Can Everyone Access Your Website?

Websites are becoming more stylish and visually interesting. Programmers have overcome the vertical limitations of HTML. Multimedia problems have been surmounted by software and Internet improvements. But a website is only useful if all viewers can make sense out of it. The site needs to project a simple, organized design and readable text. All parts of the site need to function as intended in all types of browsers, operating systems, and gadgets.

But for those who are visually impaired, your website might not be easy to use. The visually impaired are not a small part of the population. 7.9 million people in the U.S. have difficulty seeing words on newspapers, even when wearing glasses. 8.3 million are blind in one or both eyes. (Statistics on Vision Impairment: A Resource Manual, April 2002, Prepared by Robin Leonard for Arlene R. Gordon Research Institute of Lighthouse International, ed. 5th)

Is your website missing a potential market by being inaccessible to those who can’t see it? Some visually impaired may be able to just enlarge the text while others use screen-reading software, like Jaws. These program read the text aloud from top to bottom. Imagine only the text on your webpage being read, without seeing any of the images or videos. That reader will go through each text section on each page, slowly and repetitively.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 is our labor law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. It specifically refers to, in part, the necessity for public accommodations for all types of disabilities. Title IV of this Act was responsible for providing alternate means for the hearing impaired to access telecommunications. Although websites have not yet been specifically addressed by the ADA, lawsuits by the blind against unreadable websites are rising. (Wall Street Journal, Nov. 2, 2016, B5.)

There are a number of simple web design tactics that allows a webpage to be more easily understood by screen-reading software. These tactics came from the public education sectors that were required by Section 508, an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. That act required all federal agencies provide individuals with disabilities with reasonable accommodation in jobs. Agencies like public universities that receive federal funds also needed to comply with Section 508.

Some Web Design Tactics that Help the Visually Impaired:

  1. Relative font size. Font size should be in percentages rather than absolute points or pixels. This allows the viewer to resize the text on their computer as needed.
  2. Alt Tags. Fill in the Alt Tags for all images. Software readers can’t “see” images, only text, so put in a text label for each image that the software can read aloud to someone who can’t see the image.
  3. Color. Create colors with strong contrast in mind. There is a reason that books have used black text on a white background. White text on a black background is harder to read and yellow text on a brown background is even worse.
  4. Text Links. An image links is not as clear as a text link for someone relying on a software reader. So provide both if you are using image links. Link names should describe exactly what the link is, so never use generic language like, Click here.
  5. Frame Titles. Most modern webpages now use frames or blocks of text to organize a page. These are repetitive elements that are easy to skip for most people. But software readers tediously read each of them in order for each page. Having a title for each frame helps the reader skip a frame.
  6. Text Only Version. Websites that are heavy on the multimedia side should provide a text only alternative on a separate page.
  7. Flickers, pop-up boxes, and blinking text. Don’t do it–for everyone’s sanity.
  8. Timed responses. This is particularly difficult for those who need a longer than average time to accomplish tasks on webpages, whether it’s to buy a plane ticket or pay a bill. Let the user control the time.
  9. Forms. Put the question or label, such as Name?, on the same line as the input area.

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