Visual impairment 101

While often discussed as a single group, there are many differences that exist for people with visual challenges. A users level of vision, as well as their personal preferences, will contribute to the type of assistive technology they use – a screen reader, screen magnification software, or both.

Illustration: Profile shot of user with headphones

Fable Community Content

“It’s best to use the label for a person that they use for themselves. If you’re not sure, ask.”

Vision is a continuum

While there are many users who are completely blind, a large number of users do have some level of vision.  For this reason, many magnification programs contain some level of screen reading functionality (e.g. the ability to read long passages of text to prevent eye strain), and many screen readers contain some level of visual functionality (e.g. the ability to highlight the current word being read).  Depending on the task, the situation, and other factors, many users will use a combination of magnification and screen reading software, and switch between them frequently.  

Web accessibility considerations

Screen reader users

Screen magnification users

Focus management Focus management
Semantic layout Semantic layout
ARIA landmarks Colour contrast
Keyboard shortcuts Responsive layouts
Correctly labeled forms Large targets for hover and other actions
Alternative text Visual focus indicators

Things to keep in mind during meetings

  • Sight related words are not offensive.  Many blind users will say they “watched a movie”, rather than draw attention to their disability by using different language.
  • The term “blind” is not offensive.  Many people will call themselves blind, legally blind, or visually impaired, to indicate how much vision they have. It’s best to use the label for a person that they use for themselves. If you’re not sure, ask.
  • Communicate any issues. If something is blocking your view during screen sharing, or the focus has not changed to what the user is interacting with, point this out.
  • Feel free to ask users to slow down their speech rate.  Most users are used to listening to their voice at very high speeds. It’s okay to ask a user to adjust their rate of speech if you aren’t able to follow along. The speed of the voice is a setting that is extremely easy to adjust.  
  • Be patient. Depending on factors like how much magnification a user requires, and the layout of your website or app, it make take longer for these users to complete a task than for a fully sighted user.  

Things to keep in mind when writing user journeys

  • Avoid visual descriptors. Testers who use a screen reader, or who are colour blind, may not be able to identify icons by visual descriptions. It’s better to say “press the play button” than “click the green rectangle”.  
  • Confirm certain accessibility features in advance. You may want to ensure that your website offers basic keyboard access, and uses alt text, before submitting your user journey.  If these elements do not exist, users are not likely to make any progress on your user journey.

Fable community members, Sam and Ka, talk about common occurrences that annoy them online, in the workplace and at home.