When designing a website, it's necessary for developers to consider the diverse technology and users that make up the Internet community.

While reading guidelines and creating a web page, the process of making your page accessible will be more comprehensible if you understand how people with visual impairments are likely to visit your site. What technology is in use and how it works has been a significant part of making guidelines that meet the needs of both web page developers and web page users.

Screen Readers

Computer users who are blind usually use a screen reader for most computing activities. This, in simple terms, is a piece of software that "figures out" what is on the screen and sends information to a speech synthesizer to be spoken or to a braille display. The screen reader provides not only output but to some extent an improved (from the blind user's point of view) interface. The screen reader is the brains of any talking computer. For a more detailed explanation, and a list of available products, see the Screen Readers category in AFB's Assistive Technology Products listings.

Screen Magnification and Other Techniques

Not all users with visual impairments use speech to access your website. The majority of users will have some sight and will either use a screen magnification program or rely on features built into the operating system or the browser to enhance the visibility of your website. For these users, your choice of color and layout can make an enormous difference in their experience of your page.

A screen magnification program makes text and graphics on your web page bigger. Unfortunately, this usually means that the user sees only part of the screen at a time, so must move the viewing area around in order to see everything. This sometimes means that the relationships between items on the screen get lost.

You may have a heading or label on the left and then text or graphics to the right of it. The user, seeing only the left, then only the right, may easily fail to understand that these two are related. For more information about screen magnification, and a list of available products, visit the Screen Magnification Systems section of the AFB product listings.

Users with enough sight to read much of the text on the screen without using additional equipment or software often adjust the colors and sizes of text and icons in order to make them more visible. For these users, one of the several high-contrast color schemes in Windows may be enough to enable them to do word processing and other computing tasks. On web pages, however, page authors often use low-contrast color schemes and other visual characteristics unfriendly to visitors with low vision.