Web Accessibility for Casual Web Designers


In 2004, the National Eye Institute reported that blindness or low vision affected well over three million Americans, with the number likely to grow substantially in the following decades due to the aging of the population. The majority of these individuals have some usable visual ability, but are impaired in ways the significantly affect the ability to perform everyday activities. Given the importance of the web as a communication medium, it is essential that web pages be accessible to those with limited visual capabilities. For universities and government agencies, this is often a legal requirement.

Those with low vision use a variety of means to access web content. For some, screen magnification using either a browser's zoom function or other software will be sufficient. For many more, however, more specialized assistive technologies are required. For low vision, these typically involve some combination of hardware or software magnification, GUI navigation tools that do not require the use of a mouse, voice synthesis, and refreshable braille displays.

Professional web designers and other who create and maintain web pages with high volume readership have an obligation to be familiar with the Web Access Initiative, the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) 2.0, the 1998 Amendment to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Unfortunately, the complexity of modern web technology leads to complex accessibility standards, requiring substantial training and experience on the part of web designers in order to satisfy these standards. The reality is that “casual” web designers – individuals spending a small portion of their time maintaining personal web pages, small group project pages, or class web pages – are not going to have formal training in web design for accessibility or an in-depth knowledge of the relevant standards and guidelines.

This document is intended to aid such casual web designers in producing web pages likely to be accessible to low vision individuals. There are two parts to the process. A set of design guidelines is given that avoid many of the commonly occurring impediments to web accessibility. This is followed by pointers to validation software that can often (though not always) highlight the accessibility problems that remain.

The work of the Visual Perception and Spatial cognition research group is made possible by the generous support of the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the University of Utah