We live in an increasingly technologically-driven world. Technological advancements base their design on making life easier and more convenient for digital users. Naturally, our technologies can also simplify the lives of people with visual impairments and other special needs.
Research has shown that the implementation of virtual voice assistants is one key way that developers are designing their applications and platforms to meet the needs of the visually impaired.
Apps are designed to allow users to access all of the most important features of their smartphones, tablets, and laptops—like dialers, call logs, messaging apps, and more—by speaking out the user’s actions to let them know how they are navigating their digital systems.
Tools like voice assistants assist visually impaired people to perform everyday tasks more efficiently with the help of artificial intelligence and integrated audio systems. Apps like the one mentioned above convert text and speech commands. This allows the user to control virtual systems through speech as well.
Modern software is already proving reliable in helping visually impaired people to perform essential operations. All without the need for personal or physical intervention.
Future voice assistants will become even more adept at converting speech and text instructions into actions. This will allow users to bank, interact, socialize and make purchases through the highly interconnected Internet of Things.
Screen Readers and ARIA Roles
Screen readers are another category of visual impairment aids for online users. They simplify the way that people with special needs browse the web.
Browsing and interacting with web pages often require the reading of visual clues to decipher the purpose of a particular element. Such as the hamburger menu icon, for instance. Sighted people can easily gauge that this icon indicates a menu page. Especially as it’s usually located in the same general place in a website’s top navigation bar.
Visually impaired users may miss out on these clues. Particularly when these elements have no additional meaning that a screen reader can decipher.
ARIA can help.
Also known as “Web Accessibility Initiative – Accessible Rich Internet Applications” or WAI-ARIA, this is a suite of web standards that make web content and apps more accessible to people with visual impairment. The goal behind the design was to help assistive devices like screen readers parse data on the web by adding significance and meaning to online content.
ARIA assists user interactions and prioritizes information on web pages. It allows visually impaired users to scan web pages and gain a general understanding of their layouts through the use of landmark roles. These roles are classified and labeled sections of a web page, annotated by a developer, that allows structural info to be represented programmatically. ARIA also provides screen readers with context. This allows them to skip over superfluous details like hyperlinks and focus on the most important information.
In the future, it’s expected that ARIA will be used more widely across the web to optimize web pages. This will make them more accessible to assistive devices and programs like screen readers.
Accessibility-Optimized UX Designs
Developing and designing user interfaces for visual accessibility is a must in today’s day and age. Designers need to optimize their work for all users, including those with visual disabilities and other special needs.
One best practice involves avoiding using color alone to convey meaning. There are many different forms of color blindness. People with any of these forms may struggle to see colors clearly or differentiate between them. If, for example, a web form is designed in a way that highlights incorrect inputs with red and correct ones with green, this may be frustrating to someone with color blindness. In this case, designers should give specific error messages that do not rely on color alone.
Some eCommerce sites allow users to filter items by color. Using text labels instead of color boxes is an easy design trick to make eCommerce pages more accessible to those with visual impairments.
Designers can also provide text alternatives for images. These are easier for screen readers to decipher, and use high levels of contrast for better readability. According to the WCAG, small on-site text should have a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 against the background (a ratio of 7:1 is preferable). Large text should have a ratio of at least 3:1 against its background.
Combating Ableism in Technology
While society and the digital world are becoming more accepting of diversity, discrimination still exists. Especially for disabled people.
Ableism is a form of discrimination that asserts or suggests that able-bodied people are superior to those with disabilities.
An ableist society essentially treats able-bodied people as the standard for ‘normal’ living. This promotes unfair treatment towards the disabled.
The virtual future is set to become progressively more inclusive of people of all levels of ability. Diminishing ableism is essential in achieving this goal and improving the accessibility of life-changing technologies.
Education is one key way to bust myths and prejudices about the visually impaired. Language and vocabulary changes are also needed to include everyone in the advancement of the technological world in a genuine, respectful, and humane way.
The Importance of Inclusiveness Online
Our modern interconnected world sees us using the internet to socialize, keep connected, bank, learn, study, work, and collaborate with our peers globally. In light of this, it’s more important than ever to consider the importance of inclusivity as we implement more fair and equitable ideas, actions, relationships, policies, tools, and technological platforms.
Inclusiveness gives every member of our society fair, equal and free opportunities to use widely available technology to their benefit. Without facing discrimination, prejudice, and harm from others.
Encouraging inclusive designs allows for the free sharing of perspectives and knowledge without undue restriction due to a lack of ability or any other factor.
Moving Towards A More Accessible World
The future of the virtual world is set to be more inclusive than ever before. Especially for the visually impaired and other online users with special needs.
Developers and designers can pair accessibility best practices with tools like ARIA, screen readers, and voice assistants to minimize ableism in the digital environment and support inclusivity and progress for all.