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Eye Strain and Digital Accessibility

Apr 4, 2024

What does eye strain have to do with digital accessibility? 

Quite a bit, actually. Accessibility is about improving experiences for every user with disabilities, and that certainly includes people with temporary or situational disabilities

Digital Eye Strain (DES) is a particularly notable example of a situational disability: It shares symptoms with certain permanent disabilities, but it’s usually reversible. DES can cause headaches, blurred vision, and itching, which can have a major impact on how people interact with the internet. Users might miss buttons and other interactive elements, or they might become frustrated by a lengthy checkout process. 

Below, we’ll explain some of the common symptoms of eye strain and show how accessible web content can help to limit DES.

What is digital eye strain, and why is it a problem?

DES is a blanket term for eye strain caused by prolonged usage of smartphones, tablets, personal computers, and other digital devices. Also known as computer vision syndrome, it’s exceptionally common: A survey performed by the Vision Council found that nearly 60% of American adults reported the symptoms of DES.

Eye strain is caused by long periods of activity that involve focusing the eyes. On average, office workers spend about seven hours a day on the computer — and people who spend more than two continuous hours on a digital screen are more likely to develop DES. The prevalence of DES skyrocketed during the COVID-19 lockdowns, and it remains a serious issue for internet users of all ages.

The symptoms of digital eye strain include:

  • Dry or itchy eyes.
  • Mild headaches.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Muscle spasms of the eyes or eyelids.
  • Neck pain or shoulder pain.

These symptoms can overlap with other conditions, so if you experience any of these issues, it’s wise to speak with an ophthalmologist. 

How is digital eye strain treated?

The most effective solution to DES is to limit digital screen usage. Unfortunately, that’s not practical for every worker, but regular breaks are both pragmatic and effective.

Some resources recommend following the 20/20/20 rule: Every 20 minutes, take a break and focus your eyes on an object at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Recent clinical studies suggest that the 20/20/20 rule may be too regimented. Simply taking regular breaks may provide the same benefits. 

The principles of accessibility can help fight eye strain

As a content creator, you can make decisions that reduce eye strain for visual users. That helps people navigate and interact with your content — which can improve engagement, customer retention rates, and other key metrics.

Here are a few ways to limit eye strain and make your content more accessible: 

Related: 5 Quick Ways to Self-check the Accessibility of a Website.

Digital accessibility benefits every user, regardless of their abilities

Accessibility isn’t just for people who are blind or Deaf; it’s a set of principles that encourage great web design. When your content is designed with an inclusive mindset, it works better for everyone, including people with DES and other temporary disabilities.

Testing your content against the WCAG can help you find ways to improve your content. The Bureau of Internet Accessibility provides a free graded web accessibility report, along with free resources for identifying common barriers. 

To start developing a comprehensive strategy for web accessibility (and digital compliance), send us a message or read about AudioEye’s automated digital accessibility platform.



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