Top tips for making websites and apps accessible for people with sight loss

Websites and apps should be made accessible to provide equal access and equal opportunity to people with sight loss and other disabilities. In fact, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognises access to information and communications technologies, including the Web, as a basic human right.
So we asked Chris from our Digital Team to compile some top tips for making websites and apps accessible to blind and visually impaired people.

Essential for some - useful for all

For some years now mobile devices, such as phones and tablets, have had accessibility functions built in to make them easier for people with sight loss to access; such as Magnifiers/Siri/VoiceOver on Apple products, or Magnifiers/Google Assistant/talkback on Android devices.

However, some websites and apps are not designed with accessibility as a priority, and these can then create barriers to people with sight loss.  So, if you are a web developer or app developer then please take a little extra time to make your app or webpage a little more accessible for people with a sight loss.

Here are some things to think about when designing the layout, functionality and user interface of your app or website.

Chris

Contrast

Choosing colours with poor contrast makes things frustrating. Good design means more contrast between the foreground and background. Making links, icons and buttons clear is also important.

Good contrast can also make it easier to use mobile devices in different situations, such as in varying lighting conditions.

Links and buttons

Imagine trying to push a thread through the eye of a small needle – this is what it can feel like for some visually impaired users when trying to find a link or a button.

Making any buttons or links larger and easier to see will make navigating your app or website much easier.

Layout and design

Good design means a better layout, and hence a better user experience. This should include clear headings and navigation bars.

Any web user would get frustrated with bad layout and design and this may negatively impact on their confidence, especially if they are new to technology.

Customisable text

If your website or app contains lots of written information, then including the ability to alter text size and colour (without loss of functions or clarity) would be a really useful function.

Voice recognition

Writing on a mobile device can be difficult, slow and frustrating if you have sight loss. Enabling voice recognition in an app can be very useful for dictating a long email or for searching the web.

Text-to-Speech

Text-to-Speech technology has been around for a long time both for people with sight loss and other disabilities, such as dyslexia; for this to work effectively however, websites and apps need to be better coded. This not only helps the user, but also helps search engines to index contents of websites better.

Simple and understandable content

Unnecessarily long and overly complex language, use of jargon and syntax can make access difficult and frustrating – not only if you have a sight loss, but if you have English as an additional language or have a cognitive difficulty.

Keyboard accessibility

For some people with a severe sight impairment, accessing a website through a keyboard is essential – so this option is an important inclusion in any website design.

It is also essential if someone has a physical disability, an injured arm, or even a broken mouse!

Image shows a member of the Digital Enablement Team sat at a desk with several laptops on.

Web content development packages

It is worth noting here that whilst web content development packages are great for being able to create a superior visual experience very quickly, they are not always the best for allowing accessibility for those who use screen-readers.

The reason for this is that most screen-readers use the tags in the HTML code for navigation. HTML tags are labels that are assigned to each individual item on the webpage. If someone using a screen-reader wants to skip through the headings on a webpage, they should just be able to use the keyboard shortcut to skip from one heading to the next. The risk with web content development packages is that they will allocate the same label to every item on the page, meaning someone with a visual impairment will have to listen to every item on the page, not just the information they want.

The importance of accessibility

Accessibility is essential for developers and organisations that want to create high quality websites and web tools, and not to exclude people from using their products and services.

By increasing accessibility, you open your app to a wider audience, and make it easier for everyone to use. Case studies show that accessible websites have better search results, reduced maintenance costs, and increased audience reach, amongst other benefits.

No matter what platform you are developing for there is lots of advice and guidance on the best practice and how to design this into your website or app. The links below will give you some useful information and guidance:

http://www.w3.org/standards/webdesign/accessibility

https://developer.android.com/guide/topics/ui/accessibility/

https://developer.apple.com/documentation/uikit/accessibility_for_ios_and_tvos

https://developer.microsoft.com/en-US/windows/accessible-apps

Further support

If you have come across a website or app that doesn’t work for you and your visual impairment, why not send the company the link to this blog! Or if you are a new business having a web page built, or you are a web developer, contact us to see how we can help you test your accessibility.  Ask to speak to our Digital Team on 0300 222 5555 or email info@henshaws.org.uk

Finally, if you would like to have a better understanding of what it is like living with sight loss to better inform your company’s practices, our Visual Impairment Awareness Training (VIAT) may be of interest.  More details can be found here.

Mark using an iPhone connected to a large screen TV and his laptop, at the ESLRR conference.

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Sarah
Sarah is the Marketing Manager with responsibility for Community Services across Greater Manchester, and the Knowledge Village.