Design Your Website for Visually Impaired

What you see is not necessarily what other’s see. People with color vision problems may see websites quite differently. Vischeck shows us exactly what this looks like. You can view any website you wish just as a person with colorblindness sees it, by using the color vision simulator. Try entering the URL for a colorful website, like one of the news pages (cbs, foxnews, abc.go, etc.). Be patient, it may take a little while. The page looks really different, doesn’t it? Did you try all three types of colorblindness? (If the website you want to test doesn’t work with this very new service, set your monitor color setting to the lowest possible number of colors, hopefully your machine will allow you to go all the way down to 65. You may even have to go into the Advanced options to find it. It won’t simulate colorblindness, but you will notice a difference.)

Then there are those whose vision decreases due to strain, stress, illness, or age and those who are legally blind but can still see enough to use a computer. Maybe they just need larger text or a screen reader. Have you thought about them?

Every web browser is capable of changing the size of the text, unless you already have it set at its largest size. Under the View pull-down menu, select Text Size, and then Largest. Try it.

Of course, some websites lock their layout so that this does not effect their particular page. Setting your Internet browser to the lowest possible resolution, usually 640×480, increases the text size in proportion to screen size. Later model computers may only let you go down to 800×600. Many websites are now designed for even higher resolutions, which require scrolling across and down to view all of any given page. But if you can finally read the content, it’s worth it.

Magnifiers offer adaptive mouse software, screen readers, screen magnifiers, and other useful programs for downloading free of charge, but the highest quality products require purchase and installation on your computer.

Computer monitors can now display millions of colors using pixel resolutions in the thousands. Print is getting smaller as we try to cram more information onto ever smaller displays. Laptop monitors are smaller, mice have more buttons, keyboard keys are closer together, and now cell phones receive email, text messages, web data, and plan our calendars.

If you are designing a website, then you are hoping to share rich visual information with other people. Believe it or not, 40% of people in the United States experience vision problems and 20% have some sort of reading or learning disability. That means a possible 60% of the population could be excluded from accessing your website if you ignore these basic design suggestions. By ignoring that portion of the population with vision problems, you reduce the overall impact of your website unnecessarily. What can you do about it?

Red and green are the most difficult colors to differentiate, so don’t use them on your website-except in high quality photos where other factors make the illustration just as valuable. Choose browns, blues, whites, blacks, and yellows. Your site will look more professional and everyone will be able to read what you have written. Apply a web-safe color palette to your graphic design software. Two palettes can be downloaded for free through BT Age and Disability Action and work well with Photoshop. They are the Protan and Deutan palettes, easy on the eyes, like light snow on winter’s day. A touch of color is all it takes to draw our attention to the most important object on a page.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has developed guidelines for the design of websites so that screen readers will be able to interpret all of the information provided. Labels for column and row headings in tables and image tags explaining what a photograph or illustration portray are just two of their recommendations. SitePal will even show you how screen readers sound, and illustrate how animated characters can enhance visitor comfort for persons with learning or reading disabilities on your website. And Simply the Best Fonts will let you download Lexia, voted the most readable font, for free.

If you are an artist or photographer, these recommendations may not appeal to you. However, reducing problems and distractions on the rest of the page will help to concentrate attention on the images you most want to convey. So you see; well designed websites are enjoyable for everyone.

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