Topic: September 2017 – Criterion

Assistive Technologies for Blindness

According to the World Health Organization, nearly 40 million people are blind, and about 246 million people have low vision. Definitions of blindness vary from organization to organization, and from region to region.

According to the National Federation of the Blind, people are considered blind if their “sight is bad enough — even with corrective lenses — that they must use alternative methods to engage in any activity that person with normal vision would do using their eyes.” In the physical world, this could look like using a cane, service dog, or reading braille signs. When it comes to using technology such as a computer or mobile phone, those alternative methods to engage in activities are called assistive technologies.

Blindness assistive technology inputs, which send data to include standard and braille keyboards, speech input, and hand gestures. Outputs, which receive data from include, screen reader voice output, refreshable braille output, and haptic alerts.

What does this mean for companies who are working to make their website 508 compliant?

  1. Testing your site should be done with more than one assistive technology. Just like in the physical realm where one person who is blind may use a cane, and another may use a guide dog, it is important to note that users who are blind are not homogeneous. In order to reach a broader clientele, your website should be tested by a spectrum of blind assistive technologies. This means that manual testing must be involved in the process.
  2. Testing should be done by users who are blind and by users who are not blind. There are bugs that will arise when a person who is blind is using the technology he/she depends on that may not seem so important to someone who does not depend on that technology. Additionally, there are unseen bugs that arise. Literally. For example, if there is a section on your website that a keyboard does not tab over to because it is not coded correctly, a tester who is blind may not even know they need to warn you of that area because they do not know it exists. Testing is more thorough when diversity is part of the process.
  3. Giving more control to the user on your site will help your potential clientele stay on your site longer. If users who are blind are not homogeneous, then some will prefer certain things while others don’t. This means the more control you give the user, the wider the audience you gain at your site. See our blog on Using POUR to Your Advantage for more about website control.

More than 3.4 million Americans are blind, according to the Centers for Disease Control. By considering assistive technologies for people who are blind, you are building a stronger bridge between your products and a larger clientele of customers. Diversifying your customer base take intentionality but reaps great rewards.

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