Web Accessibility For Screen Magnifier Users

Web Accessibility For Screen Magnifier Users

The needs of​ screen magnifier users are overlooked when implementing web accessibility on to​ a​ website. Screen magnifiers are used by partially sighted web users to​ increase the​ size of​ on-screen elements. Some users will magnify the​ screen so that only three to​ four words are able to​ appear on the​ screen at​ any one time. You can try using a​ screen magnifier yourself by downloading the​ Zoomtext screen magnifier from http://www.aisquared.com/Products/ZoomText8_mag/FreeTrial/Z8FreeTrial.htm for​ a​ free 30 day trial.

The good news is​ that some of​ the​ basic principles for​ improving accessibility and​ usability for​ screen magnifiers users, also increase usability for​ everyone. to​ help, we've listed six ways to​ improve accessibility and​ usability for​ screen magnifier users:

1. Don't embed text within images

Text embedded within images can become blurry and​ pixelated when viewed in​ screen magnifiers, and​ therefore completely illegible. This is​ especially true when the​ image text is​ rather poor quality, so if​ you absolutely have to​ embed text within images then make sure the​ image is​ of​ high quality. Many screen magnifier users can find it​ quite difficult to​ read text at​ the​ best of​ times, so when it​ appears fuzzy to​ them it​ can become difficult to​ impossible to​ read.

It's not usually necessary to​ embed text within images anymore, as​ most presentational effects can now be achieved with CSS. By embedding text within images the​ download time of​ each page can become significantly greater due to​ the​ weight of​ these images - for​ users on dial-up modems it​ can be a​ real pain waiting for​ these images to​ download and​ render.

If you're not sure if​ a​ piece of​ text on the​ page is​ embedded within an​ image or​ not, try highlighting the​ text. if​ you can highlight each letter individually then the​ text is​ real text and​ isn't embedded within an​ image.

2. Clearly separate sections of​ the​ page

Different sections of​ each web page should be clearly separated through the​ use of​ borders and​ different background colours. Screen magnifiers users can only see one tiny section of​ a​ web page at​ any one time so it​ can sometimes be hard for​ these users to​ orientate themselves within the​ page.

By using a​ blue background colour for​ the​ navigation, for​ example, screen magnifier users can quickly move through the​ page and​ when they see a​ blue background they instantly know that the​ content are has finished and​ the​ navigation area begun.

Likewise, by separating different sections of​ the​ page with borders, when a​ screen magnifier user moves over that border they know they're moving into a​ different section. One especially common form of​ this, is​ using a​ vertical bar to​ separate horizontal navigation items.

Separating different sections of​ the​ page with background colours and​ borders doesn't only increase usability for​ screen magnifier users - it​ increases usability for​ everyone. When regularly sighted users scan through a​ web page, if​ the​ content, footer and​ navigation are all effectively differentiated it's very easy to​ quickly gain an​ understanding of​ the​ on-page layout.

3. Use clear and​ descriptive headings often

When screen magnifier users move their magnifier across the​ screen one of​ the​ items that stand out to​ them is​ headings. By ensuring heading text is​ large, and​ perhaps by differentiating it​ through the​ use of​ colour, it​ will stand out to​ these users.

Screen magnifier users usually have to​ stop the​ movement of​ the​ magnifier when they want to​ read a​ piece of​ text, so when they see a​ heading, they can stop and​ read it. Because headings (in theory at​ least!) describe the​ content contained beneath them, screen magnifier users can read a​ heading, gain an​ understanding of​ the​ content beneath it, and​ decide whether they want to​ read that content or​ not. if​ not, they can simply move the​ magnifier down the​ screen and​ stop at​ the​ next heading.

Headings are incredibly useful for​ fully sighted users too for​ essentially the​ same reason. When you scan through a​ web page, headings are one of​ the​ items that stand out to​ you. Again, you can read the​ heading (or listen to​ it​ for​ a​ screen reader user), and​ provided its descriptive, instantly gain an​ understanding of​ the​ content beneath it. You can then keep reading or​ skip on to​ the​ next heading down the​ page.

4. Ensure link text is​ descriptive of​ its destination

Link text such as​ ‘click here' and​ ‘more' should be avoided and​ replaced with link text that adequately describes the​ link destination. Link text, along with headings, is​ one of​ the​ items that stands out to​ screen magnifier users (and all users for​ that matter) when browsing a​ web page. if​ ‘click here' is​ used then these users (and in​ fact all users) will have to​ search through the​ text before and​ after the​ link in​ order to​ work out its destination.

5. Avoid scrolling or​ flashing text

Scrolling or​ flashing text is​ generally known for​ offering poor usability, as​ it​ means that users can't read the​ text in​ their own time. This is​ doubly true for​ screen magnifier users who read web pages at​ a​ slower rate - chances are that they won't have time to​ read the​ text at​ all before it​ disappears.

6. Front-load paragraph content

By front-loading paragraph content, screen magnifier users can access the​ main point of​ each paragraph immediately. Front-loading means placing the​ conclusion first, followed by the​ what, why, when, where and​ how. By placing the​ conclusion first, screen magnifier users can read the​ conclusion of​ the​ paragraph straightaway and​ then decide whether they are interested in​ reading the​ rest of​ the​ paragraph or​ not.

If screen magnifier users aren't interested in​ the​ content of​ a​ paragraph, they can move the​ magnifier down the​ screen and​ when they see white space they know that the​ paragraph has ended and​ the​ next paragraph begun.

This rule about front-loading paragraph content actually benefits absolutely everyone. By putting the​ conclusion at​ the​ start of​ the​ paragraph, all users can instantly gain an​ understanding of​ the​ point of​ the​ paragraph and​ decide whether they want to​ keep reading it​ (or skip to​ the​ next paragraph).


All-in-all, there are quite a​ few things that can be done to​ improve usability and​ accessibility for​ screen magnifier users. the​ good news though is​ that all of​ them improve usability for​ absolutely everyone.

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