Accessibility - websites for the blind

That’s what it’s all about, right?


I think like most people, when I first heard about Accessibility, I thought of building sites for blind people.

The reality is that accessible sites are designed for much, much more than just blind people, they are design to work for people suffering from a number of visual impairments, as well as a number of mental and physical disabilities. They also dramatically improve the usability for all users, disabled or not.

By truly separating presentation and content, we are able to design and build sites that support multiple different ways of accessing the content.

Blind users

Blind or severely visually impaired users rely on; screen readers or Braille readers.

Screen readers, such as JAWs or Read Aloud physically read out the content of a website.

Braille readers take the content of a site and present them to the user through a number of Braille ‘keys’, which effectively read out the content too.

As a result, the site content needs to make sense, without the context of where in the page it is and any visual elements that will be ignored by the reader.

Partially sighted users

Partially sighted or less severely visually impaired users, even down to colour blind users may use regular browsers, but may need to increase the font size or contrast between text and the background on which it sits.

Colour blind users may not be able to easily distinguish between selected and non selected items, such as navigation, if the designer has relied on colour alone to distinguish the two.

Again, the content needs to make sense, without relying on the design of the site.

Physically disabled

Physically disabled users may struggle to use a mouse or keyboard and may rely on a joystick or other device to interact with a website.

Cognitive disability

Cognitive disability takes a number of forms and are not easily defined or categorised. They range from not being able to concentrate for a long time (and hence needing to quickly find what you need) to epilepsy and a number of other cognitive disabilities.

Pages with flashing animations or pages which dynamically update may be mildly annoying to non-epileptic users, but can seriously effect epileptic users.

By truly separating content from presentation and by laying out the content in a meaningful sequence, many if not all of these hurdles can be easily overcome.