Web Accessibility: Low-Bandwidth Users

As of 2013, we have an estimated 2.7 billion users on the internet, which is nearly 40% of the entire human population (7.3 billion, as of July 2015). Of those users, only 1.8 billion are connecting to the internet at broadband speeds (this includes both land-line and mobile broadband connections). With web pages becoming more and more data heavy, thanks in large part to Plugins, large images and videos becoming common content, the 33% of internet users who have connection speeds under 150 kbits/s are at a major disadvantage when it comes to accessibility.

So what can you, as a developer, do to better serve the lower third of internet users who suffer from low connection speeds? Well, Aptivate has already put together a very comprehensive guide to developing with low-bandwidth users in mind, so in this article, I’ll just be reviewing the most important aspects of their approach.

Size Matters

One of the main points that you must be aware of when developing for low-bandwidth users, is to keep the total size of a page (including all HTML, Javascript, CSS and images) under 25kB. I know that this may not sound achievable in some situations, but in the modern age of design, minimalist structure and design is not only good for low-bandwidth users, but also for all users in general.

After all, when users arrive at a page that has too much (or too little) information displayed on a single page, they are likely to leave. This requires designers and developers to work hard at distilling the raw idea of what you need to convey to users on your site, instead of just filling your site with content.

A Picture Takes as Long as 1000 Words

Though this metric isn’t completely accurate, the message is this: If you can convey a message with words, instead of pictures, always use words. When you do have to use a picture, have it in the correct format to reduce size, and if the image is very large, consider using a thumbnail that links to the full-size image. This way, the user isn’t forced to download those large images when your page loads initially.

Cache and Inform

Allowing your site to be cached enables users to save duplicate content (like images) so they don’t have to re-download that content each time they visit your page. There are several techniques that you can utilize for this, and the full guidelines go over those techniques in their section about caching.

Lastly, it’s best to warn users of page sizes when you link to them. This way, they can decide whether or not they want to follow the link. For example, if you provide a link to a chart that details more about the subject you are talking about on your site, a user would probably be very interested in the link. However, if that chart is a 20MB image, the user may want to know that before they prepare for the 5-minute or more download time that it will take to access the information.

Additional Resources

More information on this subject can be found in thew following locations:

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