Practical steps to meeting the 180-day pledge
Léonie Watson, director of accessibility at Nomensa and Chair of the British Computer Association of the Blind, explains how to tweak your site to help blind and partially-sighted people
The PC Pro and RNIB 180 day pledge calls for you to make your websites and mobile apps more accessible to blind and partially sighted people.
If every organisation in the UK met the pledge, it would have an extraordinary effect on the lives of people like me who use a screen reader to access computers, tablets and smart phones. It would also have a positive effect on our digital economy, as more people would be able to access information, services and products online.
You might be wondering how to go about meeting it. Accessibility is something that should be woven into every aspect of your business, from policy level right down to your day to day activities. It takes time to plan and implement a successful strategy, but the five pledge points offer a terrific way to get started.
Font and text
Pledge 1: To avoid fixed size fonts, and make text size and colour user configurable
Open your website in your favourite browser, and play around with the text resize - not the zoom - capability. Does the text resize? Is it easy to read? Does the text start to overlap other content and hide it from view?
The 180-day pledge
The five pledges are:
1. To avoid fixed-size fonts, and make text size and colour user-configurable where possible. Avoid the use of pattered backgrounds.
2. To make our website/app screen reader compatible with popular screen readers such as JAWS for Windows, SuperNova, VoiceOver and NVDA.
3. To use a consistent interface throughout our website/app.
4. To ensure that our website/app is fully accessible using the keyboard alone.
5. To test our website/app with blind and partially sighted users and their support groups before implementing major changes.
If the text doesn’t resize at all, the chances are that your website uses a fixed font, and you’re looking at your website with Internet Explorer. The text size has probably been defined using a fixed unit of measurement like a pixel. Most browsers treat pixels as flexible, but for the time being all versions of Internet Explorer do not.
The trick is to use a flexible unit of measurement to define text size on your website. The "em" is a good choice, and one used by many experienced developers. Doing this will enable people to resize the text on your website to suit themselves - the Derbyshire County Council site is a good example of one that works.
When you make text on your website flexible, you’ll also need to think about how the layout of each page will respond when the text is resized. Adapting your website so that each page has a little elasticity will mean that as the text size is increased, the rest of the content will flex to accommodate it. In this way you’ll ensure that people can read your information more easily, and be confident that the design of your website always looks good.
Now think about the colours your website uses. Does the colour of text contrast well against the background? Do you find it easy to read? Does the white background make it difficult to see when the light shines on your screen in a certain way?
Colour is an important aspect of brand identity, and it takes careful thought to create a brand colour palette that conveys the right messages. It can therefore seem unlikely that you’ll be able to provide alternate colour choices for partially sighted people, without contravening your brand guidelines.