According to recent statistics provided by the Center for Disease Control, 4.3 million people have a visual impairment or limited vision in the United States. It is estimated that this number will grow twofold by the year 2050.
So how do you provide accessible website design services to the visually impaired? It is vital that we first understand what being visually impaired or being legally blind means. How does this affect over 4 million people in the United States?
What Does it Mean to Be Blind?
Different countries have several definitions for what is considered blind. In the United States, you do not have to have a total loss of sight to be considered blind. The varying scale of legal blindness is established to accommodate the various states of visual inability, from total blindness to color blindness to tunnel vision. The only standard applied consistently is that the person suffering from a low or limited vision in such a way that it cannot be corrected using eyeglasses or lenses, and their visual acuity is 20/200 or less. Here are a few different states of impairment that is considered legal blindness in the United States:
- Color blindness (Cannot see colors)
- Low or reduced contrast sensitivity (cannot differentiate mild contrast)
- Low vision (cannot make out moving shapes)
- Complete blindness (cannot tell between light and dark)
- Tunnel Vision (visual field is 20 degrees in diameter or less)
Daily Internet use is a modern reality which legally blind people also use widely for anything from participating in social activities to taking advantage of business opportunities, actively sharing knowledge, and much much more. This begs the question: how do we design websites for the visually impaired with numbers as high as 4.3 million.
Some universal standards are suggested to meet and exceed ADA website compliance standards effectively.
This guide to designing a compliant website is Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The standard was developed in response to national and global website access agreements for accessibility standards for the visually impaired, such as:
- The US 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA)
- The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
- The European Accessibility Act
- The Eu’s Web Accessibility Directive of EU
- The Australian Disability Discrimination Act (DDA)
The latest version of WCAG is WCAG 2.1, which has many recommendations that allow you to become compliant with the ADA requirements and stay updated.
In broad brushstrokes, the WCAG recommendations focus on four different factors to fulfill to be accessible for all users. These four basic principles are Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust.
1. Perceivable: The website should allow the user to perceive the information being communicated to them via the website. It is essential that all content presented should be recognizable, and the user should interact with it. Otherwise, the content is considered inaccessible. All ADA-compliant websites should abide by this principle; that is, the user should be able to perceive the content and be able to interact with it. Things like the substitution of audio with text to make it accessible to the blind or making text captions available for those who are audibly impaired.
2. Operable: All the navigation and operation functionality on the website should be designed so that it is accessible to the users. An example of such an accommodation will assist the user with muscular dystrophy and partial or total paralysis. These users cannot operate peripheral devices such as a keyboard or mouse, and accommodating them via choice for data entry such as voice commands will be an example of making the site accessible.
3. Understandable: It is essential that the user can not only perceive and operate the website but can have a complete understanding of the content and information stored within. Because merely having perception is not good enough for the ADA standards, the user can understand and grasp the information delivered on the website. To guarantee understanding, the content must be concise enough to be able to be understood by a wider audience. Having interaction with the understanding also means that the user can navigate and fill out online forms and that there is complete guidance and well-developed navigation through the process to guarantee an easy-to-follow process.
4. Robust: Technologies going obsolete is another problem that comes up a lot when serving users with impairment. That is why it is essential that the technologies used to develop the solutions to be robust enough to serve the past, present, and future users and the assistive technologies they are employing to use the site. The website should adapt its functioning to various platforms and devices, with features like cross-browser compatibility to ensure that the content remains accessible even after the evolution of technologies.
In conclusion, ADA compliance standards are thorough and are frequently updated to meet the growing needs of 4 million-plus users.