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Accessible Websites for the Visually Impaired

By Duncan Hewitt on August 05, 2016

The internet is tremendously important in our daily lives and for some of us it is our livelihood. We check sports scores, the weather, we social network with our friends and even now make banking transactions. Does anyone wonder how visually impaired people action these daily occurrences? It is outrageous that not every website is optimally designed for use by web surfers with visual impairments. Buildings are now denied planning permission if they do not have ‘disabled’ access, so why not websites? This technique is called Accessible Website Design. The most valuable resource available is the Web Access Initiative (WAI). At the WAI you’ll find guidelines for making web pages, along with explanations and techniques. The following general principles apply to designing for blind or visually impaired users, but equally they are just as relevant to all groups: **Make Allowances For Enlarged Text** Often times, simply making text larger is all that a user requires. Consider offering alternative stylesheets with larger font sizes and make sure your layout doesn't break when text-only zoom is enabled in the browser. It's always a good idea to offer text-only versions, so the user can then manipulate the text however he or she likes. **Contrast is Key** Some of the most common eye disorders all lead to a significant decrease in contrast sensitivity. This affects the eye's ability to differentiate between similar shades and levels of brightness. Consider offering a second version of your site with more contrast between elements. Make use of bold text for added readability on low-contrast items and avoid very thin fonts. **Be Mindful of Colours for Action Items** Genetic colourblindness affects about 8% of all men and about 0.5% of all women to some degree. On the whole, it isn’t feasible to offer these users an entirely different colour scheme. However, there is one place, where the use of colour should be given the utmost attention — action items. When creating buttons or notices that call the user's attention and require their direct interaction, try to avoid using colour combinations that are easily confused by colourblind users (red and green, blue and yellow). **Let Desktop Users Browse Your Mobile Site** If you offer a mobile version of your web site, don't restrict it only to mobile devices. Layouts optimised for the mobile web are typically, by nature, more visually accessible than their more grown-up counterparts. Elements are often simplified and there is less overall visual clutter to potentially confuse users who have blurred vision or difficulties with contrast and colour. **Use Keyboard Shortcuts to Aid Navigation** Keyboard shortcuts can make site navigation for the visually impaired user far easier. With the addition of keyboard commands, it's possible to navigate a site with the use of arrow keys and a few quick keystrokes, eliminating the need to follow a mouse cursor across a screen — and the associated need to keep shifting visual focus.