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3 Tips for Easier Web Browsing with Visual Disabilities

Mar 15, 2019

Laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) require that website content be made accessible to people with disabilities. Unfortunately, most websites don't currently meet those standards — and even when websites do comply with standards like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), you still may require or prefer modifications to help. If you have trouble seeing or reading the material on websites, there are some actions you can take to improve your experience and make it easier.

This is part one in a five-part series about adjusting your web browsing experience to better-suit your needs.

1. Magnify content

If you have limited vision or are prone to eye strain, text and images may be too small for you to make out at their default resolution. Whether you’re accessing the web from a computer or mobile device, you have multiple options for screen magnifying software.

First, you can use the built-in magnifier that comes with the Windows or Mac operating system:

  • On Windows 10 and Windows 8.1, you can turn on the Windows magnifier by pressing and holding the Windows logo key, and then the plus (+) key. You can turn it off by pressing and holding the Windows logo key, and then the Esc key.

  • On Mac OS X, you can enable the Zoom app by going to System Preferences > System > Universal Access > Zoom, and then selecting On. If you have a mouse with a scroll wheel, you can also zoom in and out by holding the Ctrl key and scrolling the wheel up and down.

If you’re using a mobile device such as an iPhone or Android, you can instead use the smartphone’s magnifier:

  • On an iPhone, enable the magnifier by going to Settings > General > Accessibility > Magnifier. Once enabled, you can use a shortcut to bring up the magnifier by pressing the Home button three times (or pressing the button on the phone’s right side if using an iPhone X).

  • On an Android, turn on magnification by going to Settings > Accessibility > Magnification. You can choose whether to start the magnifier by triple-tapping on the screen, or by using the Accessibility button in the phone’s navigation bar.

Popular browsers such as Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Internet Explorer allow you to zoom text and images on the fly. Hold the Ctrl key (or Command key on a Mac) and then press the + and - keys to zoom in and out, respectively.

However, permanently adjusting the size of text and images will in some cases require modifying the browser’s settings:

Finally, there are several free magnifier software options, such as Virtual Magnifying Glass and OneLoupe, if you can’t or don’t want to use the built-in Windows or Mac magnifier.

2. Change fonts and colors

If you have difficulty reading text whose color doesn’t contrast enough with the background, are on a website that doesn't use the best fonts for accessibility, or are encountering highly stylized fonts — which can be difficult to read by people with visual disabilities (as well as dyslexia, and other disabilities) — you can take action by changing the appearances of fonts and colors in your browser.

Another tip for working with challenging fonts and colors is to use Reader View, a display setting that removes extraneous clutter such as advertisements and background images. When navigating in Reader View, all text is displayed with a consistent size, font, color, and formatting, even when on different websites. Reader View is built into Mozilla Firefox, Safari, and Microsoft Edge, and available as an extension for Google Chrome.

3. Use a screen reader and/or a keyboard

Some people have vision but have problems tracking the mouse cursor across the screen. If this is a challenge for you, consider using the keyboard to navigate websites.

Many people with visual disabilities also use assistive technology such as screen readers, which vocalize the contents of a website. (Screen readers are one reason why accessible websites should use text instead of images of text.)

Again, you have multiple built-in options for screen readers, depending on your platform:

  • On Windows 10, the Narrator software will read aloud the text on your screen, as well as describe incoming events such as notifications and appointments. You can also use the free, open-source software NVDA.

  • On Mac OS X and iOS devices, the equivalent software is VoiceOver.

  • On Android phones, you can use the TalkBack software with Google Chrome.

Here to help

From magnifiers to screen readers, there are a variety of proactive steps you can take to make your web browsing experience easier. For more tips and tricks on web accessibility for people with visual disabilities, visit the BoIA blog or get in touch with our team of accessibility experts.

Use our free Website Accessibility Checker to scan your site for ADA and WCAG compliance.

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