Digital accessibility and low vision experiences. 

By Brent Greyson, Instructional Design and Accessibility Specialist

When we think about digital accessibility, it’s common to think about people who use assistive technology, such as screen readers, to interact with our digital content. It’s one of the first things that comes to many people’s minds as learners and instructors! While it’s imperative to consider screen reader users when designing your content, we shouldn’t forget about users with visual impairments who may not be using a screen reader.  

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 7 million people (about twice the population of Oklahoma) in the United States experience vision loss. Approximately 1 million of those people are blind, while the other 6 million experience some degree of visual impairment. One type of visual impairment is sometimes known as low vision 

The definition of low vision isn’t exact. Still, the common understanding is that a person experiences low vision when they, even with corrective lenses, must use alternative methods to engage in the same activities as those without visual impairment. Examples of this might be screen magnification software, such as ZoomText, or even a low-tech magnifying dome for a cell phone. 

So, how do you think engaging with your digital content would be for someone with low vision? How might that experience reflect on you, your university, or your product? As digital content creators, what can we do to make our content usable by all people, including those with low vision?  

An excellent place to start is with the Large Print Guidelines the American Council for the Blind (ACB) adopted in 2022. These guidelines are primarily for best practices in publishing large print format books, but they can apply to various mediums.  

Two simple changes. 

If you are anything like me, one day, when you began using your email client or word processor, you just left the default settings for your styles and started sending emails or making documents without giving those settings another thought. Unfortunately, the default styles usually set the font size at 11 or 12 points, which is tiny! Your default font might also need a refresh.  

Before we send another email or create a digital document, we can make two changes that will significantly improve the experience of the people who want to engage with our content. 

First, we need to select a readable font, which means it has clear and distinct characters. There are many good readable fonts and lots of debate about which one is “the best.” While there is no definitive answer, here are a few that I like and can recommend: 

Next, we need to change the font in our software, whether it’s our email client, word processor, or publishing suite. The process for changing fonts varies by platform, so if you have questions about how to do this, we encourage you to visit the support pages for your platform: 

Finally, we must change the font size from the default to between 14 and 18-point. You can usually adjust the font size near the same area as the font selection. Check out these two examples to see what a difference these changes make!  

The first example is an email made with the Times New Roman font with a font size of the default 11-point in Microsoft Outlook: 

Here’s the same email using 16-point Aptos font: 

 

Which one is easier for you to read? 

Small changes can have a big impact. 

It may not seem like much, but adjusting our fonts and font sizes can significantly impact the experiences of people who want to use our content.  

And that’s just the start!  

We can make many simple changes when we create our digital content to ensure that we reach as many people as possible. If you want to learn more about some of the changes you can make, head over to our free self-paced digital accessibility courses or email us at abt.a11y@okstate.edu.