How to Unlock Web Accessibility for Visually Impaired Users

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How to Unlock Web Accessibility for Visually Impaired Users

Posted March 28, 2024


Posted March 28, 2024

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Visually impaired users face numerous barriers when trying to navigate the web. Discover how to break down these barriers and create a more accessible experience for these users.

In today’s digital age, the internet serves as a gateway to information, services, and opportunities. Unfortunately, for the 7.6 million people in the United States living with a visual disability, web accessibility issues can make it difficult to enjoy equal access to the web.

Common web accessibility issues like poor color contrast, missing image alternative text, and using color alone to convey information can create barriers to access for people with visual impairments — emphasizing the need for accessible web design.

In this article, we discuss how web accessibility issues can impact different types of visual impairments — from color blindness to vision loss related to aging — and share tips, tools, and strategies organizations can adopt to help make their website welcoming and usable for all visitors.

What Is Web Accessibility?

Before we discuss specific tactics on creating accessible websites, it’s important to have a shared understanding of what web accessibility is — and why it should be a priority for every organization.

Web accessibility is the practice of designing and building websites and digital content to be usable by everyone, regardless of ability. This principle aligns with the vision of Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, who stated: “The power of the web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect."

In addition to the moral and financial reasons to prioritize web accessibility for visually impaired people, there is also a legal motivation. In recent years, nondiscrimination laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) have increasingly been applied to websites and other digital channels.

Although the ADA does not have technical standards for web accessibility, courts and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) have frequently pointed to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as a reasonable standard of compliance. The latest version of WCAG (WCAG 2.2, released in October 2023) includes 86 success criteria, including guidance on image accessibility, page structure, keyboard accessibility, and more.

Top Challenges Faced by Users With Visual Impairments

People with visual impairments encounter a number of obstacles when navigating the web, including:

  • Missing image alt text: One of the most common web accessibility issues is missing or non-descriptive image alt text. In AudioEye’s 2023 Digital Accessibility Index, we found that 56% of images have inadequate non-text alternatives, which can prevent screen reader users from being able to understand or benefit from any information conveyed by the image.
  • Inaccessible color combinations: For people with color blindness, certain color combinations — such as red and green — can be difficult to distinguish between. This can make it hard to interpret data represented by color-coded charts or understand alerts communicated by color alone, such as the colors green and red to represent pass/fail states.
  • Low color contrast: Poor color contrast between foreground and background elements can make it difficult to read text or buttons for individuals with visual impairments. According to the latest Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the visual presentation of text and images of text should have a minimum contrast ratio of 4.5 to 1.
  • Small font: Large font — or the ability to increase font size — can support reading and comprehension for people with low vision, including the aging population. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 12 million Americans aged 40 and over experience some form of visual impairment.

Three icons of people. One is wearing sunglasses, one is smiling, and one is wearing regular eyeglasses.

How to Make Your Website Accessible for the Visually Impaired

The first step toward making your website and mobile apps accessible for people with visual impairments is understanding its current level of accessibility. Tools like AudioEye’s free Website Accessibility Checker offer an easy way to test key pages on your website.

Once you have a basic understanding of your site’s accessibility, you can start triaging issues based traffic, frequency, and user impact.

Essential Accessibility Features for the Visually Impaired

To help create accessible, inclusive user experiences for people with visual impairments, consider implementing the following features:

  • High contrast and color adjustments: Providing adjustable contrast and color settings caters to users with various visual needs, particularly those with color blindness.
  • Text size and font adjustments: Enabling users to customize text size and selecting readable fonts enhances readability for individuals with low vision.
  • Keyboard navigation: Supporting keyboard-only navigation helps enable browsing and navigation for people who cannot utilize a mouse.
  • Screen reader compatibility: Ensuring compatibility with screen readers facilitates access to content for blind users.

Making the Business Case for Web Accessibility

As we noted earlier, investing in accessibility can pay dividends for your business. Not only can an accessible website help improve your brand reputation, but it can also open your digital doors to millions of potential customers who might otherwise struggle to browse your website or engage with your content.

Additionally, there is strong evidence that the best practices of accessible design — such as proper heading structure and clear, descriptive links — can also make it easier for search engines to crawl your website, leading to improved search engine rankings and more organic web traffic.

Best Practices for Designing for Visual Impairments

Incorporate best practices such as using alternative text for images, organizing content with headings, and designing color-blind-friendly websites can help you design and build websites that work for all users, including people with visual impairments.

Here are three best practices to get you started:

  • Provide alternative text for images: Image alt text is a written description of an image that screen readers can read out loud — or convert to Braille — for people with visual impairments, sensory processing disorders, or learning disorders. Descriptive alt text enables screen reader users to understand what each image is meant to convey, closing the accessibility gap on web pages that rely heavily on images to communicate information.
  • Organize content with headings: Screen reader users often “skim” a new web page by using keyboard commands to jump from one heading to the next, so it’s important to use hierarchical headings (e.g., H1, H2, H3) and avoid skipping heading ranks (for example, jumping from an H1 to an H3), which can cause screen reader users to think they missed a section.
  • Design color blind-friendly websites:Designing your website to be accessible for people with color vision deficiency doesn’t mean you have to forego color entirely; you just need to be more intentional with how you use it, from avoiding certain color combinations to using textures, patterns, and icons to help distinguish between different elements.

Stylized website with an accessibility icon and three customer icons

Tools and Technologies to Improve Web Accessibility

Before you start addressing accessibility issues on your website, it’s important to understand the tools, technologies, and approaches available to you. Some organizations try to resolve accessibility issues with technology alone, while others rely on manual testing and intervention.

At AudioEye, we believe the best approach is one that combines the speed and scalability of automation with the detail and insights you can only get with manual testing from assistive technology users and accessibility experts. To that end, we offer a number of tools and services to help you test the accessibility of your website and deliver an inclusive experience to every user, including people with visual impairments:

  • Our Automated Accessibility Platform runs over 400 accessibility tests to automatically find and fix many common accessibility violations.
  • Some accessibility violations — including usability issues uncovered during Expert Audits — cannot be fixed by automation alone, which is why we offer custom-coded fixes tailored to your organization’s unique needs.
  • To help organizations design and build for accessibility from the start, we offer Accessibility Training as a resource for developers and content creators.
  • Finally, we recommend working with an accessibility partner that offers manual testing from real assistive technology users. Doing so can help you identify usability issues that might slip by automated tools — or even manual testers who don’t use screen readers or other assistive technologies in their daily lives. At AudioEye, our Expert Audits are conducted by real assistive technology users.

Take the Next Step Toward an Accessible, Inclusive Website

When we talk to people about the importance of web accessibility, we often remind them that the disability community is a vast and varied group of people. Treating web accessibility like an edge case or a task to be addressed later is not something any business can afford to ignore.

In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 2.2 billion people globally have a vision impairment or blindness. By following best practices on color contrast, alt text, text size, and more, you can improve the accessibility of your website for people with visual impairments — and make sure everyone can engage with your content.

Want to get a sense of where you stand today? Start by checking your website’s accessibility using our free Website Accessibility Checker or book a demo with our team to learn more about how we can support you on your accessibility journey.

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