Web Accessibility Issues for the Blind and Visually Impaired

The internet has opened a whole new world for individuals with blindness and visual impairments. In the past locating a phone number or and address using the phone book could be a lengthy if not impossible task. Obtaining books in large print or Braille takes time and planning however the internet has made obtaining information both easy and efficiently. As a sighted person you might think using the internet without seeing it is impossible however it can an is done everyday.

So how do people who are blind or visually impaired access the internet?

People who are Blind or visually impaired used assistive technology to access the internet. A person who is Blind would use a screen reader. A screen reader is a program that will read all of the information on a page to the user. Remember the user is Blind so they would not use a mouse to navigate the page, instead they would use the keyboard with keyboard commands. For example, if you press alt plus d on your keyboard your cursor will move to the address bar. There you would type the address of the website you want to visit and then click enter. Once the website appears the user could use the tab key to move around the page and hear all of the links in tab order. Tabbing around a page could take awhile considering many pages have multiple links, take for example yahoo which has 287 links on their home page. The screen reader will also allow the user to active a links list view or search for a specific link by name. For example, try hitting ctrl f on a website and notice the find box appears. So you were looking for a specific link such as mail, you would simple type in mail and click enter. The cursor will then move directly to the mail link on the webpage. As easy as it sounds there are some problems with this system which revolves around the webpage creator. For example, say you decided to put a picture of a letter or mail box on your webpage as a visual cue to click the picture to enter your mail box. Looks great to you but to the Blind person using your page it means nothing. The screen reader will read your picture as "graphic". So how can you as a webpage designer make this picture accessible? Label all of your picture with text. Such as insert a picture of a mailbox give your picture of link a name such as mailbox. Simple now when your picture is read by the screen reader it will be read as mailbox.

Now that your getting the point lets experiment a little as sighted person and listen to what a screen reader sounds like. By following the link below you will have the opportunity to hear what an accessible website sounds like when being read by a screen reader and also what an inaccessible website sounds like when read by a screen reader.

How a blind person will "see" your Web page – audio comparison of inaccessible and accessible Web pages

Basic Design Principles for Webpage Accessibility

  1. Provide text equivalents for all non-text objects on the page – speech synthesisers can’t read graphics, and graphic text can’t be enlarged in the same way as ordinary text. Labeling is essential so please make sure to label all of the pictures, buttons, use headings, and edit fields (aka search box).
  2. All graphics should have text labels , i.e. alternative attributes in HTML (Hyper Text Mark-up Language) Try this if you inserting a picture of yourself on a page label the picture "your name" then get descriptive. For example: Jane Doe, age 17, with short blonde hair and blonde eyes. I'm wearing my favorite red shit. Much like a descriptive video.
  3. Don’t design the page in a way that stops the user from setting their own browser preferences, i.e. don’t specify exact sizes for fonts or layouts – design everything in relative sizes. Crazy font are not only unreadable to others but when enlarged pixelate. I like Veranda or Ariel font styles.
  4. Use descriptive Titles for every page, heading, or field.
  5. Use valid HTML – many access programs depend on the use of standard HTML – e.g. some software can give an overview of the page by extracting all the headers and links and presenting them on a single page. If you have no headers on your page and all your links say ‘click here’ then the accessibility of your website will be very low. This is an example of what I was talking about when I mentioned a links list view.

Additional Links to Web Page Accessibility

National Federation for the Blind: Webpage Accessibility
Internet Accessibility <- This site has really nice ideas about using a navigation guide or providing a description of your websites navigation
Designing Websites for Blind/VI
Ready to test your website? Use satogo to hear how your site sounds when tabbing through it.
Bobby - Bobby is a free service of CAST (Center for Applied Special Technology) that will analyze single web pages for their accessibility to people with disabilities. Bobby will also examine a page's HTML to see if it is compatible with various web browsers or HTML specifications. Founded in 1984, CAST is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to expand opportunities for all people -- especially those with disabilities -- through the innovative uses of computer technology.