Tag Archives: screen readers

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 simpleā€¦ 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.