How to Design for a Visually Impaired Audience

There are more than 53 million Americans with some form of visual impairment. This could range from mild to severe, with about 18 percent of afflicted people being legally blind.

Visual impairment does not have to be a showstopper when it comes to the Internet, however.  Many people with sight difficulties still go online to access information.

You can make your web design more accessible to the visually impaired by doing the following:

  • Use enlarged text – Simply making your text bigger helps. You can increase the font size as well as the tracking, which enlarges the space between words.  You can also increase the space between letters (kerning) and augment the line width to roughly 35 characters per line.  Eliminate italics when possible, and opt for black text instead of gray.
  • Avoid subtle contrasts – Many eye diseases result in a significant decrease in a person’s sensitivity to contrast. The eyes have trouble differentiating between similar shades and different levels of brightness. Compounding the problem, layouts today tend to be very detail-oriented, often times using gradients and shifts in value to create a clean interface. This is fine for people with good eyesight but could be a headache for a user with sensitivity issues. Try using bold text for added readability and avoiding very thin fonts.
  • Be mindful of colors – Some people are born colorblind and others develop the condition due to diseases. While it is not practical to design your whole website for people with colorblindness, you can avoid using potentially-confusing color combinations, especially when it comes to call-to-action buttons.
  • Let viewers use keyboard shortcuts to navigate – Minimizing the need for the cursor on the screen will be a big help to people with visual impairment. In a perfect world, they should be able to navigate your site using keyboard commands such as the arrow keys.

The U.S. Rehabilitation Act requires electronic and information technology to be equally accessible to people with and without disabilities. Designing your websites to accommodate the visually impaired will help achieve this goal, and may attract a buyer base that appreciates your extra effort.

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