Web Accessibility: Designing for Users with Visual Impairments

In the last few years, with the development of technology, the number of web pages has increased significantly. With the increase in number, web accessibility has become a very important aspect of designing and developing a website. Web accessibility ensures that everyone visiting the web can access, understand, and use the content. 

Accessing the web is mainly visual which, sometimes, becomes inaccessible for people with visual impairment. Individuals with visual impairments face different challenges while accessing and navigating through the web. For example, people who are colorblind cannot understand the content on websites using combinations of background and foreground colors that are unreadable to them. Still, people with visual impairment use the web daily to access content, read/write emails, and do any other thing that can be done on the internet. 

Hence, website designers and developers need to ensure web accessibility for people with visual impairment. A good website allows all its users to access and understand the content on it without causing any problems. In this article, we will learn about web accessibility and designing it for users with visual impairment. 

Understanding Visual Impairments

People with visual impairments face a wide range of problems such as color blindness, tunnel vision, cloud vision, etc. All of these conditions affect the ability to distinguish between certain colors. Hence, it is very challenging for people with visual impairment to interact with digital content. 

Designers and developers try to make their websites accessible to everyone. Each visitor is a potential customer for a website. If the website is inaccessible or unreadable for a person with visual impairment, they may lose a potential customer. Hence, designing the web for users with visual impairment is very important. Let us first look at some key aspects of web accessibility to understand different areas of web accessibility. 

Key Aspects of Web Accessibility

To ensure web accessibility for people with visual impairments, designers and developers should understand the key aspects of web accessibility. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has mentioned some key aspects of web accessibility in its Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). 

  1. Content should be accessible
  2. User interface should be operable
  3. Information should be understandable
  4. Robust Technology

Designing for Visual Impairments

When designing for users with visual impairments, several considerations should be kept in mind to provide a user-friendly experience to every user. 

  1. Color and Contrast

High contrast colors should be used to ensure content is easily distinguishable. It is important to consider individuals with low vision who may have difficulty perceiving precise color variations. Choosing colors with a sufficient contrast ratio between the foreground (text or icons) and background improves readability. 

The WCAG provides guidelines on minimum contrast ratios for different text sizes and components. You should avoid relying solely on color to convey information, as individuals with color blindness may have difficulty differentiating certain colors. Make use of additional things, such as icons or text labels to ensure that all users can understand the presented information. 

  1. Typography

Clear and readable fonts should be selected, with sufficient font size and spacing to enhance readability on your website. Sans-serif fonts, such as Arial or Verdana, are generally easier to read on digital screens. Always choose fonts that have enough spacing between characters to improve readability for people with low vision. 

Make sure to provide the option to increase the font size, as some users may require larger text for comfortable reading. CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) should be used while designing to define font sizes, allowing users to adjust the text size according to their preferences. Always use HTML and CSS to present text on your webpage so that it can be resized, translated, or accessed by every user. 

  1. Layout and Structure

A consistent and logical page layout helps users in understanding and navigating the content. Users with visual impairments rely on the structure of the page to understand its hierarchy and organization. Proper use of headings and subheadings provides a hierarchical structure that allows them to understand the entire information on the page. 

Use headings with appropriate HTML tags (e.g., h1, h2, h3) according to the importance of the content. This not only benefits users with visual impairments but also improves the overall readability and SEO (Search Engine Optimization) of the website. Also, make sure to use proper and descriptive labels for buttons and links so that users can understand their purpose and destination. 

  1. Multimedia Content

Make use of multimedia content, such as images, videos, and audio while designing your website. Using these things allow users with visual impairments to access information. Also, use alternative text for images and graphics to describe its content. 

Make use of captions and audio descriptions for videos to ensure that the information conveyed in the video is understandable. This not only benefits individuals with hearing impairments but also assists users with visual impairments who may rely on captions to understand spoken content. 

  1. Forms and Input Fields

Make sure to design forms and input fields with accessibility in mind to ensure smooth interaction for users with visual impairments. Always use clear and descriptive labels so that information and instructions could be easily understood. Screen readers rely on these labels to inform users about the purpose and expected input of each field. Labels should be placed adjacent to or associated with the corresponding input field using appropriate HTML markup.

While using forms, error validation and feedback are very important. Make sure that you design them in the same way so that if any problem occurs during the form submission, users with visual impairments can easily understand them with the help of technologies, such as screen readers. Also, use auto-fill and auto-complete features to reduce the effort required for input. This not only benefits users with visual impairments but also others. 

  1. Navigation and Orientation

Navigation plays an important role in helping users find and access things through the website. Use clear and concise menu structures to guide users through the content effectively. Consider using standard navigation patterns, such as top-level menus or hamburger menus, that users are familiar with. These patterns can be easily understood by screen readers and assistive technologies.

Breadcrumb navigation helps in understanding the site’s structure and enables users to navigate backward. Breadcrumbs typically display the hierarchy of pages leading to the current page, allowing users to trace their path and easily navigate to previous levels without any confusion. Make sure to also use skip links so that users with visual impairments can easily navigate to the desired content. 

  1. Testing and Evaluating Accessibility

To ensure web accessibility for users with visual impairments, thorough testing, and evaluation are also important. You should use a proper approach to test and evaluate your web accessibility which includes manual testing, automated testing, and user testing.

Manual testing using assistive technologies, such as screen readers and magnifiers, helps identify and address accessibility issues that may arise. By navigating the website using screen readers, designers and developers can experience the website as users with visual impairments would. This helps uncover potential barriers and enables the team to make necessary adjustments to improve web accessibility.

Some automated accessibility testing tools can also be utilized to identify common accessibility errors and provide a baseline assessment. These tools scan web pages and generate reports highlighting issues related to accessibility. While automated tools can help identify certain issues, manual testing is still essential to catch minor problems and evaluate the overall user experience.

Designing websites with web accessibility in mind is not only a legal and ethical responsibility but also a way to provide an equal experience for all users. While designing a web that is accessible for users with visual impairments, principles of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), provided by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) should be followed. 

Focus on the areas such as color and contrast, typography, layout and structure, multimedia content, forms and input fields, navigation and orientation, and conducting proper testing, and designers to make your web accessible to users with visual impairments. Follow web accessibility principles and build a website that is very user-friendly for everyone and SEO-friendly. 

Guest article written by: Abhijith VM. Blogger/SEO at Geek’s Framework. Loves internet marketing, travel, and cars.