There are 8 million people who are registered as blind in the United States.
Yet, the site changes required are simple ones.
Understand Your Blind Users
Yes, you do have some website visitors who are blind.
Many sighted people think that all blindness is the same and that every person who is registered as blind goes around in a perpetually black world. Not so.
The statutory definition of blindness is 10% vision in the better eye after correction or a maximum 200 field of view. Many blind individuals can read text on a screen if it is large enough and there is a good contrast.
There is adaptive technology available that will allow anyone to convert web text to speech or Braille. But you have to follow a few simple rules when you are building your web pages for the technology to work.
Some of your blind site visitors will have been blind since birth, but many will have suffered vision loss as a result of degenerative conditions such as cataracts or macular degeneration. Some blindness is treatable by lens or corneal replacement and charities like the Tej Kohli Cornea Institute do great work in providing corneal replacement surgery for those who can benefit from the procedure.
Deteriorating vision due to cataracts, diabetes, and macular degeneration are all closely related to aging, and with our aging population, are becoming more common. If your site is aimed at older adults, then you need to consider the probability that some of your potential site visitors are having a negative experience. You may have omitted video transcripts, or be using a stylesheet that breaks down when the user presses Ctrl+ too many times.
Increasing accessibility for this group of users is a matter of simple business sense. Improving your visitors’ browsing experience is about respecting their disabilities, and mutual respect is the first stage of any buying process.
Training offered to blind individuals through organizations like the National Federation of the Blind (NFB.org), and the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB.org.uk) emphasizes independence. Any blind or partially-sighted visitors to your website want to be able to use your site without needing to ask sighted friends for help.
Sighted users of your site need visual stimulation, and nobody is suggesting that you do away with them.
Every image needs an ‘alt text’. Having this is helpful for SEO purposes and is essential for screen-reading software to interpret the visual component for a blind user. The ‘alt text’ should be complete enough that it conveys the same information as the picture.
It is good practice to explain any infographic or graph in a textual paragraph. Offering alternative text benefits all your users; some sighted visitors may have difficulty working out how to use a chart or infographic, and blind visitors’ screen software cannot read anything that is not text-based at all.
Make it easy for website users to select a larger font. (Not everyone knows or can handle Ctrl+ to enlarge the text). A simple ‘choose text size’ link will be helpful for everyone. All text on a web page should be at least 12 pt. and users should have the option of 14, 16 and 20 pt. fonts. It is best to avoid using set font sizes and to use scalable fonts instead.
Use different stylesheets for different text sizes to ensure your site layout is still good and avoids page components overlapping when a large font is selected. If you are using WordPress for your site, then CSS stylesheets are simple to modify.
Use H2 and H3 subheadings rather than manually adjusting the font weight and size for any headings. Screen-reading software identifies subheadings that use the correct markup, so blind users get a similarly structured article as sighted users.
Avoid unusual fonts and stick to commonly used ones such as Verdana, Arial and Times. Sighted users will thank you for choosing these fonts, too.
Choose text colors that have contrast well with the background. Avoid monstrous combinations such as royal blue text on a lime-green background, because even someone with 20/20 vision will struggle to read that.
Make sure your branding is understood by all, rather than just those with good vision. Use ‘Alt text’ markup for your logo and any header images.
Avoid using different colored text to emphasize important segments because color-blind users may miss your emphasis. Instead, you can use very short sentences and paragraph structure for essential information.
If you have two alternative action buttons, then make sure their different appearances are perceptible for everyone. Avoid combinations of red/green or blue/green to ensure maximum differentiation for color-blind users. Use large, clear fonts and ‘alt text’ markup for all call-to-action buttons.
Think how partially-sighted or color-blind site visitors will perceive your site headers and logo and avoid subtle gradations of color that many older or partially-sighted users will struggle to differentiate.
Audio & Video
It is best to include transcripts for any audio or video components of your website. These will benefit all your visitors because many will dislike using audio, or lack the bandwidth necessary to watch video. Allowing users to choose the medium they use will be appreciated by everyone and will lead to more conversions, which is what we are all looking for.
Increasing Website Accessibility Increases Sales
Can you afford to ignore the 7 million blind Americans, 20 million blind Europeans and countless blind Internet users in other parts of the world?
Making a few simple changes to your workflow for article production could add 30 million more potential customers. Can you afford NOT to make your website more accessible?
If you are looking for an additional incentive, then consider the probability that accessibility will be included in Google’s search algorithm at some point. Google made mobile accessibility essential for top search rankings and making accessibility for blind users is just an extension of the same principle.