Why Motion on Websites and Digital Content Is a Problem

December 16, 2021
Endless stairwell in square shape
Image Description: Endless stairwell in square shape

Have you ever attended a presentation where a slide has an animated clip (GIF)? And it keeps repeating itself?

Or on social media where a comment has an animated GIF that plays endlessly?

What about visiting a website where the background moves because it’s a video or it has a slide show that won’t quit?

Or getting an email with a signature that’s constantly moving and distracting you from reading the email?

This is a real problem. And it’s more common than most people realize.

How Common Are Vestibular Disorders?

Dizziness and lightheadedness have plagued me for my entire life. Try as I might, I’ll never forget what I had to do from time to time while growing up.

I’d be in bed and suddenly, the room felt like it was spinning. I’d grab my pillow and put it over my head. It was as if the cushioning provided a little relief. Eventually, the dizzy spell passed and I’d come out from underneath my pillow.

It wasn’t until decades later that I learned my problems with vertigo were connected to my being born profoundly deaf.

After I had my cochlear implant surgery, I had the worst vertigo of my life. It lasted for weeks. The doctor referred me to a vestibular specialist. That’s when I found out about the connection between my sensorineural hearing loss and vestibular disorder.

The doctor gave me exercises to help strengthen my vestibular system. I’ve always been good about doing my physical therapy exercises, but I struggled to do the vestibular exercises. They always left me feeling drained and my eyes strained.

This experience piqued my curiosity. If the vestibular disorder came with my deafness, then how many deaf people also had the same problem? I came across a study in the International Journal of Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery that that has found 70 percent of deaf and hard of hearing children with sensorineural hearing loss have a vestibular disorder.

But that’s not all. It’s not just deaf and hard of hearing people who may be affected.

The Vestibular Disorders Association says more than 35% of US adults aged 40 and older experience vestibular dysfunction at some point in their lives. This adds up to about 69 million Americans.

Don’t forget that people with migraines are sensitive to motion. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in the past 20 years, 15% of Americans aged 18 years or older have reported experiencing a migraine or severe headache in the previous three months.

Additionally, 3.4 million Americans have epilepsy per CDC. The World Health Organization reveals 50 million people have epilepsy worldwide. It’s one of the most common neurological diseases.

Many people get motion sickness without having any of these conditions or disorders. The Vestibular Disorders Association indicates that 10% of the overall population is more susceptible to experience motion sickness.

What Can Be Done About Motion?

It’s always a better user experience to let viewers have control over any motion. This doesn’t mean you have to stop using animated GIFs. It means we need to give people control over it. Or post trigger warnings before showing something.

Twitter is a great example. Under their accessibility settings, they have options to reduce motion and turn off autoplay. You can still check out the animated GIFs, but you control their movement. When an image with the Play button shows up on Twitter, it’s either a video or an animated GIF. Select the image and it plays. Select the image again and it stops.

Facebook works the same way. LinkedIn does not. You can turn off autoplay of videos on LinkedIn. But if someone posts an animated GIF in the comments or in their post, they will play endlessly until you scroll down to get them off the screen or go somewhere else.

Platform and app creators need to offer “reduce motion” and “autoplay” in their settings. Web developers can change the way they design user interfaces so nothing is moving without the visitor’s permission.

Apple iOS and Microsoft Windows have “reduce motion” in their Accessibility settings.

When you limit motion or put it in the viewer’s control, you’ll create a better and more accessible user experience.

Director of Marketing | Plano, TX
Hearing-free aka deaf accessibility marketer, accessibility consultant, professional speaker, and trainer pushing for more accessibility and high-quality captions. 🤟

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