Five Tips in Making a Visually Accessible Website

Geek!This is C.S. McClendon’s submission for the HP Magic Giveaway. Feel free to leave comments for this article as you see fit – your feedback is certainly welcomed! If you’d like to submit your own how-to, what-is, or top-five list, you can send it to me. Views and opinions of this writer are not necessarily my own:

We live in an ever changing world; a world that is becoming increasingly entangled in the web, and for the majority of the populous that is not such a bad development. In fact I would be willing to say that there is something good on the web for everyone so long as you know where and how to find it. For those people with certain visual disabilities however, the internet can be a very difficult place to navigate.

I have decided to put together this list of the top five things you as a web designer can do to make your site easier on those of your visitors who might otherwise have a difficult time. Please take the time to read this article and you might just find that with a few simple steps you can open your site up to whole new lanes of traffic.

  1. Contrary to popular belief, size is important. Now I’m not talking about the amount of content you include in your site; rather text size and the like. For instance, with a few clicks of your mouse or extra key strokes you can make the text size of your website larger; therefore much more easily read by the elderly and otherwise visually impaired. I recommend that you don’t stop there with only the text elements of your site; with the right program and a little digital manipulation you can also enlarge such things as pictures and diagrams.
  2. Roam the wide open spaces. Now I know this goes against convention, but you might want to give more than just a passing thought to double spacing your pages. You remember those – pages like your professors used to insist on for your research papers and such in high school and college? Take it from someone with more than a little experience in this particular area – a little space goes a long way toward making a crowded page a lot easier to read.
  3. Think contrary in contrast. Remember art class in school where you got to play with the color wheel? See if you can find one still hiding in a drawer somewhere – if not you can use the one at http://www.northlite.net/ps/images/color_wheel.gif. Now that you have a working color wheel, take a close look at it. See how those colors closest together tend to blend into one another? Now, if we were talking about painting your house that might be a good thing – but when your trying to make your web page easier to read for those in need, you will want to steer yourself closer to the opposite ends of the wheel. Remember the old adage; good fences make good neighbors.

  4. In the world of style, options are kings. Modern browsers such as Firefox or Internet Explorer use a nifty feature called style sheets. They also allow the enterprising designer to create multiple style sheets for a single page. These style sheets can be used to change the color scheme, the text size, and even the layout of the pages; giving the visitor the opportunity to choose the options that work best for them. The more options you as the designer provide, the more likely there is to be one that suits the visually challenged user.
  5. KISS. Keep it simple… sir (after all there is no reason to be impolite). The bells and whistles of modern technology may indeed make for a more visually stimulating site, but this creates a problem for those with visual difficulties, effectively making your site difficult to navigate. Coding your site for copyright protection may keep the disreputable from stealing your content and making it their own, but it will also make it impossible for most screen readers and other text-to-speech programs to work in favor of your viewers, as a good many of such programs rely on the ability to copy and paste the text that needs to be read.

If you are feeling ambitious, there is certainly a lot you can do to code your site so it can be accessible to those who are visually impaired. You can create the ability for it to read itself to your viewer, provide vocal cues for every link, event, or menu. There are several software options such as MASH (Microsoft Agent Scripting Helper) that will help you do such things – but the things I mention here are some of the simplest and often quickest options that will make your site as easy as possible for the visually impaired viewer – who could stumble into or come looking for the content that you have to offer.

Yes, I wrote this article and offered this advice with those like myself in mind; but hopefully in doing so I will have helped more than a few of you – on both sides of the page.

20 thoughts on “Five Tips in Making a Visually Accessible Website”

  1. Nice post! It has some cool facts that I am going to try. I especialy like the “In the world of style, options are kings” one!

  2. Nicely done.. A variety of simply followed pieces of advice.. A valuable resource for those of us who like to design but may not be personally aware of the challenges others may face.

  3. As I’m not a huge website designer but I’ve done a few here and there these tips are definately more then helpful for somebody that is new to the whole concept. One always wants more hits upon their page and never thinks that perhaps such little things such as those is whats keeping people from spending time on one’s website and taking their advice or information to heart. Thank you for the valuable tips.

