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I love visually impactful websites, just because I am visually impaired doesn’t mean that those sites are at all lost on me. That can vary in meaning depending on the goal of the website and the type of information that it conveys. I’ve visited some crisp, beautiful sites that make their content pop using clean lines and maximizing whitespace. I have also gone to some wonderful sites that are a lot busier with tons of colors and images. While these sites are visually appealing to me, some of them miss the mark when conveying their messages.
This is because they too are looking at web design through a very narrow lens, that of aesthetics. A pretty website might make people “ooh” and “aah” when it’s loaded, but that doesn’t make it a good website. There is an absolutely awesome article that talks about this whole topic, “How the Web Became Unreadable – I thought my eyesight was beginning to go. It turns out, I’m suffering from design.”
The author, Kevin Marks, hits the nail on the head when he says, “But if the web is relayed through text that’s difficult to read, it curtails that open access by excluding large swaths of people, such as the elderly, the visually impaired, or those retrieving websites through low-quality screens.” I love that he throws in the low-quality screens mention in there. A lot of times people assume that accessibility is for a few people who have very specific issues. First, there are millions of disabled internet users around the world. Second, there is something called a situational disability, where the temporary circumstance that a person might find themselves in will render them temporarily impaired in some way.
Recently, I signed up for an online newsletter hoping to gain insight and tips from a tech company. What I got instead was a light gray text on a background that made it almost impossible to read the newsletter’s contents. I’m pretty sure that even if I weren’t visually impaired I would have a tough time reading the text due to the low contrast between the text and the background. Marks discusses this fact too, “To arbitrarily throw away contrast based on a fashion that ‘looks good on my perfect screen in my perfectly lit office’ is abdicating designers’ responsibilities to the very people for whom they are designing.”1 A big ‘YES’ to that!
Considering who you are designing for is critical. Websites are designed for people, and unfortunately, people have problems. Maybe they don’t identify as disabled, or their impairment is only temporary. Still, making websites with the concept that a wide range of users will be experiencing it is really necessary to make sure you are building a site that people can actually use and enjoy.
If you suddenly find yourself wondering whether the contrast on your site is alienating users, you can easily check the contrast ratios. Here’s a post that contains a few helpful (and free) contrast checkers that you can use to figure out if your ratios are up to WCAG 2.0 standards. You can try out the UserWay contrast checker, and you also might want to consider installing the UserWay widget on your site. In addition to many other handy features, it will allow your users to adjust the contrast on your site without forcing you to change the site’s code.
In the end, the important thing is creating a digital world that is universally accessible. We need to help every user to access the same content and provide them with the support and modifications they require to easily do that. After all, the internet is an amazing and global resource, it’s meant to be shared and enjoyed by all.
Have you gone to any websites and wondered who they had in mind when they created the website? What design elements make you love a site and which elements make you dread visiting the site? Share your accessible web design thoughts in the comments below!
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