It can be difficult for companies to understand the challenges faced by blind and low-vision individuals as they navigate the Internet. But as you dig a little deeper, you start to understand all the ways you can improve virtually every aspect of the online consumer experience for visually impaired people.
Accessibility and digital inclusion grants everyone the opportunity to access, understand, and interact with online content. Specifically, when an organization channels its efforts into elevating usability, it enables people with blindness and low vision to enjoy and connect with every aspect of the online consumer experience.
But how do we get there? How does an organization achieve improved accessibility across an array of platforms? In this blog, we’ll discover an array of assistive technologies, including screen readers, Braille, and even special keyboards for navigating sites and applications. But first, let's correct false narratives about blind consumers.
The Business Case For Accessibility
There were an estimated 32.2 million Americans with vision loss in 2017. With health concerns such as diabetes, macular degeneration, and other conditions that result in visual impairment, that number has grown and will continue to do so. What’s more, those numbers are even more staggering on a global scale, as the World Health Organization’s “World Report on Vision” estimates that around 2.2 billion people across the globe live with a visual impairment.
Numbers like those underscore that blind and low-vision individuals represent a growing demographic that should not be shut out from the online consumer experience—for both business and moral reasons. Accessibility equates to customer service. When accessibility requirements are part of the architecture of your website, blind and low-vision consumers are less likely to navigate away from your company in favor of one with the crucial tools and technologies firmly in place.
Overlooking any customer is a bad idea. And if your site alienates the visually impaired, that’s millions upon millions of potential customers you’ve shut out.
Good Design That Improves Accessibility For Blind Consumers
As a visual medium, it’s understandable that the Internet is loaded with sites, apps, and tools that are inaccessible to blind and low-vision users. With a combination of background colors and foreground visuals, websites can be unreadable for the visually impaired. That’s not exactly a user-friendly experience!
There are a set of basic steps that designers and developers can take to dial up the accessibility and digital inclusion for blind and low-vision users. Below, we present a set of approaches that represent a good place to start in your redesign for blind consumers.
Whether we’re talking about context, actions, or expressions of people in visual information, it’s a must to provide alt tags on images and, if video is present, full audio descriptions. Visuals often contain vital information for consumers—information that blind and low-vision users could completely miss if the site isn’t equipped with audio descriptions.
The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) lays out regulations for media accessibility across different platforms. The law contains protections to enable people with visual impairments to access broadband, digital, and mobile innovations. Read more about the act here.
Use Of Color
Color should never be used as the only visual means of conveying information. When you want to indicate an action or prompt a response from a consumer, it’s important to ensure that everyone understands—and can see—the message. Color is often utilized to highlight required fields, display warning messages, or disseminate bits of information such as survey results. A visual cue such as this is insufficient for certain users, including those with colorblindness, partial colorblindness, partial sight, and color perception degradation due to age.
Give your low-vision customers the ability to increase the text size of your content across your website. This gives your users the power to adjust the text as necessary, increasing interaction, along with the chances that they’ll stick with your website. A good rule of thumb is to enable users to scale text by at least 200 percent, which helps people with visual impairment read without having to use a screen magnifier or other assistive devices.
Text Spacing and Font
White space between characters can work against the visually impaired when they’re trying to read text on a website. In order to give users the best chance of deciphering text, they must be able to adjust line height to at least 1.5 times the font size, letter spacing to at least 0.12 times the font size, and word spacing to at least 0.16 times the font size.
For best accessibility, always use a “sans serif” font. That’s Arial, Verdana or others that don’t have those little curly things on the ends of letters. Times New Roman may look official, but there are easier fonts for low vision users to read!
An acceptable level of contrast helps site visitors with low vision to perceive text content on a color or image background. In designing your site for accessibility, you can determine the contrast ratios of your text elements. Here’s a helpful online color palette that can assist you in testing your contrast.
Design With Digital Accessibility In Mind
Creating a digital landscape that’s accessible to blind and low-vision users—and everyone else—is possible. It takes a measure of careful attention to make it happen, but all that hustle in the name of leveling the playing field can pay rich dividends.