Let’s start the conversation: Anxiety, Mental Health and Digital Accessibility

Lily Williams, QA Analyst

This week is a great week; it is Mental Health Awareness Week and today is also Global Accessibility Awareness Day.

This year the Mental Health Foundation decided to focus on stress; stating “by tackling stress, we can go along way to tackle mental health problems such as anxiety and depression”. The purpose of Global Accessibility Awareness day is to get everyone talking, thinking and learning about digital access/inclusion, as well as raise awareness of people with different disabilities.

The timing of these great awareness movements really got me thinking about Mental Health, specifically anxiety disorders, and what can be done in the digital world to be more inclusive of this.

The Papworth Trust state that “1 in 4 people will experience a diagnosable mental health condition in any given year” and “Around 30% of all people with a long-term health condition or disability also have mental ill health, most commonly depression/anxiety”.

This really hits home the importance of including mental health in the topic of digital accessibility – the potential exclusion if not is vast. So let's start the conversation!

I am going to go through 5 examples of features to include in websites to ensure any individual with a mental health condition such as anxiety disorder, will benefit from. And the great thing about these is that they all link to universal design principles, meaning all users benefit.

It doesn’t stop here! This list could grow significantly – the more it is discussed and thought about the better.

1. Avoid time limits

Time limitations is often a feature seen when finalising a purchase or in an application process.

The pressure of a visible clock counting down can be a massive distraction to any user. It is particularly important that individuals with anxiety are able to comfortably access and complete content at their own pace, without time as an added pressure.

The outcome of this is far more likely to be a successful completion, rather than potential avoidance or complete abandonment.

If time limits are completely essential due to legal reasons, ensure the option to extend is available. One of WCAG’s success criteria 2.2.1 Timing Adjustable states that each time limit must have the option to either turn off, adjust or extend.

2. Personal Preference and Customisation

Giving users the ability to customise and select preferences is a straight forward feature that can really help. This is commonly seen as “How would you liked to be contacted?” followed by several options i.e. phone, email, post etc. This small question can have a big impact on an individual’s life.

As previously mentioned, anxiety could stem from a disability. An individual with a visual impairment may find it very difficult to read printed text – having the option to opt for a call rather than post for a method of contact could avoid anxiety all together.

3. Breadcrumb navigation

Certain individuals may find themselves lost within a website, questioning how they ended up on their current page, or simply become frustrated trying to navigate back to a home page. Breadcrumb navigation is a simple and straight forward feature to add to webpages.

A breadcrumb trail reveals a user's location within a website. This often-overlooked feature can actually have a big impact on users; it acts as a reassuring consistent point of reference creating a great user experience.

4. Clear Instructions and guidance

Clear instructional copy and guidance can be invaluable for individuals with anxiety disorders. You will never hear a user say a webpage is too easy to use.

When registering for an account on the BBC, if an error is made you are presented with a very specific error instruction – “Oops, that date doesn’t look right. Make sure it’s a real date written as DD-MM-YYYY e.g. the 5th of June 2009 is 05-06-2009”

This is a great example of how copy, rather than the default “Please enter a value”, can effectively pre-empt any potential anxiety that may stem from incomplete forms containing errors.

On the GOV website, before starting an application you are presented with a page titled “Things you may need” - this informs users on any documents they require and an estimation of how long it may take. The well known saying “knowledge is power” really applies here, avoiding any anxiety caused by the unexpected.

Another great example of effective guidance can be seen on the Barclays website – they have taken findability to an incredible level, with users’ needs as a clear priority.

Upon opening the search bar, you are presented with a message that reads “Not sure what to search for? Other customers found these helpful” following several links phrased in a relatable conversational manner, for example “How do I find my sort code and account number”.

Approachable copy used in this context of a search bar can be so reassuring to users. They have also utilised auto-suggestions once 3 characters have been entered. It would be even better if they also provided suggestions for misspelt words (as seen on Google) – all ultimately help all users, again further enhancing the importance of universal design.

5. Summary pages

Following nicely on from the previous example of Gov including a “Things you may need” page, a Summary page can be so effective and useful for users with anxiety disorders. This may come after filling out an application or at the end of a page containing a vast amount of information.

Allowing users to check information they have inputted or allowing users to read through a quick list of key information on a page can be really beneficial.

Here at Rufus Leonard all teams are mindful of accessibility and the importance of digital inclusion, so let’s be more mindful of mental health in the digital world.

Additional resources

  • The Home Office have put together a series of really effective posters, containing clear and straightforward ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ for different disability groups and accessibility.
  • Mind are a great charity the mental health charity. We're here to make sure no one has to face a mental health problem alone.

Lily Williams, QA Analyst

Lily joined Rufus Leonard in 2018. She is passionate about digital accessibility and inclusion for all. Outside of work she spends 99% of her time training in Olympic Weightlifting. She has worked on several projects at Rufus so far including British Red Cross, The Gym Group and Stage Coach.