Infinite Scrolling Can Present Web Accessibility Barriers for People With Disabilities

Developers often try to come up with new ways of enhancing the user experience (UX) on websites. One of the recent designs that they have come up with is infinite scrolling on websites. As the user scrolls down, new contents keep coming up. For most users, it means that they don’t have to click through multiple pages. Developers don’t have to create different pages for the same topic. Content creators can keep adding fresh content to the same page. The design has become extremely popular in recent times due to its convenience for all users. Most social media sites use this scrolling method to show their feeds.

But is infinite scrolling convenient for everyone?

It turns out it can present several barriers to people with disabilities. Infinite scrolling is not limited to social media because several content-rich websites such as blogs, media portals, and eCommerce sites implemented it.

Web accessibility providers like accessiBe and Userway have been able to provide an AI-powered solution to the problem, several websites still choose manual ways of rectifying it. The World Web Consortium (W3C) tried to come up with an ARIA attribute roll=”feed” to solve the problem. However, the attribute is not a full-proof solution because it is recognized only by a few screen readers. Several assistive technologies, including some screen readers, fail to access these websites.

Accessibility Problems of Infinite Scrolling

These are some of the accessibility issues presented by infinite scrolling

  • People using keyboard navigation or screen readers cannot hit a key to go back to the last focus point.
  • People cannot reach the footer of the page. That means the visually impaired might not realize when the page will end so that they can move on to the next page.
  • A keyboard user might not be able to access all the elements of the webpage.
  • Users cannot share a URL for a specific part of the website.
  • People using assistive technologies cannot jump ahead to reach content that is located further down the page.
  • People cannot disable the infinite scrolling and turn the website into one with standard pages and navigation.
  • Screen readers will keep reading out the content continuously, which might be frustrating for users.
  • People cannot reach a point on the website if they exit by mistake or if their browser crashes. For example, if they were on the 25th post on the site when they exit they will have to start over to reach there.

People using different types of assistive devices face problems accessing websites with infinite scrolling.

Keyboard Navigation

People who use keyboards only face severe problems while trying to navigate through infinite scroll feeds. When the user presses the tab on these websites, the focus shifts from one element to the next one in the DOM order. That means users have to follow the order until they reach the place they want to access. Plus, each post area usually has a tabindex=0 attribute, so that can mean that a user has to press the tab twice when they reach the end of that region. It can be a very cumbersome process for them.

Voice Recognition

People who use voice recognition software to access the internet cannot benefit from the infinite scroll UX.

Screen Readers

Most screen readers have problems reading elements on websites with infinite scrolling. People who have been using screen readers for many years might be able to identify the widgets that can make browsing accessible to them. However, for new users, the website may seem like a very long page, and they would not understand how to navigate through it.

People using screen readers may try to use ctrl+end keys to reach the end of the page and then use the arrow keys to move up the page. However, most screen readers will not respond to this method while accessing a website with infinite scroll.

Switch Devices

People with motor disabilities rely on switch devices to navigate through websites. Infinite scrolling can be extremely challenging for them since they would have to use click to scroll through the website and access the contents.

Screen Adjustments

Not everyone who is visually impaired is blind. Although a lot of people who suffer from visual impairments use screen readers and switch devices, many of them use screen modifications to access websites. That includes magnifying the screen, changing the colors, or increasing contrasts. For such users, infinite scrolling can be quite taxing for the eyes. People with cognitive disorders also use screen adjustments to access websites. However, research has shown that infinite scrolling can cause them extreme distress at times. People with attention deficit disorders may get confused while scrolling through the website.

We agree that developers had progressive intentions when they created the scroll feed program. However, we also need to think whether such creations can be enjoyed by everyone equally. So business owners who have implemented infinite scrolls can use automated solutions to make their websites accessible. But developers have to rethink how infinite scrolling can be accessible to everyone.