Zoomed page designs

Over at A List Apart, Joe Clark has published Big, Stark, & Chunky , a new article which deals with delivering web designs to low-vision users. By contrast to the canonical “blind user with a screen reader” test case to whom we’ve become accustomed (and rather smug that are catered for without too much work by our all-CSS-no-tables designs with a “skip navigation” link), low-vision users need a radical change to a site design. And this is a design, too. Flatten multi-column sites into a single column. Allow text zooming, but ensure that your design is still great when the text is large, larger than you’d think of zooming it, but that it doesn’t require a 50” plasma screen to display the design properly at high text zoom levels. Make sure there are plenty of headings, and plenty of bold. This is no small challenge. Clark suggests making one of the styles your site offers (either through the built-in style switcher in Mozilla et al. or a JavaScript style switcher or similar) a “low vision” style. Actually doing the design is beyond me; for that, you want to talk to Jon Hicks or Andy Budd or Jeremy Keith or Dave Shea. But I was thinking about how we can offer this kind of thing automatically. Joe’s proposal is the most pure: offer a new “zoomed” media type, so that adding a new low-vision style to your website is as simple as adding to your stylesheet:

@media zoomed {
  ... add your low-vision declarations here
}

but the W3C’s CSS Working Group have rejected all such suggestions thus far. I suggest, then, that the best approach might be to use something like the Greasemonkey tool in Mozilla and add a simple user script that adds class=“lowvision” to all

tags in your browser. Low-vision users can then install this simple user script (alternatively, it might be encapsulated in its own “lowvision” extension for Firefox), and all those designers out there can instead style their pages for low-vision users with declarations a la:

body.lowvision div.whatever {
  ...style declarations for this div...
}
    ... etc ...

This does rely somewhat on being able to get the word out to low-vision users that installing the extension is a good idea, and then we hit the typical chicken-and-egg problem: people won’t install the extension until sites use it, but sites won’t code for it until users have it. Nonetheless, making it easy for site designers to build in low-vision extensions or alternative styles which don’t affect the main style, and giving low-vision users the concept of browsing around a “low-vision optimised Web” without having to do anything sounds like a laudable goal.

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