Development of the AASPIRE Web Accessibility Guidelines for Autistic Web Users

Dora M Raymaker, Steven K Kapp, Katherine E McDonald, Michael Weiner, Elesia Ashkenazy, Christina Nicolaidis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Websites figure predominantly in everyday life. However, many websites remain inaccessible to autistic people, and existing efforts to improve accessibility are in early stages, do not directly include autistic users in their development, or have not been empirically evaluated. The Academic Autism Spectrum Partnership in Research and Education (AASPIRE) used a community-based participatory research approach to create a website to improve health care access for autistic adults. We used the creation of that website as a "living laboratory" to develop the AASPIRE Web Accessibility Guidelines for Autistic Web Users. Our guidelines are grounded in accessibility theory, had autistic end-user involvement at all stages, and were empirically evaluated through a usability study and evaluation surveys. We incorporated what we learned into the design of the website, and compiled the accessibility information into a set of guidelines. The guidelines offer recommendations for increasing the physical, intellectual, and social acceptability of websites for use by autistic adults. In the evaluation of the website by 170 autistic end users, nearly all indicated it was easy to use (97%), easy to understand (95%), important (97%), and useful (96%). Ninety-two percent would recommend it to a friend, and 95% would recommend it to a health care provider. There were no significant associations between usability or understandability and education level, receipt of help using the site, browser type (e.g., IE or Safari), or device type (e.g., PC or tablet). We recommend using the guidelines to improve website accessibility for autistic Internet users.

Lay Summary: AASPIRE Web Accessibility Guideline: This guideline is a summary of the accessibility features we identified and implemented during the course of our study. None of these items were difficult or expensive for us to implement. They did not require special expertise beyond basic web programming and technical communications skills. We recommend that anyone seeking to create accessible websites for autistic users follow the Academic Autism Spectrum Partnership in Research and Education (AASPIRE) Web Accessibility Guideline in addition to broader web and communications standards and principles.Physical accessibility:Provide at least one low-contrast neutral color palette option to accommodate sensitive vision.Provide a selection of color palettes, including one with a dark background and one with a light background, again to accommodate color and contrast sensitivity.Provide a no-style option (i.e., no cascading style sheets (CSS) to accommodate browser customization and users who prefer no stylistic formatting.Provide simple consistent navigation and highly consistent site behavior for increased ease of operation.Avoid textured backgrounds, moving images, decorative elements that do not convey information, and other visual and/or sonic "clutter"; these types of elements may make the site difficult or impossible to comprehend.Provide smaller font sizes in addition to larger ones; large font sizes may make the page appear cluttered and difficult to read.Use a plain accessible sans-serif font (e.g., Arial) for ease of readability.Intellectual accessibility:Use the simplest interface possible for ease of understanding.Use simple concrete icons or images to communicate redundant information with text, and accommodate multiple ways of understanding information.Clearly label site elements with their purpose everywhere on the site, even if it seems redundant, to make navigation and site functionality easier to follow.Provide concrete examples where applicable to accommodate difficulties in understanding abstractions or generalizations.Minimize scrolling so the user does not need to rely on assumptions about content to guess what might be on the page.Show all important features and site navigation (as opposed to within combo box drop-down areas) so the user does not need to rely on assumptions to guess whether the item exists and how to access it. For example, completely visible list boxes or radio buttons can be used instead of combo boxes.Make content as short as possible without sacrificing precision and specificity, to reduce cognitive burden.Social accessibility:Be specific and precise in language use; avoid colloquialisms, idioms, and ambiguity to accommodate difficulties with language pragmatics.Explain the reason behind any nonstandard instructions or unusual information; provide additional pragmatic context to accommodate difficulties with language pragmatics.Provide alternatives to definitive response items on surveys and forms, for example, "do not know," "do not wish to say," or "not applicable," to reduce frustration for not being able to produce an exact answer.Use FAQ formats to organize complex information to enhance clarity as to why the information might be useful to the user and how it connects to their life.Define terms that might have different meanings depending on social context, or which might be jargon related to a specialized field (e.g., "drug interactions" and "health care providers"), to accommodate difficulties with language pragmatics.Be mindful of autistic culture and community preferences, including the language used to describe autism and how community-based symbols and history might influence content and perception of site credibility.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)146-157
Number of pages12
JournalAutism in adulthood : challenges and management
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2019


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