Billions of online users of various abilities and diverse needs search the web for services, products, and infinite types of information every day around the clock. And among them are people with vision conditions or impairments, like Digital Eye Strain (DES).  Eyes feeling strained and fatigued are just two of the common symptoms that can worsen and compound with others for those who cope with DES. Trying to accomplish simple tasks like finding the “Contact Us” link for a recommended ophthalmologist can result in a headache, itchy, sore eyes, and even difficulty concentrating. 

When the user finally finds the practitioner’s information listed in an online business directory, the font is so incredibly tiny that without drastically zooming in, it’s impossible to read the phone number, let alone correctly. 

Finding this contact information online should be a straightforward and near-instant process on a website that prioritizes accessibility to ensure online content is universally usable and legible. If people with decent eyesight can struggle to discern text in small font sizes, consider the barriers it can create for digital experiences and online content engagement of users with vision impairments like DES.

Small font size hinders online content readability, and it’s actually one of the key contributors to developing computer eye strain, more commonly known as Digital Eye Strain.

In this blog post we look at what DES is and how it’s developed, the main causes of DES and its recognizable symptoms, along with its prevalence and impact in real-life scenarios. A staggering 60% of Americans experience DES symptoms, with digital device users of diverse ages, backgrounds, and abilities immersed in their screens for hours at a time each day. 

With DES hindering work productivity and the quality of life of people who work heavily with computers, about 60 million people worldwide are affected by the condition. Now more than ever, website owners should be creating digitally inclusive online experiences that provide eye strain relief while enhancing UX. If we can help preserve our vision and prevent further damage to our sight with an accessible user interface (UI) for digital experiences, the future looks better for everyone.

What Exactly is Digital Eye Strain?

Prolonged exposure to digital devices has resulted in a 21st century condition known as Digital Eye Strain or computer vision syndrome. This condition includes several vision-related issues due to extended screen time on laptops, desktop computers, tablets, e-readers, smart watches, and mobile devices.  

Text displayed on digital screens can lack definition and clarity. Fonts with low color contrast relative to their background will also strain the eyes of screen users. And even indoor or outdoor lighting can produce glares that can make reading from a screen more challenging and even uncomfortable, particularly when compared to printed text. It’s no wonder so many people are affected by DES, with the average working American spending 7 hours a day on the computer at work or at home.

What are some Digital Eye Strain causes?

A wide range of factors can impact vision, including environmental conditions, allergens, room brightness levels, fatigue, and duration of device screen time. According to various sources, font size that is too small to be easily readable and continual digital device exposure are both underlying Digital Eye Strain causes. 

Individuals with DES can experience the impact of ongoing screen exposure, with their eyes feeling tired or experiencing other symptoms related to eye fatigue. Websites with fonts that don’t initially seem small or unreadable can become tougher to read after a few hours staring at a screen. It’s no wonder so many people struggle with a variety of eye strain symptoms that can create physical discomfort and affect morale, while also directly impacting quality of life.

Digital Eye Strain symptoms include:

  • Eye soreness 
  • Eyes feeling tired or even fatigued
  • Eye strain redness
  • Eye burning
  • Eye itching 
  • Eye dryness
  • Eye watering 
  • Blurred vision
  • Headaches
  • Neck, shoulder, and back strain
  • Heightened light sensitivity 
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Closing eyelids 

Do Any of These Digital Eye Strain Symptoms Seem Familiar?

For most people in our modern society, sadly, they should and probably do. Everyday exposure to screens is now an inevitable part of our social and professional lives. And business owners should consider the detrimental impact screen time can have on employees, as noted above, computer eye strain causes various forms of discomfort and can hinder productivity. Workers coping with Digital Eye Strain symptoms can be error-prone and may require frequent breaks.

Unfortunately, reducing screen time may not always be an option, especially for computer workers. But screen time experiences prioritizing digital accessibility can be a matter of inclusive design and development. This can actually reduce computer eye strain symptoms and provide some eye strain relief. And the even better news is that creating digitally accessible websites, apps, or platforms can often just require implementing simple best practices into digital UI design and development. 

Let’s have a look at 8 digital accessibility tips to prevent DES & provide eye strain relief.

6 digital accessibility tips for eye strain relief and preventing DES

1. Use Larger Fonts

Naturally, larger fonts increase visibility and legibility of text for users of all abilities. But increasing the font size of digital content is especially critical for individuals with low vision or those with temporary conditions and injuries, or anyone recovering from various types of eye surgeries. 

A simple and logical practice to implement is ensuring better user experience with font size ranging from 14px to 16px for maximum readability. The need to squint and invest strenuous effort to engage with text is reduced, providing a noteworthy level of eye strain relief.

