Visual impairment brings challenges and specific needs when accessing information. However, blind accessibility is becoming increasingly possible due to developments, including:
- Advances in technology
- Assistive tools
- Inclusive policies
- Accommodations for the visually impaired
From providing Braille keyboards or computer magnifiers to creating accessible websites or video subtitling services, businesses and organizations are working to ensure all users have equal access to the same information.
This article will examine the various access strategies available for those with visual impairment. It will also explore how these can open new possibilities for equal rights in the digital age.
Understanding Visual Impairment
Visual impairment is an umbrella term for various conditions that affect a person’s ability to see, partially or entirely. Those affected have sights that glasses, contacts, or surgery cannot fully correct.
It's sometimes due to a loss of visual acuity, making objects appear blurry or fuzzy. Other times, visual impairment is a loss of the visual field, where a person can't see as wide an area as usual without shifting their gaze or head.1
Degrees of Visual Impairment
There are varying degrees of visual impairment, which can be described differently according to the World Health Organization:2
- Low vision: Someone has visual clarity between 20/70 to 20/400 or a visual field of 20 degrees or less, even with correction
- Blindness: Someone has visual acuity worse than 20/400 or a visual field of 10 degrees or less, even with correction
If you have 20/70 visual acuity, you can only see what a person with normal vision sees at 70 feet when standing 20 feet away. But if you have 20/400, you can only see what a normal-sighted person sees at 400 feet when standing at the same distance of 20 feet.
How to Make Websites Accessible for People with Visual Impairments
An essential aspect of visual accessibility is making websites available to everyone, regardless of visual acuity or field. To create an accessible website, site owners must understand the assistive technologies available for the visually impaired.
1. Assistive Technologies for Screen Reader Users
You can incorporate the following into your website design for a better user experience:
Screen reader software is a program that reads the contents of a computer or mobile device’s display.3 It's an invaluable tool for those with a visual impairment as they enable screen reader users to interact independently with the digital world.
Screen reader compatibility is essential when developing websites. Some popular software programs include:
Magnifiers help people with visual impairments enlarge text, images, videos, and other information on their computer or mobile device. This can help make a website more user-friendly, allowing them to navigate the page more quickly.
Braille Keyboards or Keypads
Braille keyboards and keypads transform visual information on computer screens into tactile language, allowing visually impaired users to read with their fingertips. It provides a near-instantaneous text translation, continually updated as the cursor moves by electronically raising or lowering pins in braille cells.
2. Optimizing Web Page Content for Visual Accessibility
Web page content should be written to cater to those with vision impairments. It can help improve the user experience and ensure everyone can access your site regardless of visual acuity or field.
Optimizing your page for visual accessibility includes:
- Providing image descriptions
- Labeling explicit links properly
- Using good surrounding text for context
Even non-vision impaired users benefit from this approach, as explicit link labels and rich surrounding text can help them better understand the page context and navigate it more easily.
Here's a list of all the techniques that will make your website visually accessible:
- Ensure the text is correctly marked up using HTML tags, helping every screen reader interpret the page correctly
- Use descriptive titles and alt-texts for images, audio files and videos to give the visually impaired an idea of what they’re missing
- Provide audio and video transcripts, which are great for those with vision or hearing impairments
- Test the website with various assistive technologies to ensure it's properly compatible
- Add keyboard-navigable menus and dynamic text, not just images or buttons
- Design clear and concise headings, titles, labels, and visual elements
- Code and structure web page layouts that are consistent and easy to scan
- Layout actionable page elements, such as form buttons or links, in predictable places
3. Enhancing Website Navigation and Readability
The following tips can help improve website navigation and readability for those with vision impairments:
- Keep titles concise yet meaningful, as they will be read aloud by screen readers
- Choose appropriate textual links and ensure they're in underlined blue text for easy detection
- All text must provide sufficient contrast against its background so magnifying software can read them
- Avoid using CAPTCHA codes
- Provide clear instructions on how to complete a form or task, as well as error messages when necessary
- Replace content-specific images with text-based alternatives
- Label all form elements, including checkboxes and radio buttons
- Provide audio feedback when visually impaired users interact with the website
Use a contrast checker to ensure your website or display settings meet minimum WCAG AA contrast standards. The WCAG AA contrast ratio guidelines suggest a ratio of at least 4.5:1 between the text and its background, making it easy for everyone to read.
