Why would I care about the blind?!?

This is a translated version of the “Wat boeien mij die blinden nou?!?” article. There have been made small changes to examples as they were oriented at the specific Dutch audience. The original version can be found here.

Raimond van Mouche is a student of Communication and Multimedia Design at the Maastricht Academy of Media Design and Technology. He dreams of world in which everyone is equal and can function equally. From this perspective, he examined the accessibility of websites for the visually impaired.

In The Netherlands, approximately 345,000 people are blind or visually impaired (Bartiméus Sonneheert, 2014), about 2% of the population. This is a large group of people that can not use the internet in the way you and I can. Simply, because they can’t see. At a time in which the government is doing more and more using the internet (Plasterk, R. 2013) this can result is serious problems. These people should not be left hanging!

“Why are these blind people even using the internet?”

Looking at my fellow students, I see a gloomy future. When I asked them to look into the problems of the visual impaired on the Internet I got replies like “Why would I care about the blind?”, “I’m not going to focus a few blind people?” and “Why are these blind people even using the internet?” A few simply haven’t thought about it and one person hoped that his websites were reasonably usable for the blind (Van Mouche, R., 2016).

Most visited websites

Before we dive into the technicalities of the matter to see why the blind and visually impaired encounter most problems we should take a step back. We should know which websites are most used in The Netherlands and how websites are used by people without any visual impairment.

If you look at the top twenty most visited websites in The Netherlands you can divide them into four groups: Social Media (eg. Facebook), news websites (eg. NOS.nl), website of financial institutions (eg. Rabobank.nl, ING.nl) and entertainment websites (eg. Netflix) (Alexa, 2016).

Imagine that you would wake up tomorrow and you are suddenly blind.

Imagine that you would wake up tomorrow and you are suddenly blind. Of course you need quite some time to adjust. Everything is different without sight. But after the initial adjustment, wouldn’t you want to be able the use Facebook, read the news and even get entertained by Netflix? Wouldn’t you still want to use the website of your children’s school, wouldn’t you still want to be able to read gossip? Exactly! This is why accessibility is so important.

How accessible are they?

For my own research (Van Mouche, R. 2016) I have conducted a technical analysis of some of these websites and, where possible, supplemented the analysis by talking to a blind user.

These sites can be broadly divided into three groups. Websites that are not optimised for the visually impaired, website that have been partially optimised and websites that are perfectly usable.

Interestingly, the Netflix website is optimised quite well.

The Rabobank website is an example of a website that is not optimised. Some features are indicated by an image or icon without description. The Facebook website is doing a lot better, but the big amount of information can be overwhelming. Interestingly, the Netflix website is optimised quite well.

What are the issues?

In order to make websites fully accessible it is important to know what the issues are. I made a shortlist based on the problems named in Designing Inclusive Futures (J. Lazer et al., 2007) and my own research (Van Mouche, R., 2016).

  1. Confusing layout

    The website’s code on a lot of (especially) smaller websites is written in an illogical sequence. When you ‘look’ at the website you won’t see anything out of order, but for a screen reader this is a problem. Element naming is also missing in a lot of instances. Without naming (either by semantical code or by ARIA-tags) screen readers don’t know whether an element is navigation, content or just design (W3, 2014). Making it very difficult for the visually impaired to use the website.

  2. Not accessible forms

    The main problem with forms originates in the protection against spam bots and hackers. For this purpose often a so-called CAPTCHA-test is used. You’ll see some hard to read letters and must type them in a box. If there is no audio alternative the form can not be used by the visually impaired.

  3. Too much information on one page

    Even if the website is following all the code-guidelines you can’t be sure that the website is actual accessible. If there is too much information the website will become overwhelming and is therefor not usable for the visually impaired.

  4. No explanations of images

    It may sound obvious, but images without description are one of the biggest problems for the blind. This becomes even more of a problem when a picture is needed to navigate through te website. Imagine if the navigation consist of only pictures without descriptions, the website becomes completely useless. So add descriptions that indicate the purpose of the image to all images.

  5. Not accessible PDFs

    It may be an odd choice for a list of website problems, but it really is a website problem. PDFs are often not accessible although PDFs are used everywhere in websites eg. legal documents, calendars, timetables. It is necessarily for PDFs to accessible. This is done by using semantic mark-up or code (Microsoft, N.D.), luckily in most text editors it’s a matter of clicking an option and the application will do it for you.

Information Platforms

Although early statements make it perfectly clear that there is little motivation to work on accessibility my research (Van Mouche, R., 2016) shows that it is indeed possible to convince people if they have second hand experience with accessibility. For example, because a customer or a family member cannot use their website.

Let’s say you have the motivation and you go out to find information on how to make website accessible it becomes rather difficult. The official guidelines from W3 - the body responsible for setting the rules of website-programming - are so complicated to understand that it seems intentional. There are a few places like the Accessibility Handbook (Wordpress, N.D.) which are much easier to gasp yet they still miss short examples and quick-wins. My research (Van Mouche, R., 2016) shows these are desired.

Making your website more accessible is not only beneficial for the visually impaired, but it also improves your website’s SEO - short for Search Engine Optimisation - (Site Improve, 2015). Something I’d like to call a win-win.


Bartiméus Sonneheert (2014, May). Feiten & cijfers over blind of slechtziend zijn. Retrieved on April 10th, 2016, from https://www.steunbartimeus.nl/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/BARTI1305_factsfigures4.pdf

Plasterk, R. (2013, May). Visiebrief digitale overheid 2017. Retrieved on April 10th, 2016, from https://www.rijksoverheid.nl/binaries/rijksoverheid/documenten/kamerstukken/2013/05/23/visiebrief-digitale-overheid-2017/visiebrief-digitale-overheid-2017.pdf

Van Mouche, R. (2016, April). Onderzoeksrapport: Accessibility at Work. Retriever on April 13th, 2016, from https://accessibility.work/d/onderzoeksrapport.pdf

Alexa (2016, April). Top Sites in Netherlands. Retrieved on April 10th, 2016, from http://www.alexa.com/topsites/countries/NL

Holman, J., Lazar, J., & Feng, J. (2008). Investigating the security-related challenges of blind users on the Web. In P. Langdon, J. Clarkson, & P. Robinson (Eds.), Designing Inclusive Futures (pp. 129–138). London, UK: Springer.

W3 (2014, March). Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA) 1.0. Retrieved on April 10th, 2016, from https://www.w3.org/TR/wai-aria/

Microsoft (N.D.). Create accessible PDFs. Retriever on April 10th, 2016, from https://support.office.com/en-us/article/Create-accessible-PDFs-064625e0-56ea-4e16-ad71-3aa33bb4b7ed

WordPress (N.D.). Accessibility Handbook. Retriever on April 10th, 2016, from https://make.wordpress.org/accessibility/handbook/

Siteimprove (2015, September). REAP SEO BONUSES BY MAKING YOUR WEBSITE ACCESSIBLE. Retriever on April 10th, 2016, from http://siteimprove.com/blog/overlaps-between-seo-and-web-accessibility/