Understanding the user

Accessibility is not about laws and requirements but about people. By making products and services accessible, you make the experience open to all, independent of their situation or ability.

When thinking about accessibility, you may picture those with permanent disabilities such as loss of limbs or visually impaired, but in truth, everyone benefits from an accessible product or service.

Consider different human abilities

Start off by considering the different kinds of human abilities, this gives a basic understanding of the kinds of limitations that can affect people. For instance:

  • Sight – limitations: blindness, low-vision, color blind
  • Hearing – limitations: deaf and hearing loss
  • Motor skills – limitations: loss of muscle or limbs and paralysis that may affect a persons ability to perform a certain task.
  • Speech – limitations: people who are not able to speak or who have a speech impediment
  • Cognitive – Limitations: dyslexia, autism, ADHD. These problems include difficulty in understanding content, remembering how to complete tasks, and confusion caused by inconsistent or non-traditional web page layouts.

Limitations aren't always permanent

Everyone will at some point in their life experience limitations related to ability. When taking about disabilities you often think of permanent ones, but they can just as easily be temporary or situational. By making your product or service accessible, you will help many people through different stages in their lives.

  • Permanent - those who have a disability such as loss of limb, sight, hearing or speech.
  • Temporary - when a person has short-term injury or context that affect how the they interact with something for a short preiod of time. This includes wearing a cast or trying to browse in bright light where reflections can diminish readability.
  • Situational - when people move through different environments. For example, noisy environments can affect your ability to hear well, a new parent often have to do tasks one-handed, and an overwhelming day can cause sensory overload.
Illustration showing a chart of permanent, temporary, and situational disabilities

Figure 1. Illustration showing a chart of permanent, temporary, and situational disabilities. For touch, a person could have one arm, an arm injury, or be a new parent holding an infant. For sight, a person could be blind, have cataracts, or be a distracted driver. For hearing, the person might be deaf, have an ear infection, or be a bartender in a loud bar. When speaking, a person might be non-verbal, have laryngitis, or speak with a heavy accent.

Talk to users

The best way to get a deeper understanding of certain disabilities is of course to talk to people and watch them use your product or service. So make sure to invite them. No experience is more humbling.

Learn through online videos

Sometimes, you may not have the time to invite and talk to the people you ideally need to, to get a better understanding of the struggles and problems they face with your product or service.

We made a list of videos that highlights some accessibility challenges:

Learn by using their tools

There are many different accessibility tools out there. Try them to get a better understanding of how navigating and using your product or service is like for persons with impairements. Use them to test your product or service to make sure it's actually usable by everyone.

  • Try out navigating the user interface by using only your keyboard. The basics of keyboard testing is simple — make sure you can navigate to every interactive control using the Tab key and click enter (sometimes spacebar) to select an element and the arrow keys for in control navigation. If you're interested you can learn more about keyboard navigation
  • Try out navigating the user interface with a screen reader. Both Android and iOS phones comes with their own build-in screen readers - TalkBack and VoiceOver - that you find in the settings menu. Mac computers also has a build-in screen reader.
  • Some users are using a magnifying glass to zoom in on different sections of the user interface, which has an affect on how you should layout your design. Get a better understanding by watching this video on how zooming affect layout choices. Windows 10, mac OS, Android and iOS comes with magnifying tools that you can try out.

Try out some simulations

There are also simulators and tools you can try out that can give small insights on how it is to use an UI with simulating different impairments.

  • Simulate color blindness with Color Oracle
  • Simulate color blindness, far-sightedness, Parkinsons or dyslexia with Web Disability Simulator. This is a free extensions for Chrome.
  • Simulate different effects of vision impairments such as, color deficiency, contrast loss, blurry vision, blocked visual field, etc, with No coffee Vision Simulator. This is a free extensions for Chrome.
  • Simulate different kinds of colour deficiencies with Colorblindly. This is a free extensions for Chrome.
  • Simulate different effects of vision impairments such as, colour deficiencies, blurry vision, dyslexia, tremors, partial vision, etc with Funkify. This is an extensions for Chrome, you can test out a limited set of options for free but you need to pay to get the whole set.


A common estimation is that about 20 percent of the Swedish population has some form of functional limitation. The following numbers are based on a report created the by Swedish administration authority Post- och Telestyrelsen (PTS).

  • About 6 percent of the population has some form of limited movement/motor function.
  • About 20 percent of the population has reading- and writing difficulties. About 5-8 percent has dyslexia.
  • About 1 percent of the population has a development disorder which makes it hard for the user to understand and learn certain things. Beyond that it's estimated that 14 percent are borderline intellectual functioning (an IQ of 70–85).
  • Almost 6 percent has problem reading even with the help glasses or lenses, i.e. suffers from some form of visual impairment.
  • About 18 percent live with limited hearing and 4-5 percent use a hearing aid. About 20 000 have severely limited hearing that require hearing implants.
  • Problem with concentration and memory related to ADHD affects 3-6 percent of children and teenagers half will keep the diagnosis through adulthood.
  • About 150 000 Swedes has problem with concentration related to dementia. The numbers are expected to double by 2050.