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For many of us, the internet is a lifeline. Serving as a global marketplace, an information powerhouse, and a means of social connection, the digital world has the capability to act as a door to endless opportunities. Yet for the 285 million people around the globe who are visually impaired, the web can feel more like an exclusive space, full of barriers and fraught with frustrations.
But why should this matter to you? This blog aims to shed light on digital accessibility for people who are visually impaired. We’ll break down the issue from the ground up, offering valuable insights into the lives of visually impaired web users, the business case for accessibility, and actionable steps to create a more inclusive digital space.
What is visual impairment?
Visual impairment is a term used to describe a range of vision-related conditions that impact an individual’s ability to see clearly and navigate the world.
Globally, an estimated 2.2 billion individuals live with some form of vision impairment, illustrating the need for web accessibility to ensure that the digital world is inclusive, equitable, and available to everyone, regardless of their physical capabilities.
The term ‘visual impairment’ is not a one-size-fits-all label; it encompasses everything, from low vision, mild vision loss to complete blindness. Some people may struggle with color differentiation (color blindness), while others may face challenges with depth perception or peripheral vision.
Visual impairments can also be congenital, meaning present at birth, or acquired due to aging, disease, or injury. The severity and type of vision impairment will determine what kinds of assistive technologies and accommodations can be most helpful.
The spectrum of sight: understanding visual impairment
To successfully design accessible websites, we must first step understand the spectrum of visual impairments. Here are some examples of visual impairments:
1. Blindness: Complete or nearly complete loss of vision.
2. Low Vision: Limited sight that can’t be fully corrected with lenses.
3. Color Blindness: Difficulty in distinguishing between specific colors.
4. Glaucoma: Affects peripheral vision, potentially leading to blindness.
5. Diabetic Retinopathy: Diabetes-related, often causing fluctuating or blurred vision.
6. Macular Degeneration: Age-related, impacts central vision.
7. Retinitis Pigmentosa: Affects night and peripheral vision.
8. Cataracts: Causes clouded, blurred, or dim vision.
9. Astigmatism: Causes blurred or distorted vision at all distances.
10 Photophobia: Light sensitivity often coupled with other visual impairments.
Fortunately, regardless of where individuals fall on the spectrum of visual impairments, assistive technology and other digital accessibility solutions can significantly enhance peoples’ digital experience. Let’s now look at how assistive technology can empower visually impaired people to easily navigate the digital world.
Navigating the digital world: assistive technology and visual impairment
When it comes to assisting those with low vision, technology has come leaps and bounds. It isn’t about replacing human capabilities, but enhancing them where a person’s vision may be limited. So, what’s in this digital toolbox?
1. Screen Magnification Software
Programs like ZoomText or Magnifier for Windows enable users to enlarge specific sections of the screen while navigating around a site, providing a tailored view without distortion.
2. High-Contrast Themes
These themes make text and icons pop. High-contrast themes modify the color scheme to differentiate text from background, aiding in clarity and readability. A contrast checker can help you make sure that text and background colors on your website meet accessibility standards and optimize readability for all users.
3. Text-to-Speech Software
While this solution is not unique to low vision,
text-to-speech software can complement visual intake with auditory guidance. Platforms such as NaturalReader can turn digital text into spoken words, providing an alternate way to digest information.
4. Customizable Cursors and Pointers
Think of these as your digital highlighters, drawing your eyes exactly where they need to go. Users can adjust the size, shape, and color of cursors to suit their specific needs, making navigation less of a scavenger hunt.
5. Color Filter
Bright light from a screen or other sources prevents some people with low vision from reading and causes pain for some people. In-built into many operating systems, color filters adjust the color spectrum displayed on-screen to accommodate various visual impairments, including certain types of color blindness or light sensitivity. It’s like putting on a pair of tinted glasses designed just for you.
6. Voice Command Software
For some people, coordinating magnification while navigating can be hard work. Enter voice command software like Dragon NaturallySpeaking, which allows users to control their computers through voice, freeing them to focus on what’s magnified.
7. Electronic Handheld Magnifiers
Portable and practical, these digital magnifiers can be carried in your pocket and used to magnify anything from restaurant menus to bus schedules. They often come with built-in lights and color contrast settings.
Understanding and incorporating these assistive technologies can do more than make your site accessible; they can make it inviting, engaging, and genuinely usable for people with a visual impairment.
How to follow ‘WCAG’ for digital clarity
Ensuring that your website incorporates assistive technology for the visually impaired is of paramount importance.
By understanding the unique needs and challenges of creating websites for visually impaired people, designers can make the online world more accessible and user-friendly. This is where the latest version of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) comes into play.
WCAG are a set of recommendations designed to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities, including those with visual impairments. Key aspects of WCAG relevant to visual challenges include:
1.Perceivability: Provide text alternatives for non-text content and ensure multimedia has alternatives like captions.
2. Adaptability: Content should be usable under various adjustments, such as enlarged text or altered colors.
3. Distinguishability: Ensure clear contrast between text and background, and provide controls for moving or blinking content.
4. Keyboard Accessibility: Ensure all site functions can be performed via keyboard, benefiting those who can’t use a mouse.
5. Predictability: Maintain consistent page structures for easier navigation, especially for screen reader users.
6. Input Assistance: Clearly highlight and help correct errors, especially in forms.
7. Compatibility: Ensure content works seamlessly with assistive technologies, from screen readers to voice recognition.
In today’s digital age, no one should be left in the shadows. That’s why we’re championing the cause, embracing WCAG standards, and pushing the frontier of accessibility and inclusivity. Are you on board?
UserWay: websites that work for everyone
Now you know what you need to make sure your websites are accessible for everyone, the next step is action.
If you’re ready to enhance your site’s visual accessibility, UserWay has you covered. And we don’t just meet accessibility standards — we go beyond them. From flexible fonts to adaptable form labels, our AI-powered Pro Widget 4.0 transforms your site into an inclusive digital space. Our Accessibility scanner identifies WCAG violations and offers fixes, all backed by certified experts for manual audits and legal support. Request a demo today to start the next chapter of accessibility.
Why is web accessibility important for visually impaired users?
It ensures equal access to information and functionality, enhancing inclusivity and user experience for everyone.
What tools do visually impaired users utilize for web navigation?
Screen readers, text-to-speech software, and magnification tools are commonly used to enhance web accessibility.
How do color choices affect web accessibility for the visually impaired?
Color choices impact contrast and readability, essential for users with color blindness or low vision to discern content effectively.