people, so that generalizing this story could lead to stereotypes.

About Elias

I love all this new technology. It is great to see my grandchildren. It takes me a bit to find all the controls and sometimes they are a bit on the small side, but I get there in the end

Elias has low vision, hand tremor and short term memory loss. Elias had a long and successful career as an architect. He delayed retirement until he was in his 70’s because as the senior architect in his firm, he was often sought after to mentor the new hires and guest lecture at local universities. Elias has macular degeneration that blurs his vision and makes reading more difficult. Over time, the demands of the close-up work necessary to render architectural drawings strained his eyes to the point that he could only work a couple of hours at a time. He finally had to stop work when he developed a mild hand tremor and found it too difficult to maintain the precision required for his work.

Currently, at age 85, Elias’s family has started to notice some short term memory loss. Even so, Elias maintains an active interest in the history of architecture and is part of a small group of people who share his passion and write about it online. His blog has an active following and helps ensure he is still able to contribute to the field.

Like many older people, Elias has difficulty reading small text. He subscribes to an online rather than physical version of the newspaper because he is able to increase the size of the text, making it easier to read. On some sites this does not work as well because either the text gets cut off or the larger text doesn’t flow to the next line and he has to scroll horizontally off screen. His tremor makes it difficult to scroll across in a straight line. While this is easier than managing the large pages of a print newspaper, the best instance is when the text resizes and reflows properly.

For all of the benefits of using a computer to read the news and stay active in his field, Elias often has difficulty with the security on some websites. On sites that use CAPTCHAS, it is hard for him to identify the distorted text or identify the images in photos because they are usually not clearly rendered. On sites that send a security code, Elias has to interrupt what he is doing to look on his phone and copy a code, and sometimes the codes are long and hard to transcribe correctly. Elias finds it much simpler when using easily identified CAPTCHAs and security codes that are easy to scan and transcribe, such as short groups of numbers.

Barrier examples

Inaccessible CAPTCHA
Problem: “When I login to my online banking I need to complete a CAPTCHA but I can’t really read it well.”
Works well: “My banking login sends me a text to with a code to confirm it is me.”
Text doesn’t reflow
Problem: “When I resize a website using my browser some of the text disappears or is cut short and sometimes I have to scroll across the screen as well as down.”
Works well: “When I resize a website using my browser the text is all still available and is presented in a longer thinner column that doesn’t need to be scrolled sideways.”
Distracting animations
Problem: “When my screen is magnified, animations are very distracting because I don’t get the full context of what is going on.”
Works well: “Allow me to stop any animation on the screen so I can concentrate on what I’m looking at.”
Tables don’t zoom well
Problem: “Online tables sometimes have a lot of space between the columns and when I’m zoomed it, I have scroll from left to right to see all of the content and I often miss the association from one column to the next.”
Works well: “When I zoom the tables change from lots of columns to being presented more like a list with each row being shown as a list item.”
Problem: “I often lose my place on websites. Sometimes I follow several links and it’s not what I’m looking for. I can use the back button to go back page by page but I still get lost.”
Works well: “A breadcrumb at the top of each page that shows my path through the site keeps me on track, plus it helps me get back to the home page really quickly.”
Login page
Problem: “I have accounts with so many different websites that sometimes I forget my password.”
Works well: “An option to remember my password for this site and a means of resetting my password if I need to.”

Assistive technologies and adaptive strategies used

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