Accessibility Problems with Infinite Scrolling

Sure, infinite scroll may seem like a great idea for your site. From a design point of view it’s easy to implement, there are no page buttons to worry about, and you have better user retention since all the user has to do is scroll. However, there is mounting research (see further reading) that shows that the consequences of using infinite scroll are not always good, especially when it comes to accessibility. From an accessibility standpoint especially, it is not recommended that you use infinite scroll, so consider carefully before implementing it.

Accessibility concerns:

Imagine someone who can only use the keyboard to navigate your site. Imagine that person having to hit the tab key 100 times or 1000 times just to get through all the content on your page. Does that person want to continue using your site? Would you? Probably not. In addition, if a page uses infinite scroll, there may be issues with using the back button – if a user clicks on a link and then uses the back button to return to the infinite list of items, will focus be returned to where they were, or will they need to start all over at the top of the list? Keyboard users will feel this pain most as they would need to tab back to where they were, potentially 100s of button presses.

Usability concerns:

Generally, if users feel overwhelmed by the amount of choices on a page, they may end up clicking on fewer items. This could mean fewer user interactions, fewer items purchased or viewed, and less engagement with your site. Etsy, for instance, implemented infinite scroll on their search results and found that users clicked on fewer items, saved fewer items, and ultimately bought less when the products were displayed with infinite scroll1. Also, if a user actually wants to get to the footer but first has to scroll through a multitude of products being infinitely loaded, that would lead to a pretty frustrating experience. Of course you could use a fixed footer at the bottom of the screen but that would take up valuable real estate and wouldn’t solve the problem for all users.

What can I do?

Opting for pagination instead of infinite scrolling is a much more accessible and user friendly approach. At the very least, in conjunction with infinite scroll, consider using a “load more products” button at the end of the “page” of content which will give more control to the user. Another option would be to give the user a choice to display pagination or infinite scrolling.

This post is not an exhaustive list of the issues with infinite scroll but hopefully it provides some food for thought.

1Source: http://danwin.com/2013/01/infinite-scroll-fail-etsy/

Further Reading:
https://www.sitepoint.com/ux-infinite-scroll-good-bad-maybe/
http://blog.adrianroselli.com/2014/05/so-you-think-you-built-good-infinite.html
http://www.webaxe.org/infinite-scrolling-and-accessibility/

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