How to make websites more accessible if you are colorblind or dyslexic

Many people have disabilities that can make online access a significant challenge. Here are a few simple steps that can help improve accessibility.

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According to the latest information from the U.S. Census, approximately 56.7 million Americans have some sort of disability. This means that about 1 in 5 people face challenges doing things that many of us take for granted.

As online access becomes more of a necessity in the modern world, it is increasingly important that people aren't walled off from websites because of their disabilities. Here are a few simple steps that can improve website accessibility for people with two of the most common visual disabilities: colorblindness and dyslexia.

(I've concentrated on the Chrome browser because it is currently the most widely used browser and it offers ready solutions that may be helpful.)

Colorblindness

Google Accessibility has developed a Chrome extension called Color Enhancer that lets users adjust a color filter to help improve color perception in order to see websites more clearly. After installing the free extension, an icon with three colored circles will appear alongside other extensions to the right of the address bar. Click on the icon, then check the box to enable the extension. You can then click on the "setup" button and adjust a slider to make a series of images visible.

Users report mixed results, with some claiming noticeable improvement while others experience no improvement at all. While this may not be a perfect solution, it is free, easy to install and simple to try.

Dyslexia

Reading text online can be a significant challenge for people with dyslexia. An easy change that reportedly helps many dyslexic people is to increase the level of magnification or "zoom" in their browser. This can be done by clicking on three vertical dot icons at the upper-right of the browser to open the "customize and control Google Chrome" drop-down menu, then clicking on the "+" symbol on the zoom setting.

Another option is to install the OpenDyslexic Chrome extension from the Google Play store. This extension will replace the default font with one that is specially designed to make it easier for dyslexic people to read. The OpenDyslexic font adds visual "weight" to the bottom of letters to make them less prone to flipping or swapping.

A majority of user reviews report positive results with OpenDyslexic, but as always, results vary from person to person. A few reviews report that the font is difficult to read because it is quite thin at the top of letters, while others don't seem to find it to be an issue.

Other issues

One other tool that can be helpful for those suffering from any visual impairment is a text-to-speech extension. Talking Web is an extension available on the Play store that works pretty well and has the option of choosing a male or female voice. The speed at which text is read back is also adjustable. As with the other extensions, its icon will appear in the toolbar to the right of the address bar after you install it.

One potential issue is the need to highlight the text that you want it to read, which could pose a problem for some people with visual impairments.

These tools obviously do not address all of the difficulties faced by people with disabilities, but there are online resources that offer suggestions that may help deal with other challenges. The Web Accessibility Initiative website has many more tips and suggestions for both website designers and users. WAI also offers suggestions for those with difficulty hearing, controlling a mouse or using a keyboard. If you or someone you know has difficulty viewing websites or interacting online, you may be able to find a solution there.

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