How I feel when I run into a website with autoplay. Source: Chairu Fajal on Unsplash

We’ve all experienced autoplay before. One moment you’re browsing a news website and then your eardrums are suddenly blasted with a barrage of audio. You scroll down the page in a frantic search to find the source of the noise only to find that its source is a video that started playing automatically. If you’re lucky, you can pause the video or mute it and carry on your merry way. Other times, you might not be able to mute the video or pause the video, and you have no choice but to leave the site. If you don’t have a disability, autoplay is aggravating. But if you do have a disability, autoplay is a nightmare.

In their 2020 article, “Why Autoplay Is an Accessibility No-No” the Bureau of Internet Accessibility (BOIA) writes about the flaws of autoplay and states that autoplay might seem like a regrettable necessity to media publishers. However, they’re quick to point out that many browsers mute or disable autoplay media by default and that “most of the purported benefits of autoplay—more user engagement, better user retention—are wildly overstated”, citing the results of a 2016 survey by Consumer World.

The BOIA also makes the same point I mentioned in this chapter’s introduction: that autoplay is much, much worse for people with disabilities or for neurodiverse people. As an autistic person, I have some sensory sensitivities that can cause me anxiety and physical pain. Some of these sensory sensitivities include loud, sudden noises, people talking loudly, and sirens. I can’t count the times autoplaying media has startled me, distracted me, and caused me physical pain. For autistic people with hypersensitivities, autoplay can make a site unusable or genuinely stress-inducing.

But autistic people aren’t the only ones who are negatively impacted by autoplay. Autoplay can interfere with screen readers and make screen readers harder to hear, making it difficult for those who use screen readers to navigate or use websites. Furthermore, certain autoplay media can trigger seizures or other reactions.

So what’s the best way to address autoplay’s accessibility problems? First, as I and the BOIA suggest, don’t use autoplay. Autoplay is absolutely not worth the negative impacts it has on people’s well-being and ability to use a site. However, for those who are interested, the BOIA article also provides further advice and links to other resources.

Note: This chapter is a revised version of a blog post titled “Autoplay is an Accessibility Nightmare” on Digital Media Miscellany.


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