A web of anxiety: accessibility for people with anxiety and panic disorders [Part 2]


Designing for anxiety

Designing for users with anxiety poster from the Home Office: Do give users enough time to complete an action; Don't rush users or set impractical time limits; Do explain what will happen after completing a service; Don’t leave users confused about next steps or timeframes; Do make important information clear; Don’t leave users uncertain about the consequences of their actions; Do give users the support they need to complete a service; Don’t make support or help hard to access; Do let users check their answers before they submit them; Don’t leave users questioning what answers they gave.

Anxiety and panic disorders are well documented in medical and academic literature, yet there is a notable lack of guidance and research on their relation to web accessibility.

Recent efforts by the Web Accessibility Initiative’s Cognitive and Learning Disabilities Accessibility Task Force aim to address this research gap to better support users with stress, anxiety and depression. In his recent Inclusive Design 24 talk—Addressing Trauma- and Stressor-Related Disorders—Thaddeus Cambron describes how he hopes to bring additional visibility to anxiety and trauma disorders through his position on the World Wide Web Consortium’s Personalization Accessibility Task Force.

But despite not explicitly mentioning anxiety and panic disorders, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 still include a number of success criteria that can help people with these disabilities. Similarly, a number of The Paciello Group’s Inclusive Design Principles are relevant to people with anxiety and panic disorders.

The UK Home Office Digital, Data and Technology team maintains a series of dos and don’ts posters that highlight research-driven inclusive-design best practices for different user groups. While the posters focus on accessible service design in government, much of their advice can be applied generally. A recent addition to the series is a poster on designing for users with anxiety (PDF, 1.0MB).

The following pointers can help address the concerns that were raised by people with anxiety and panic disorders:

Stop the clock

ne way to avoid the anxiety-inducing sense of urgency that certain websites and apps provoke is to remove unnecessary time limits and countdown timers, and give users enough time to comfortably complete their tasks.

Manage expectations

In my previous post, respondents cited the unpredictable nature of certain websites and apps as another source of apprehension. This is particularly the case for online forms, where ambiguous labels and vague instructions can make anxious users rightly reluctant to trudge through the form. One respondent described feeling overwhelmed when there’s too much information or when something starts to feel too involved or complex. They added that this discomfort can be avoided by “simplifying forms, keeping them nice and clear, using easy to understand terms, and not having too much happening on the page.”

The Home Office poster offers advice along these lines, including recommendations to make important information clear, and explain what will happen after completing a form.


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