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Why “Swiping Right” Doesn’t Work for People with Disabilities

Posted February 09, 2024


Posted February 09, 2024

Accessibility symbol next to a smartphone displaying an image of a heart.
Accessibility symbol next to a smartphone displaying an image of a heart.

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The majority of online dating sites, including Tinder, Hinge, and Bumble, are inaccessible to users with disabilities. In this article, we reveal the frustrations that people with disabilities face when trying to build new relationships using inaccessible dating apps.

With Valentine’s Day just a week away, many people are renewing their efforts to find love. For most, this means turning to online dating apps like Bumble, Hinge, Tinder, etc. These online applications have changed the way we date. The “meet cutes” or “serendipitous outings” of the past have been replaced with today’s endless swiping and instant messages.

And while these apps have made dating more convenient for many groups, they’ve left out a key demographic: people with disabilities.

Most dating apps are not designed with the disabled community in mind, and even when users can use the apps, the experience is anything but seamless.

To understand the opinions and experiences the disabled community has had with dating apps, AudioEye conducted a survey with the AudioEye A11iance team, a group consisting of people with disabilities. Here’s what they had to say about the accessibility of dating apps

Accessibility symbol with small slice taken out of upper corner next to text that reads '78% of the group that has used dating apps, 78% said they faced challenges when using the app.'

Our Findings

Survey questions focused on the use of dating apps including:

  • If they used dating apps and how often
  • Which apps they currently use or have used in the past
  • How accessible they felt each app was
  • If they were aware of apps’ accessibility features
  • Whether or not they’ve faced challenges when using the app
  • If they felt dating apps are inclusive of people with disabilities in terms of features and design

Based on the responses, it’s unsurprising that the majority of dating apps are inaccessible to individuals with disabilities. According to our findings, 53% of respondents currently use or have used a dating app. Below is a breakdown of which sites participants use or have used:

  • OkCupid: 56%
  • Zoosk: 22%
  • Hinge: 33%
  • Plenty of Fish: 56%
  • Bumble: 44%
  • Other: 44%

Of the group that has used dating apps, 75% said it was not accessible and 78% said they faced challenges when using the app, despite close to half (44%) being aware of the platform’s accessibility features.

Most importantly, 100% of respondents said that dating apps, including the ones mentioned above, are not designed to be accessible by people with disabilities.

List of common accessibility challenges next to stylized icons.

Common Accessibility Challenges on Dating Apps

With the majority of people facing accessibility issues on dating apps, we asked what the most common issues were, a breakdown of which is below.

Lack of Alt Text

Most dating apps are highly visual with users ‘swiping right’ on potential matches. However, this is problematic for users with visual impairments (i.e. blindness, cataracts, or low-vision). For individuals with visual impairments, this ultimately prevents them from using the app or swiping right with everyone in hopes of matching with someone they’re compatible with.

Poor Screen Reader Compatibility

Individuals who have difficulty seeing digital content (such as those with visual, motor, or cognitive impairments) rely on screen readers to access and interact with websites and applications. However, most dating sites are not compatible with screen readers or other assistive technologies. This prevents users from being able to search for matches, respond to messages, or even set up a profile on the app.

Similarly, most dating apps don’t have a text-to-speech feature which reads text or content aloud. Without this, users don’t have a clear understanding of how to use the platform or respond to messages. Several respondents reported a lack of screen reader compatibility on most dating platforms, which hindered their ability to use the service.

No Button or Form Labels

Labels on dating apps such as buttons, forms, labels, checkboxes, and dropdown menus help users with disabilities understand their function. Without these, users are not able to understand their purpose, which may prevent them from setting up a profile or responding to messages. Said one survey respondent: “All elements need to be labeled.” She went on to describe how labeling simplifies the experience and improves navigation.

Complex Navigation

Finally, a few survey respondents reported the navigation of dating apps was difficult for individuals with disabilities. Many were unable to make it past the initial set up due to poor navigation for screen readers or keyboard users.

What the Disabled Community Wants from Dating Apps

Everyone has the right to find love — regardless of their ability. Yet, people with disabilities are not able to participate in today’s modern way of dating due to the inaccessibility of dating apps. To give this deserving community a chance to find their special someone, dating apps need to include the following:

Alt Text

This really is a necessity considering the highly visual aspect of today’s dating apps. Adding simple descriptions to someone’s profile pictures can help users determine whether or not the individual is someone they’d like to get to know. 

“I would like…detailed alt text for pictures,” Jared Stofflett, a survey respondent, said. “For example, it would be good to know if a prospective match had a cat or dog in their picture. Other details like clothing style, where the picture was taken, etc. cloud also provide more info.”

Another respondent emphasized the need for alt text to enhance screen reader compatibility.

Simple Navigation

Navigation goes a long way in how accessible a dating app is. It’s all too easy for users with visual, motor, or cognitive disabilities to become confused or disoriented and be unable to use the platform. Said April Combs, another survey respondent who has since sworn off dating apps: “I was barely able to navigate beyond the account set up a couple years ago when trying to help a friend set up an account. This friend has a cognitive disability as well as visual.”

Dating platforms can simplify their navigation by minimizing distractions, using headers correctly, implementing error alerts, and ensuring all web elements are properly labeled. Together, these elements simplify navigation and make it easier for users with disabilities to navigate around.

Test for Screen Reader Compatibility

The best way for dating apps to optimize their platforms for screen readers is to test the platform with actual screen readers. Justin Ekis recommends reaching out to disabled users to conduct manual accessibility audits or to solicit feedback from screen reader users. Not only can this help resolve existing accessibility issues, but also help online dating companies design future platforms with screen reader users in mind.

Add Form and Button Labels

As mentioned above, not having labels for website elements such as forms and buttons makes it difficult for users to understand the entirety of a page. Adding these elements to dating platforms may help to simplify profile set up or responding to messages. Christina Campbell, another community member, stated that adding this “simple functionality” would greatly improve the accessibility of mobile dating apps.

Include Text-to-Speech Options

Similar to screen reader compatibility, many of our respondents requested the need for text-to-speech options. This feature could read online text aloud to users who may not use screen readers, providing them with more information about a potential match. Additionally, this could make responding to direct messages easier.

Ultimately, the disabled community wants dating platforms such as Hinge, Bumble, OkCupid, and others to be more cognizant of users with disabilities. 

Said Tremaine Watson: “In general, it seems that accessibility in design has become, at best, an afterthought.”

Users also encouraged dating platforms to bring users with disabilities into the design and development process much earlier. “I feel it is vital for dating app developers to acknowledge that people with disabilities also wish to utilize their services,” Natalia Radcliffe said. “Providing an interface that is accessible is the vital first step.”

It’s Time for Dating Apps to Expand their Dating Pool

Online dating platforms have forever changed the way our society dates. However, the disabled community is largely kept from this experience due to inaccessible dating platforms. To combat this, dating platforms need to enhance the accessibility of their platforms. 

“Everyone should be able to access dating sites — they need to be secure, accessible, and inclusive,” said Diane Fisher. The first step to implementing accessibility is to find and fix existing accessibility issues. That’s where AudioEye comes in.

Our digital accessibility platform identifies common accessibility issues within mobile applications and provides both automated fixes via our software and custom fixes via our team of professional developers. With AudioEye, your online dating site is made more accessible, enabling more individuals from the disabled community to find love.

Ready to uncover accessibility issues on your site? Get started with a free site scan from AudioEye.

The results mentioned in this post come solely from individual responses from members of our A11iance community about their experiences with these sites and apps. AudioEye did NOT perform expert audits of dating sites or apps.

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