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.”

5 thoughts on “Emotions & web accessibility”

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  1. Bob Easton says:

    Place your Dad in the Normal category. He’s not disabled in any way.

    Thanks for shedding light on typical technique and one of the effects it has.

  2. Disabled and non disabled… my good friend Andre used to say “we are all just temporarily able bodied” (TABs). It goes further than that though because we often think in terms of “us” and “them”. The blind, disabled, white, black, fat short people.

    Categories are good in terms of providing a mechanism to simplify checklists and requirements. However, it all boils down to people, right? As you said…

    even in terms of assistive technology users and users… and as Sara Hendren says…
    “all technology is assistive technology,”

  3. Devorah says:

    I really do think your Dad is normal.

    A lot of web forms are downright antiquated in design. They assume the same level of patience that one might have for a paper form, but it doesn’t work that way.

    People want things that are more like good mobile apps. A couple of things to do at a time, and to not have to think.
    We’re used to getting feedback and having easy access to instructions.

    For many older adults, all computers should be like this at all times. From my experience teaching older people, it may have always been true that they’ve had this expectation. Perhaps because they don’t understand how the pieces work together or have a feeling of this published website being a symbol of authority. Maybe once they understand the fallible person who probably coded it, there would be less awe and more expectation of issues they have nothing to do with.

    Could a nice chart to help manage expectations for the wall or the desk be useful? Or maybe an elevator speech or mantra?

  4. David Farough says:

    My father-in-law recounted a situation that he experienced on his bank’s web-site. He paid a bill by transferring money from one accountto his visa account. he when through the rest of the process and confirmed the transaction. He then tried to print the transaction which did not work for some reason. He then started again with similar results after confirming the transaction. Then again he tried. It had not occurred to him to check his account balance after the first transaction. He ended up going to his bank and having a person correct his mistakes.

  5. Oliver Baier says:

    Derek, thank you for sharing this personal, touching story. These are valuable insights that will help us moving forward.


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