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Blindness changes the way users interact with technology in a very profound way. While we often think that people are either born blind or lose their vision at a very young age, this isn’t always true. For many people blindness occurs at a later stage in life, causing them to have trouble adjusting to the new way they must interact with the world.
Who Is Impacted by Blindness?
Visual deterioration and even loss is a common side-effect of aging. Many people who never needed glasses will find themselves using corrective lenses the older they get. While this loss in visual acuity will not always lead to blindness, on occasion it can. One of the more common diseases that robs elderly people of their eyesight is macular degeneration.
The National Eye Institute explains more about age related macular degeneration, stating, “AMD by itself does not lead to complete blindness, with no ability to see. However, the loss of central vision in AMD can interfere with simple everyday activities, such as the ability to see faces, drive, read, write, or do close work, such as cooking or fixing things around the house.” Losing the ability to read can create a huge barrier between website visitors and the content they want to understand.
Luckily, most people won’t go through such a dramatic and catastrophic life event. However, some people will lose their vision at some point in their lives, even if it’s only temporary. Blindness takes away one of the senses that people rely on most when using digital devices.
Take out your phone and close your eyes. Now try unlocking it and opening your email. Were you able to accurately complete those two simple steps, or did you end up with a locked phone or open another application? Even if you were successful, consider that you’ve probably memorized where the email icon is located on your phone. If you were trying to open an app that you use less often, the test probably would not have gone so smoothly.
Accessible Technology Options
Whether the user trying to access a website was born blind or lost their eyesight later in life, they will still have a lot of challenges to overcome when using technology. Most devices are built to be easy for sighted people to use. Modifications do exist to assist blind users, and make it a bit simpler for them to navigate modern technology.
Some helpful accessibility options are programs like text-to-speech that will read what’s on a computer screen back to the user. These applications allow users to have the content of a website read to them without needing to have another person present.
Blind users who read braille will also be able to use braille output displays to read online text. These displays translate the text on a website into braille that is transmitted to the user in small chunks of text. The user will then be able to refresh the display and have it translate the next section of text. It is especially important for websites to have clear text that is written in a logical way so that users translating it into braille will be able to understand it easily.
Website Owners Can Make It Easier
Your blind users will benefit greatly from modifications to your site that make the text easier for accessibility accommodations to interpret. For example, text-to-speech programs read information from websites in the order that it appears. Creating a logical content flow and simple navigation structure will help users to understand the text when it is being read back to them. Another modification that is often used with text-to-speech is keyboard navigation.
Blind uses will likely be unable to use a computer mouse or trackpad to navigate webpages. Instead, they will use keyboards to navigate webpages using predetermined keystrokes. If the text-to-speech is reading text that isn’t logically laid out, it will be much harder for blind users to use keyboard navigation. Just a note – the UserWay widget can help users with keyboard navigation. Installing it will give your users a dashboard filled with accessibility options at their disposal.
Additionally, it is important to include details like simple text descriptions of images that appear on your web page (known as alt text). Without this text, blind users will be unaware that an image appears on the page at all, because the program will have nothing to read. Simple details like this are often easy to overlook. However, including them will be incredibly helpful to users who need assistance using the internet.
It’s Important to Modify Your Website
If you haven’t heard about WCAG 2.0 guidelines yet, then visit the overview post to learn about these important accessibility rules. WCAG 2.0 exists to ensure that everyone is able to interact with websites, and that the website content is created to be accessible and adaptable. There are guidelines that give specific help to websites who are optimizing their site for blind users.
You should be aware that these rules aren’t just nice to have, they’re critical. If you do not comply with WCAG 2.0, you could be exposing your business to lawsuits from users who were unable to access your content. The number of these costly lawsuits is increasing rapidly as more websites are getting slammed for not being accessible to disabled users. Companies of all sizes are finding themselves on the defensive as they try to refute claims that their websites violate WCAG 2.0. Ensuring your website follows the rules and is accessible to the blind community will help to prevent users from filing a claim against your company.