2. Use Sufficient Line Height Spacing

The distance that vertically separates text can have a substantial impact on readability. The optimal line height is 24px, making it easier to read and engage with online content. While this digital accessibility feature certainly supports individuals with vision disabilities, it can also benefit individuals with learning disabilities and conditions like ADHD. 

3. Apply Strong Color Contrast to Your Website Text and Background

Low color contrast of text and backgrounds of digital experiences are often a design strategy to produce a specific look and feel, but it can hinder readability for people with visual impairments

Black text on a white background provides the highest level of contrast and readability. While light gray text on a white background yields low color contrast, is harder to read, and can contribute to eye strain symptoms.  Solutions that check color contrast of your website can help you provide a digitally inclusive UX from the get-go. And certain AI-powered web accessibility solutions can allow users to instantly adjust contrast levels and color for optimal readability and engagement with digital content. 

4. Use Subheadings

Online users will often skim content rather than read it word for word. Making critical points as visible as possible is easy with correctly formatted subheadings within a web page’s structural hierarchy. Using bold font and formatting subheadings to specify titles, H1, H2, H3 and subtitle text allows users of various abilities to identify areas of interest with greater ease. This is particularly true for users with vision impairments using screen readers or braille displays. 

Assistive technologies rely on logically structured content hierarchy for uninterrupted delivery of text, scanning every word before messages and insights can be shared audibly or in braille. 

Accessing the right information becomes an easier and more efficient process. Eye fatigue is reduced, since finding and engaging with specific sections of content does not demand extreme efforts or strain.

5. Break up the page with bullets & Images 

Other than being a known SEO best practice that will encourage search engine crawlers to rank your online content highly for being easier to process and read, using bullet points is a great way to break down long lists or convey critical messages. Readers don’t have to struggle through reading long comma separated lists that are difficult to follow. Bullets make it easier to engage with content, since readers don’t have to cope with large blocks of text. 

While providing some eye strain relief, breaking down content into bullets can also help users with cognitive impairments or learning disabilities engage and understand messages more easily. 

A digitally inclusive page layout is often driven by a strategically designed UI that breaks up text with images in a structured pattern for optimal readability. Incorporating images into digital experiences can be an effective way to provide some relief to tired eyes, while also enhancing UX and engagement. The brain absorbs visual elements faster than text, and as the saying goes, sometimes a picture is indeed worth a thousand words.

6. Structure content in short sentences & paragraphs

We can all agree that shorter sentences are easier to read. Making sentences out of maximum 20 words is a good practice to ensure digitally inclusive user experiences with content. As mentioned above in the section on bullet points, it can be challenging to read big blocks of text all at once. Create new paragraphs every 3-5 lines with enough space separating these paragraphs to take some stress off of the eyes and brain of the reader.

Learn How UserWay Helps with Online Readability and More 

UserWay is the global leader in digital accessibility and ADA compliance, including tools that increase website readability. 

The UserWay Pro Widget 4.0 Includes: 

  • Contrast checker: helping prevent readability issues resulting from low color contrast of text and background. 
  • Screen reader: read all digital content out loud, no additional installation required.
  • Adjustable text size, line height and text spacing to ensure optimal readability of content to users of various abilities.

Reach out to one of UserWay’s certified accessibility experts and book your free demo today.

Answers to Common FAQS 

What are 3 symptoms of digital eye strain?

Three common symptoms of Digital Eye Strain (DES) are eye soreness or fatigue, headaches, and difficulty with concentration. Some other symptoms that are frequently experienced by people with DES include blurred vision, burnining, itchy or dry eyes, and neck, shoulder or back strain. 

How do you treat digital eye strain?

First and foremost, try to reduce or at least limit screen time and ensure it’s incremental, taking regular 20 second breaks every 20 minutes. While it isn’t a direct treatment for digital eye strain symptoms, creating digitally accessible online experiences can provide some eye strain relief. Adopting inclusive UI practices with accessible design improves readability. Digital accessibility can make screen time easier on the eyes, as content becomes more usable, discernible, and may even require less screen time as a result. Everyone wins the web – site owners and users alike. 

What can I do to prevent digital eye strain?

The obvious answer is to reduce screen time. With that, statistics tell us that the average American worker spends 7 hours a day on the computer, and in specific professions and industries, the screen time can be even longer. DES can impact concentration levels, cause headaches, eye fatigue, and general grogginess, all of which impact productivity. Organizations can help reduce the chances of DES catching up with their employees by allowing them to take regular breaks from computers. While this might sound like it could cut into output and results, research shows that short but regular breaks do help.

Digital eye strain - Improve readability