Emotions and web accessibility

By April 25th, 2014

There's an emotional aspect to accessibility that makes it difficult to determine exactly how we should design for a particular persona.

He was frustrated. A little embarrassed maybe? Bordering on angry (maybe even at himself). Definitely a mix of emotions, just from using the web.

He was a relatively new web user. Retired 3 years ago, he’s got no disabilities other than the fact that he has aged into bifocals. He uses a hand-me-up 2005 model PowerBook G4 and an iPad. He’s a little unsure when it comes to certain transactions online. He second guesses himself, often blaming himself for errors that come from the system. He checks his work, over and over and over again. Because he wants to get it right. The form has to be just right because recovering from errors is difficult.

He even told me that one time it took him 2 hours to fill in a form online. It was to register the warranty for a new electronic gadget. (Yes, apparently some people do actually register for warranties!) He was frustrated because he expected to see errors show inline as he was completing the form. Instead, he spent a lot of time filling out the form, checking his work, repeatedly. And then he submitted the form and was faced with a page full of errors. He was crushed. All that work and he was faced with a sea of red. He didn’t know where to start, and froze. And that sticks with him any time he tries to do something online. How he felt, right then and there.

There’s a confidence/emotional aspect to it. And a memory related aspect as well. Both are side effects of hormonal therapy for prostate cancer.


During and after treatment he found that he had a lower tolerance for coping with the unexpected.

During the entire conversation, I’m trying to figure out where to “put” him with respect to disability. He’s not really disabled — at least not the way we traditionally think of mobility, visual, hearing or cognitive impairments. I guess I’d consider him outside the realm of disability, but recognize he still has some significant barriers that he faces that impact how he uses the web.

As he’s telling me these stories of how things are for him, I’m realizing that a lot of the things that we’d do to help him are things that we’d do for someone with cognitive difficulties — either with memory related issues, or people that are considered to be somewhere on the autism spectrum and need predictable, orderly transactions. I’m trying to figure out where he fits into my world-view of accessibility.

Soooo… where does he fit?

I can’t figure out what advice to give, or exactly how I’d design with his persona in mind in the future. I just can’t place him in a neat and tidy box.

Finally, I just said to him “Dad, next time call me and we’ll go through it together.”

Tagged with: