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Accessibility Matters

Do you know what using the web is like for people with visual impairments? It can sometimes be a very different experience than what the website creator intended. Accessibility is the practice of ensuring that products, websites, physical spaces, and services can be used by people of all different abilities. On the web, this means that websites are designed so that they can be accessed and read by anyone. Because the web is a highly visual medium, one of the key things to be aware of when designing websites is how they will be used by those with visual impairments. Blindness is a condition that encompasses a range of visual acuity, from total lack of vision to low-vision and color blindness. This range of needs must be taken into consideration when designing websites, to ensure that they are usable to as wide a range of people as possible. People with visual impairments use all kinds of assistive technology to access websites, including screen readers, screen magnifiers, and browser settings that render pages in extreme contrast. If you're curious about what a website might look like to people with visual impairments, there are a number of tools designed for accessibility testing that can give you a sense of how the web looks to someone else. One of my favorite tools is a Chrome plug-in called NoCoffee. This plug-in allows you to set different levels and types of visual impairments to give you a general understanding of how someone with a visual disability might experience any website. If you're curious about the experience of using a screen reader, WebAIM has created a screen reader simulation that asks you to complete some basic tasks on a website via a screen reader. They also have a low-vision simulator . If you're curious about the effects of color blindness, there are many color blindness simulators online. This Color Filter site allows you to view any website as it might appear to a color blind person. If you'd like to learn more, WebAIM's article on Visual Disabilities and the web is a great place to start. We also have some resources in the library that you might be interested in, including Accessibility Handbook: Making 508 Websites for Everyone, Making Online Teaching Accessible, and the streaming video Designing Web Accessibility for a Beautiful Web.