Steven Pemberton : Views and Feelings

January 1999

Image image: Image Image Image.

My father is getting old. And along with all the other things that usually accompany getting old, such as diminished health, lack of strength, lack of energy, he is slowly going blind.

His day used to be filled with reading his newspaper, doing the crossword, and watching TV. Now the print is too small for him to read the newspaper, and the TV screen is too far away, so he has to make do with large-print books from the library, and listening to the radio. Of course, the selection of large print books is small, so he doesn't have much choice.

A pity, I thought, that he wasn't born a little later. With electronic books the page design won't be frozen. You will be able to select a font size that suits your eyes, and the pages will reflow. He could read any old book he liked then; he would still be able to read his newspaper. He could even carry on doing the crossword.

But before that happens, designers of electronic publications, including websites, are going to have to learn some difficult lessons.

Firstly, it is not an option to force a font size on the user of your website. Nor, by the way, a screen-size. Now is also the time to stop using GIFs to represent text or headlines.

The situation is even worse for people who are blind.

Try this. In the options of your web browser, turn off the down-loading of images, and then start browsing some sites. This is what sight-impaired people get when they browse sites. Chunks of text represented with GIFs, with no indication of what is in them; rows of images with no more information than the word "IMAGE"; server-side image maps with no indication of what they are and where they take you.

First published in ACM/Interactions, January 1999

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