When designing a website, it’s important to take all potential visitors into consideration. This includes the visually impaired – those afflicted with color blindness, low vision and even total blindness. While only U.S. government websites are required to be compliant with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, many large American retailers are beginning to follow suit – especially after Target was sued for six million dollars (USD) for having an inaccessible site for the visually impaired.
The first thing to think about when improving the accessibility of your site for the visually impaired is the level of the impairment. Is your site suitable for users with color blindness, low vision, partial blindness and even total blindness? Fortunately, there are several online tools and software available that can help make your site more accessible.
Studies suggest that about 8% of men and 1% of women have some type of color blindness, with red-green color blindness usually being the case. It goes without saying then that using red and green as the primary color combination can cause accessibility issues for color blind users. However, there are other things you can do to improve the user experience for them. So before you begin desaturating your site (removing color), first save the current work of your site and try the following:
Ensure Proper Color Contrast – Some designers think that improving the color contrast of a site means that they are limited to a black and white color scheme. It doesn’t. It simply means that the colors you’re using should be passed through a color analyzer and measured for brightness difference, color difference and contrast ration.
Checking Color Contrast – This tool will tell you whether the foreground color and background color combinations are compliant with Section 508, and WCAG AA and WCAG AAA standards.
Color Blindness Webpage Simulator – Enter the url of a site into this tool to see how that page looks to a person with color blindness.
Don’t Rely on Just Color Coding – Designers are married to the practice of using colors to identify elements of a site, such as buttons, menus, links and text. Try including icons or underlining text to distinguish various elements of your site.
Choosing a font style and size to ensure legibility is probably the most important factor in the design process. There are several useful screen magnifiers (The Magnifier or Virtual Magnifying Glass) and accessibility tools such as aDesigner, a disability simulation application that creates a visualization of how a page looks to those with low-vision and total blindness. But there are still a few more steps you could implement to your site to improve accessibility for low vision users.
Avoid or Limit the Addition of Low-Resolution Images and Images with Text – Low-resolution images are often used to improve load up times of a site, which is fine, but sometimes images can be extremely distorted and blurry if their dimensions are expanded too much. The text on images can also be hard to view for persons using screen magnifier tools.
Do Not Use Scrolling, Flashing or Animated Text – Imagine trying to read something that’s scrolling from left to right really fast, blinking off and on or undergoing a metamorphosis. This can be quite a lot to keep up with, right? Now imagine reading that text when you’re visually impaired.
Front-Load Your Content – Front-loading is not a specific direction or term for web developers. It is a way of describing a writing method that puts the most important information or points first. This writing practice can help a reader easily scan the content on your site and decide if they want to continue reading, which of course you want them to do. Also, front-loaded content on your site can be more easily managed by someone using a screen magnifier.
Clearly Separate Sections of Your Design – Breaking your content into sections that are easily scanned and showing the difference between body content and sidebar content is also important. The use of proper heading tags makes it easier for all site users to read your page content. It also simplifies navigation for site visitors who are using screen readers. Also add borders, background colors, headings, content, links, spacing, icons, etc. and larger text where you can. Use fewer graphics and provide alt text for images and tables you do use.
Use Fonts That Are Easy to Read – Fonts like Verdana, Arial, Helvetica and Tahoma are very legible and still considerably stylish.
Partial & Total Blindness
Much of the design process you would use for low vision users applies for partially blind users as well. However, there are a few more components of the design process to consider for those that are totally blind.
Validate Your HTML Coding – This will help mitigate the chance of web browsers and screen readers misreading your site’s content.
Add Title Tags & Alt Tags – These meta tags will help screen readers distinguish the topics of each page and the images that are on them.
Use Fewer Graphics – Using fewer graphics helps with load up times so this component helps all users, not just users with visual impairments.