Designing webcomics for a range of sight impairments

I posted the following on a Comicgenesis forums thread about comics for the visually impaired about two weeks ago:

The assumption among most commenters here seems to be that people are either perfectly sighted or completely blind – a lazy assumption that Bruce Tognazzini, former interaction designer for Apple, has some things to say about: Inclusive Design, Part One, Inclusive Design, Part Two. Read those and throw the “all or nothing”, “we can’t give blind people the full experience so why give them anything at all?” or “let’s tack on some features as an afterthought” mentality out of the window. Instead, design your comic and website from the ground up so that people with a range of impairments can use it.

Sight impairments:
Many people are near-sighted. Everyone in my family is. That is usually easily corrected and in any case the computer monitor is usually close.
About five percent of all males have some form of colorblindness. When was the last time you tested your site and comic in an online colorblindness simulator? (Ur……. two years ago, in my case)
My parents are in their late sixties and have aging, presbyopic eyes. They need large print on their monitor – does your website force small type, low-contrast type or white-on-black with seriphs? Give people a way to set their own type size easily. (I can see reading glasses in my near future myself.)
For more severe vision impairments, you could provide a magnifying glass feature. This can be implemented in DHTML/Java or you can point to a browser plugin that does this. This group will also benefit from screen-readable text hidden in the alt attribute or elsewhere on your site, as will very young readers, the completely blind or readers with severe dyslexia and other learning disabilities.

Speaking of which, studies have shown that if you design with some consideration for the very young, the very old or people with learning disabilities, everybody else also benefits because completing tasks on a website becomes easier for everyone. Get ahead of everyone else by designing inclusively!

(Do I practice what I preach? Not fully, yet. I’ve only recently started thinking about these things again. But the next iteration of my website will have more of these considerations built in)

I’m reposting it here because there’s one disability you can’t design for and it’s “I can write but I can’t read” syndrome, which is very prevalent on the web in general and on large forums in particular. While several people including the original poster either got it or said that that was what they were thinking about all along, it took but a handful of follow-up posts for the thread to go back into the “but comics are a visual medium so designing for the blind is stupid, ha ha ha you are stupid/if you take away the visuals it’s an audiobook not a comic, ha ha ha you are stupid” mentality. Instead of whining in the forum itself about how my contribution is being ignored, I’ve decided to repost it somewhere where smart people can read it (and whine a bit about how my contribution is being ignored. Well like I said in my last post, I have a cold and feel like I am entitled to a bit of whining today).

Related: Colorblind web page filter. I posted this link before back in 2005, and it still works. At the time, reader Branko Collin wrote in to say the GIMP had a colorblindness filter built in, but I’ve not been able to find it in my recent-ish versions of the program.

One reply on “Designing webcomics for a range of sight impairments”

  1. Damn those readers. Unfortunately I haven’t updated my GIMP to 2.6, but in 2.4 the color blindness filters are under View / Display Filters. In the dialog that pops up, you can copy filters from Available to Active. Once the Color Deficient Vision filter is Active, you can select it and select one of three forms of color blindness from a drop-down, deuteranopia, protanopia and tritanopia.

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