Digital Accessibility for People with Visual Disabilities

Published February 20, 2024

Digital accessibility is critical to modern society, ensuring that individuals with disabilities, including those with visual impairments, can fully participate in all facets of life. In the United States, visual disabilities are more common than many might realize.

Prevalence of Visual Impairments

In the U.S., over 7 million people live with uncorrectable vision loss, and more than 1 million Americans are blind. Almost 20 million Americans — 8 percent of the U.S. population — have visual impairments. These impairments can be due to various causes, such as age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and cataracts. However, visual disabilities do not have an age limit, and anyone of any age may have a visual disability. 

As you design your website, you may wonder how best to design for these disabilities. What should you be sure to include in your website? Let’s look at what features a website should have for good digital accessibility for people with visual disabilities. 

The Importance of Digital Accessibility

Digital accessibility means equal access to digital content and services for people with disabilities. For individuals who are blind or have low vision, this often involves using assistive technologies like screen readers, which can read screen text aloud and translate web pages into plain text. These technologies enable access to education, employment, healthcare, and community living opportunities.

Alt text

Alternative text, or alt text, is a textual substitute for images. It serves as a replacement for images in case they don’t load or in case of the use of screen readers or other assistive technology. When a screen reader encounters an image that is supported by alt text — or an image supported by alt text doesn’t load — a text description will be read out or replaced to allow a user to get the full experience of a website regardless of the ability to see the image in question. 

Including alt text for all non-decorative images is critical for visual accessibility. Without it, a user with visual disabilities will miss out on a portion of your website, and that is not equal access. Decorative images, or images that don’t add information to a page, do not need alt text, but all other images do.

There are some best practices for creating the alt text, which you should remember when writing the alt text for your website. The alt text should be able to substitute for the image adequately. It should convey what the image is if the image is unavailable. Your alt text should also describe images based on their function — that is, the images based on what they do, not simply what they look like. Finally, you want to ensure you’re not using alt text to simply “keyword stuff” — SEO should be a final consideration when writing alt text, not a primary one. 

Color contrast

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) success criteria surrounding color contrast make it clear that it should be a priority when designing your website. Color contrast is important for people with visual disabilities, as it can help (or hinder) their ability to see what’s on your website. Bad color contrast can make it impossible for people with visual disabilities to navigate your website properly. 

To ensure you have good color contrast, you should utilize the assistance of a color contrast checker like this one from WebAIM. It will check your colors against WCAG requirements (4:5:1 and 3:1, with some exceptions) and tell you if you’ve passed or failed. This removes the guesswork and helps ensure you are within WCAG requirements and color accessible. Check all the colors you use to ensure they all check out. 

Accessible fonts

Another facet of accessibility you don’t want to neglect is the fonts you pick for your website. There are accessible font choices and less accessible choices — it’s important to research accessible fonts when designing your website. Choosing a font well-known for being accessible will help you create a website accessible to people with visual disabilities. 

Fonts that are accessible include common fonts or fonts that are widely available, like Helvetica and Arial. Widely available fonts ensure that most, if not all, computers have these fonts, and a device that doesn’t have the font won’t substitute them. That’s the risk when choosing a lesser-known font, even if it appears accessible: some devices might not have that font and may substitute it with a less accessible font. 

You should also pay attention to size and spacing. The WCAG requirements on size and spacing give clear guidelines. Still, it’s important to remember that you should consider readability on all devices when designing your website. Ensure the text is easy to read on computers, tablets, and smartphones. 

Keyboard navigation

Keyboard navigation is necessary for people with visual disabilities to access and navigate your site adequately. Whether alone or combined with assistive technology, like a Braille keyboard, users who rely on keyboard navigation must be able to use it to navigate through your site efficiently without using a mouse. This means your website must be operable without a mouse. 

You must include a few things when building keyboard navigation. The first is a focus indicator. A focus indicator shows a user where they are on the site when using keyboard navigation — for example, highlighting or boxing the area of the site they are tabbing through. It must be highly visible but also in line with contrast requirements. 

To ensure your website is accessible to visually impaired users, it must have clear and intuitive navigation, a logical layout, and coherent information presentation. Properly placed headings and clearly labeled elements are crucial for orientation. Consistency is key; maintain the same navigational structure across all pages to facilitate ease of use. This consistent navigation flow helps users predict where to find information and interact with your site effectively.


Digital accessibility is not just a legal requirement or an ethical imperative; it represents freedom and independence for people with visual disabilities. As the prevalence of visual impairments increases, the need for accessible digital content and services becomes increasingly pressing. Businesses, governments, and communities need to recognize the importance of digital inclusion and take proactive steps to ensure that no one is left behind in our increasingly digital world.


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