4. Mobile Device Accessibility
In addition to the abovementioned ways, certain features work best when optimized for mobile devices. For instance, you can use the VoiceOver feature on iPhones and iPads to read text when zoomed in.
You can also use the TalkBack feature to navigate through an app or website with haptic feedback for Android devices. Other options include PhoneGap and Ionic Framework.
Simply allowing manual font size adjustment and enabling the device’s built-in reader mode can make a huge difference, too.
5. Improving Accessibility for Color Blindness and Other Visual Disabilities
Age-related vision loss, tunnel vision, and color blindness make viewing websites challenging. That's why it's essential to design websites with these special populations in mind.
To do this, consider these tips:
- Ensure the text and visual elements provide sufficient contrast and don't rely too heavily on color-coding
- Offer audio alternatives for videos and images and text labels for all visual elements
- Provide a range of font size to accommodate different visual acuity needs
- Design with larger buttons and input fields so they're easy to tap on
- Use a color-blindness simulator to test how your website appears to those with a color-vision deficiency
- Provide alternative text for all images, videos, and audio files
- Clearly label all buttons and links to support those with legible vision
- Ensure all form fields provide verbal and visual feedback when inputting data
- Design a consistent page layout with predictable navigational elements
- Utilize text-to-speech programs for audio and video content
6. Web Design Considerations for an Inclusive User Experience
Ensuring your website is accessible to everyone requires web designers to keep a few key considerations in mind. The most important of these are:
- Provide keyboard-navigable menus and dynamic text where possible, not just images or buttons
- Design clear and concise titles, headings, labels, and visual elements
- Make sure the mouse pointer is visible to help visually impaired users accurately track their movements
- Code and structure web page layouts that are easy to understand and navigate
- Use universal web design patterns, such as tabbed interfaces, drop-down menus, and pagination, whenever possible
- Reduce the need to scroll by organizing content into concise blocks
- Include bold text to provide emphasis on important information and an accurate overview
- Employ sans serif fonts for better screen readability
How to Make Public Places Accessible for People with Visual Impairments
Many public places are not yet fully accessible for people with visual impairments. However, some accommodations for the visually impaired can be made to make the space more navigable and comfortable.
Here are a few ideas to make public places more accessible for people with visual impairments:
- Install tactile paving tiles in sidewalks and pathways to warn those with impairments of upcoming obstacles such as curbs, stairs, or changes in the road surface
- Properly label elevators, doors, and other locations with Braille signage
- Ensure that elevators and stairs include Braille numbers on buttons and handrails with tactile guidance
- Install audio announcement systems at entrances, ticket stations, and transit platforms
- Provide audio descriptions of exhibits in museums or galleries
- Supply audio cues in elevators and other public areas to indicate which floor the user is on
- Install talking signs to help people find their way
- Keep paths free from obstacles and marked with contrasting colors
- Provide large print materials and Braille documents in public libraries
- Install additional directional lights or tactile signs at busy intersections, such as arrows or bumps
You can significantly improve blind accessibility and visual impairment accessibility by making these small changes in public places. This will help ensure everyone with the condition has equal rights and access to the same opportunities as their sighted peers.
Low Vision Resources
If you or a loved one is living with a visual impairment, many resources can help.
- American Academy of Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus
- National Federation of the Blind
- American Foundation for the Blind
- National Library Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
- U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs
- American Council of the Blind
- The Foundation for Blind Children
- National Braille Press
- American Printing House for the Blind
- The Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired
- Blindskills, Inc.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- National Eye Institute
- Foundation Fighting Blindness
- The Perkins School for the Blind
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