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Accessibility for Low Vision Users

Meeting web accessibility requirements is more than just a box to check. The World Wide Consortium (W3C) published their latest guidelines, WCAG 2.1 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) which is the definitive set of requirements for any website. Although it does begin to broaden coverage into addressing more types of disabilities, they are just guidelines and the experience of users is not always black and white, particularly when you consider low vision users.

Many people complete their essential life activities via the internet. This includes activities like banking, healthcare, retail, entertainment, communication, and relaxation. When your website is not designed in a way that makes it easy for low vision users, you risk losing a large segment of the population. The World Health Organization estimates that there are 39 million people in the world who are blind. There are 246 million people who are considered low vision. These does not include the number of people who utilize a website in a way consistent with someone who has low vision.

Within the United States, 13 percent of the population is over 65 years old. That number is expected to grow to 20 percent by the year 2050. Considering that our eyesight typically worsens as we age, you can expect that the number of low vision users will also increase significantly. After reading this article, you should be confident in key steps to take to make your website fully accessible by not only blind users but low vision users as well.

Suggestion 1. Improve Font Design

The font that you use on your website is critically important. Low vision users will not typically be completely dependent on a screen reader like a blind user. So you should be doing everything you can to make the website easy for them to read and understand. There are strategic choices you must make in the overall website design.

  1. Increase contrast. The background color and color of the text should have a high level of color contrast. This means that instead of choosing a light green color on a light pink color, you should include colors that are strong and easily differentiated from each other. There are many tools on the market to test color contrast.
  2. Easy to read font. There are many fun fonts that can remind us of computer class in school and realizing that you can dictate your own style through the font type. However, when it comes to your website, it is always best to stick with easy to read fonts. Many accessibility sites recommend using fonts like sans-serif, but you should also consider the goal and feel of your website to choose an appropriate font. Then most importantly you should try and get low-vision users to test the overall readability.
  3. Font size. There should be a 2:1 ratio between the font size for your headers and for the body of the website. The header should typically have a font size in the 20s and the body should have a font size in the mid-teens. Make sure that the font size is not fixed on the website so that the users can change it.

Suggestion 2. Overall Website Layout

Your website layout dictates how a user will navigate and experience the website. To make the website easier to use, it is important to design it in a way that someone with low vision will enjoy interacting.

  1. Magnification. It is very common for someone who is low vision to use some type of screen magnification or zooming function. You should think about your website with this user behavior in mind. It means that content on the sides of the website will likely disappear when the text is magnified.
  2. No Pop-ups. Advertisements and other pop-ups can make it very annoying to use a website. Someone with low vision may have a hard time knowing how to exit pop-ups or minimize them.
  3. Security verifications. Someone with low vision may have a very hard time with some Captcha verifications. You should design security verification that is easy for anyone to use. This means using a simple mark or selection rather than choosing all of the pictures that have a specific object in them.

Suggestion 3. Behind the Scenes Descriptions

A user will have no idea what the design decisions were when creating a web page, but much of this invisible markup impacts the way that a user interacts with the web page. When thinking about low vision users, it is important to make sure that invisible attributes are present.

  1. Alt text for images. Every single image on your website needs alt text. When someone is unable to see the image properly, they are entirely dependent on your alt text to visualize the image.
  2. Simple graphs and charts. Someone with low vision will have a hard time understanding graphs and charts that are overly complex and unclear. Sometimes, it is necessary to create a complex chart to accurately convey information. In those cases, there should be enough explanatory text to understand what is in the chart.
  3. Descriptive titles. Someone should be able to make a determination as to what your website is generally about without reading content or analyzing a page. Making sure that your title is easy to understand and provides insight as to what is on the web page means that a low-vision user enters the site with a general understanding of what to expect.

When you design with the low vision user in mind, you are actually improving the experience for everyone. You do not want to lose business or essential website traffic because a competitor has a better overall user experience. Remember that vision is not a static trait throughout life and that our vision often gets worse as we age. This fact will help reinforce and guide every decision you make in website design.

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