This blog is about Graphic Design, Vector Art, and Cartoon Illustration

Designing web pages for people with visual disabilities

Although I no longer design websites, I'm still fascinated by their design, and not only how good they look, but how well they work. I'm a very demanding designer, I believe that design can be beautiful and function well. One of the things I've kept an eye on for years is how well they work for people with visual disabilities.

As someone who is on a long road recovering from a visual disability because of a medical emergency many years ago (please don't ask) I became even more aware of the importance of making what I designed accessible. If you're interested in designing for accessibility, I think I can help.

As a designer, you have to try to think in terms of reducing barriers, just as if you were designing a three-dimensional space for someone in a wheelchair. If you've never been in a wheelchair, you may not even realize that there are barriers, so I recommend that you spend some time in a wheelchair, or talk to someone who has. I spent about a month in a wheelchair and I saw things that I had never seen before. I recovered the ability to walk, and saw things that I'd never seen before, which are barriers, and the same with my vision.

On a web page, barriers to people with visual disabilities are also hidden from people who have never seen things from that point of view. And often the barriers are created by people who have the best intentions, who just want their web page to look "cool", and they make a mess of it.

Here are a few basic things that you can do to make your web page easier for people with visual disabilities, and easier for everyone:

• Avoid poor contrast. In fact, I would recommend to always have black type on a white background. There's a reason that books, magazines and newspapers do this - it's easier to read than any other color combination. If you've made the mistake of doing it in reverse, go fix it. A reverse, by the way, just means a dark background with light-colored lettering. You can do a reverse in small places, like a heading, but doing a reverse for the body text of your document is a mistake. Fix it.

• Avoid putting text on top of a photo. If you have a paragraph of text that you want someone to read, give them a break, see above. Photos and text should be designed next to each other, not on top of each other. Again, if you just have a couple of words, fine, but otherwise try to avoid this design mistake.

• Avoid combining text with photos. That is, avoid using a program that puts the text in the graphic, rather than having the text be separate. One of the wonderful things about reading on a digital device, like what you're reading on right now, is that you can enlarge the type. But you can't do it if the type is in a graphic. Keep your graphics separate from what you want people to read. By the way, text in graphics are invisible to reading machines, and systems that convert text to braille.

• Whenever possible, have something that people can listen to. I just started getting some help on my history adventuring blog, and figured out how to add a way for someone to just push a button and listen, instead of having to read. It takes some effort, and you have to know people who have good voices, but to me it's worth the trouble. Here's one if you want to take a listen

I'm in the process of recovering my sight, and I will always appreciate designers who removed obstacles for me. I also learned that "designing for disabilities" can make your design easier for everyone, so I recommend that you do it. You will make the world better, and easier, for everyone.