  4. Wow! Very good article. I’ve designed websites before and I will definitely take into consideration some of these tips when I make my next web site!

  5. I am a web-page designer, free-lance, and this article was informative and well thought-out.
    I continue to try to create fun, good looking, and easy to navigate web-pages, and this is a solid reminder on what things might be taken into account, for ease-of-access web-pages.

  6. I agree with most of this. I have bad eyes myself, and I have to, on most occasions, make the font bigger so I can read it properly. I also agree with the 4th principle, and apply it to most of the things I do in life. Well written, and well done. Keep up the good work.

  7. You know, these are things I would have never thought about. And yet they are so simple and easy to implement. :} Thank you.

  8. Hmmm….sounds as if those would be a very useful set of rules that all web-enhanced browsing producers should consider when creating their works for the world to so. I’m no more hindered than most people that must wear glasses if they wish to see more than 5′ away with any degree of accuracy, or read anything within a foot that isn’t type-size about 24 or up, but I have still found many web sites that are difficult for me to read. There are some times I find myself skipping a few lines at a time and getting confused at a seemingly complete topic change before I have to go back and figure out what went wrong. I also cannot count the number of times that it has been necessary for me to squint, or highlight words to be able to distinguish between the background and the text itself, because the web artist has chosen colors similar in the spectrum. Personally, I believe that if more web designers followed your advice here, it would make finding and enjoying the aspects of the internet that we are interested in.

  9. Thank you all for your support, and thanks again to all of you who have committed to using some or all of my advice.

    Skylar: If you run into a problem with a site that you don’t visit all that often, you can tell your browser to ignore the websites chosen formatting and force it to use your own choices like colors and font size, and then put them back when your done…. the problem with using that trick all the time is that it often gets in the way of frames and the like, making sites difficult to navigate.

  10. Simple tips, that once learned would take no extra time in developing web sites. It’s just the limited amout of extra effort involved in finding the information and getting it all setup at the start. I can imagine a lot of small sites, ones run by individuals, for individuals not bothering. But any site that uses bulletin software or is commercial in nature shoud allow and, better yet, promote these options

  11. Excellent advice to the web designer on making websites accessable to the visually challenged. I agree with the tips shared in this article and wish more designers showed the interest and responsibility in more accessability and less flashy gimics.

  12. Simple, clear and concise. If only more people would follow simple steps like this then the internet would become accessable for so many more people out there.

    The suggestions aren’t only good they are also, at least in my opinion, practical enough that everyone should keep them in mind whilst designing a website, be it from simple single page to a complex shop site. After all, if your customers can’t read or view the site in question, then they are liable to head elsewhere for their goods.

    Yes to implement some of these tips might take a little longer during inital creation, but the off-set against the potental for increased visitor count and other totals, should be more than enough to outweigh that intial outlay of time and effort.

    All in all this article has opened my eyes to some tips that I hadn’t considered implementing, and rest assured that from now on I will do my best to make anything I design as user friendly and as accessable to the masses as possible

  13. Ehlanna: The information will be easier to find soon enough as I mean to start a running blog for these types of tips soon. Hopefully that will help in promoting ideas like this and many more like them.

    Tommy:There are sites out there that show the responsibility you speak of, but unfortunately they are by large, ones who hope to draw the disabled as their -target- audience. Beyond that, it seems to be the flashy gimmicks, usually quite literally, that carry the day. Unfortunately, these gimmicks as a rule do little more after the original shock value than to get in the way.

  14. As an Occupational Therapy student, I have to say that these suggestions could help many people out there with a variety of disabilities. Perceptual problems as well as vision problems seem to be on the rise in general, be it from simple vision problems that come with aging to perception issues with autism and other disabilities. Flashy sites can distract and overwhelm viewers who quickly click away.
    Another tip, avoid blinking icons that can trigger seizures! I don’t know how many times I’ve had to quickly click away from a page before my husband had a seizure because some web artist thought it a good idea to use a strobe effect. This goes double for pop up adds and banner adds!

Comments are closed.