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Designing a Website With Blind Users in Mind

Yesterday I spoke with Greg Niland aka GoodROI on the Webmaster Radio show GoodKarma. We spoke about the different aspects of disabled people using the Internet. I promised I would write down what we talked about with some of the lnks I mentioned. First I want to mention I am not a WAI (Web Accessibility Initiative) expert. Everything that I talk about is from experience as a Blind user and a as a person who has trained Blind users how to use their computers.

How to set up a website for blind users

I could not find any current numbers of how many blind people there are in the US and world. The most recent numbers were from the 90’s and they said 10 million. Greg and I both agreed this number has to be way larger now maybe around 15 million. There are more and more people getting on the Internet every year and the blind population is no different. With the baby boomers hitting their late 50’s there are more and more people with visual impairments. I have no data to prove this but I think the Blind community is more apt to buy stuff online than normal users because we do no have access to transportation like our sighted friends do. Also the Internet opens many door to the blind that were not previously there. When a blind person goes to a store somebody has to tell them what is in front of them and what the prices are. With the Internet we can do this by ourselves.

There are 2 types of blind people. Ones that can read print and ones that cannot. The ones that can not read print need an alternative to the monitor. They have 3 options.

  • Text to Speech (screen reader)
  • Braille Display
  • a person to read the screen to them.
  • For those who have low vision (like me) there are 3 options

  • Screen Magnification software
  • Larger Monitors
  • Flat Panel mounted on an arm
  • When designing a website with blind users in mind the main rule is to make sure everything you want to tell your users is in print somewhere. The trend to use CSS have improved the Internet for blind users quite a bit. If you follow good SEO rules and use CSS there is a very good chance blind users can see your site. The first rule that you see in every list is to use alt tags on your images. Describe what you see in the image. You don’t need to describe it in complete detail just describe what it is there for and of course any text that is on it. Next you want use descriptive anchor text. The links in this post our good examples of what to do. The thing to avoid is a link that says “click here”. It is very helpful to have a good sitemap. Not just list of links but links with descriptions next to them. Similar to how directories are set up.

    The largest group of blind users will be those with low vision. If you make a site where a low vision person can easily read then you have made a website that normal users can easily read. I have often said that advertisers should hire people with low vision to help with design. Most ads are seen for a very short period of time and from a distance. If you stick a person with low vision in front of your ad and they don’t get it then there is a good chance a sited person that is not paying close attention is going to get it. It is very hard to read a site that has a weird background or text that has very little contrast against the background. Don’t lock down the print size so we can’t use the browsers built in ability to enlarge text. (In IE: View -> Text Size)

    Most people don’t know that you can do almost anything on a computer without a mouse. This is what blind people are doing. It is a good idea to learn how to navigate your site without using a mouse. Set up tab orders in your code.

    There is a ton of information on the Internet about blind people. I found a bunch of information at The New York Institute for Special Education and The National Federation of the Blind

    Comments on this entry are closed.

    • shandyking July 14, 2006, 6:44 pm

      First off, congrats on being on Greg’s show. I heard it and it sounded “excellent”.

      This is a great subject you touched upon. I am sure many users out there who are visually impaired would be pleased hearing you are spreading this kind of message.