I wanted to give us a break from the all-website-all-the-time posts I’ve had here lately, but then an idea hit me that was too good to ignore. More accurately, Linda Adams left a comment on my post from two weeks ago that struck me as something we don’t talk about enough: accommodating disabled readers in an online world.
The internet—email, blogs, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, you-name-it—exists on a primarily visual medium. And computer monitors can’t fabricate braille.
Yet vision-impaired readers—and writers—want to participate online just as much as we all do. A member of my local writing group is blind, and she’s in our Yahoo group and I’ve exchanged email messages with her. Her disability shouldn’t hold her back from being an active member of the writing community.
Linda’s comment helped me recognize that we can make vision-impaired readers and writers welcome at our online homes with just a few minor tweaks to our sites and our behavior. So I asked her to share her tips.
In this post, we’re focusing primarily on those with vision difficulties (something that many of us might encounter eventually with all the time we spend on our computers *smile*), but some of these tips will help readers with other disabilities as well. Please welcome Linda Adams!
Accessibility for Writing Websites and Why It Helps You as a Writer
When I was growing up, it was common for my father to ask me to check the color of the bands on a resistor. He was colorblind and couldn’t tell what the colors were. I always think of my father when I work on my writing site, and now I also think about a writer in my critique group who is blind. I’m not an expert in accessibility, but I have built sites with accessibility in mind. Frankly, my first thought was “Why not?” and my second thought was, “Why exclude potential readers?”
I went to four science fiction conventions last year. There are a lot of disabled fans attending—blind, in wheelchairs, with breathing equipment. And that doesn’t include the disabilities that we can’t see, like a person who is hearing-impaired.
Web designers often don’t build with accessibility because it does take longer, and there are some cool design elements that are not going to play well with it. Besides, they don’t have any problems seeing the site, so why bother? Then I think of my father, who was invited to visit a website—only to discover that he couldn’t read the content because of color choices.
All of the tips below are common sense to make a site accessible, and you don’t need to know anything about web design to do them.
- Fonts: Make sure your fonts are a readable size. If it’s too small, it will create problems for people will low vision. But font size also presents a challenge for anyone over forty who uses reading glasses. Think about that a moment. Not everyone has low vision. But everyone hits forty and eventually needs reading glasses.
See what the world looks like for people with low vision.
- Color: Make sure your color contrasts so it can be read. This seems obvious, but I’ve run into a site with a white background and yellow text. Even someone with perfect vision will have trouble reading that. Also avoid requiring the color to be an essential part of understanding what the content is. Colorblind people won’t be able to tell the difference, and people with low vision may also have difficulties.
See how colorblind people view the world.
- Photos: We all like to put photos in our blog posts because they add to our writing. But to a person who can’t see, that message gets lost. Take a few minutes when you upload your photo to add a description of what a photo looks like into the Alt Text field. The Alt Text field tells a screen reading device what’s in the photo. While you’re at it, add a caption in the post. This helps people with low vision who aren’t using a screen reader and can be used as a fun tool to enhance your blog for all readers.
Check out how images can cause problems for people who can’t see them.
- Captchas: Captchas are an attempt to stop spammers, but to combat improving technology, they’ve become increasing difficult to read. I often have to make four attempts to post a comment on a blog, and sometimes I give up in frustration. So imagine what it’s like for the visually disabled who have the rely on poor audio to tell them what’s in those captchas. If you’re getting so much spam that you need captchas, maybe it’s a good idea to start looking for a different blogging host.
This is just a small sampling of all the information available on accessibility. Here are a few links to read more about it:
- Web Accessibility Initiative: Stories of how people with disabilities use the web
- American Federation for the Blind: How to make your blog accessible to blind readers
- University of Berkley: Top ten tips for making your website accessible
If anyone has had problems with accessing websites—disabilities or not, please tell us your stories!
Linda Adams is a travel administrator by day and an action-adventure writer by night. She has a short story published in the anthology A Princess, A Boatman, and A Lizard and is working on a contemporary fantasy/action-adventure novel.
She is also a former soldier and served during the first Persian Gulf War, when it was still strange and new for women to be at war. You can visit her blog “Soldier, Storyteller” at http://garridon.wordpress.com/.
Thank you, Linda! I encourage everyone to check out the links Linda shared. The links at each bullet point build our understanding for how important these little tweaks can be to some of our readers. The links she listed at the end contain more great tips. In her original comment, Linda also shared this post with even more tips to make our site accessible to disabled users. (Edited to add: Melinda Primrose also added some “inside scoop” tips in the comments.)
Many tips focus on our links. Are they underlined and another color to make them clear they’re a link? Do they have descriptive words or a vague “click here”? Do they rely on color, “click the red button”?
If we use videos or audio podcasts, do we include a summary or transcript? My audio processing is terrible, so summaries and transcripts appeal to those like me as well.
And we’ve all shuddered through those sites with red text on a black background. Guess what that red looks like to people with some forms of colorblindness? More black.
In other words, designing our sites to be disabled-friendly is often related to being reader friendly in general. *smile* Thanks again to Linda for bringing up this subject!
Registration is currently open for my two workshops designed for those with no knowledge of WordPress, websites, or blogs. Interested? Sign up for only one of the workshops: For a free website/blog: “Develop a Free Author Website in 60 Minutes (or Less!)”; or to set up a website/blog you own: “A Newbie’s Guide to Building a Self-Hosted Blog or Website.” (Blog readers: Use Promo Code “jamisave” to save $5 on registration.)
Do you or others you know have disabilities that make internet activities difficult? What adaptations have helped? Do you have other tips to share? Have you already incorporated some of these tips into your site? Do you have questions about how to implement any of these tips? And Linda wants to know if you’ve encountered problems with accessing websites—disabilities or not?Pin It