[Athen] What is autism and how autistic people they are impacted by online application/content?

Normajean.Brand normajean.brand at hccs.edu
Thu Oct 27 09:27:43 PDT 2016

Thank you, Hadi, for sharing! Please thank Skyler for allowing you to share it and for her perspective and experiences!


NJ Brand
NJ Brand, ATAC
Houston Community College
ADA/Assistive Technology Technician
Technology and Instructional Computing
VM/Office: 713.718.5604
FAX: 713.718.5430
Email: normajean.brand at hccs.edu<mailto:normajean.brand at hccs.edu>

From: athen-list [mailto:athen-list-bounces at mailman13.u.washington.edu] On Behalf Of Hadi Rangin
Sent: Tuesday, October 25, 2016 11:36 AM
To: 'Access Technology Higher Education Network' <athen-list at u.washington.edu>
Cc: uwweb at uw.edu
Subject: [Athen] What is autism and how autistic people they are impacted by online application/content?

Hello everyone,

As part of IADP course that I have been teaching with my friends from UIUC, students need to share their experience with disability, elaborate on a particular disability and how they are impacted by online application/content.
We get very interesting, educational and sometimes very sad stories. One of our students sent the following response to this assignment and allowed me to share it with anyone who can benefit from it. I strongly recommend to read it especially if you are a designer or developer. And feel free share it with other colleagues who can benefit from it.

Author: Skyler Whittaker

So as I mentioned in my intro post, I am autistic, and one thing you may have heard about autistic people is that we are "bad at social skills." I feel like this gives an unfair and inaccurate portrayal of what autism is. Autistic people have difficulty engaging in normative social communication, yes; however, this is because our brains process the sensory information in our environment differently. We feel and experience the world differently than non-autistic people do, and so we live in a different informational context.

This is important, because the meaning of social information is based on context. If I am not processing the information in my environment in the same way as a neurotypical person would, I am not going to experience the same informational context that they would. That means I am going to miss out on a lot of contextual meaning when people try to communicate with me in socially normative ways.

So it's not that autistic people are inherently bad at social skills; rather, social information is not presented to us in an accessible way.

(Some tips for neurotypicals who wish to effectively communicate with autistic people: Treat us as you would treat someone who grew up in a non-English-speaking culture. Even when we know the basic rules of the English language, we might not understand the full sociocultural context of what you are saying to us, because we didn't grow up in the same informational context that you did. So use clear, simple language when speaking to us, but know that our thoughts and feelings are every bit as rich and complex as yours are, even when we can't effectively articulate them in ways you can understand. Taking time to learn about the various ways different autistic people experience the world will improve your ability to communicate with us, just as learning about a different culture will improve your ability to communicate with people from that culture.)

Author: Skyler Whittaker

"Are there any challenges associated with interpreting information on the web?"

Yes, there are, although different autistic people will experience different challenges. The autism spectrum includes a wide variety of people, each with their own unique set of sensory and cognitive needs.

Possible challenges may include:

- Language used may not be simple and explicit enough, and may assume sociocultural knowledge that an autistic person (or a person of different social/cultural background, as Karla pointed out) may not possess.

- Sensory challenges related to the design of the page: perhaps it is too busy with too many images; perhaps the particular color scheme chosen is too visually "loud;" automatically-playing music and/or advertisements may be alarming, or at the very least distracting and confusing.

- The organization of the page may be hard for us to follow. Autistic people benefit from simple, well-organized formatting, where relevant links are placed in obvious locations, and different sections of text are clearly labeled. It also helps if we do not have to click through too many different links to find the information we are looking for.

- Online forms can be very difficult for autistic people (we have similar struggles with paper forms). It helps when each field of the form is explained in detail.

- It can be harder for us to navigate unfamiliar websites, particularly if they have unfamiliar layouts.

- Different autistic people can have very different ways of processing information, so a site that is very easy for one autistic person to navigate can be very problematic for another. Some of us are highly visual and need pictures and diagrams; some of us are most comfortable with reading text, and find images and sounds distracting; some of us struggle with reading and prefer auditory input. (I myself am bothered by both visual and auditory chaos - I prefer a combination of simple symbolic diagrams and written text. I also have some auditory processing difficulties, so I prefer to watch videos with captions, to read transcripts of podcasts, etc.)

In addition, autistic people can have any number of other cognitive or physical disabilities. It is important to consider the experiences of multiply-disabled people when designing for accessibility.

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