Web Site Font Sizes & Switching for People with Cognitive Disabilities

A common recommendation for designing Web sites for people with cognitive disabilities is to use large fonts and/or to enable the enlargement of them.  See WebAIM: Cognitive Web Accessibility Checklist and Inclusive New Media Design: Top Tips.

Though Web browsers enable resizing of a Web site’s default font, it is widely accepted by the community of Web accessibility professionals that most people do not know the feature exists.  This is the primary rationale for the placement of font-size switchers on Web sites.

For several years, I have incorporated a font-size switcher into the Web sites I have designed.  An example is in use on the Web site of the Massachusetts Disability Information Locator (MADIL).  It is located on the right side of the site’s pages, just under the site-navigation tabs.  It has five font-size selectors, including one that changes the page background color to black.

I will soon experiment with adding this font-size switcher to the “Clear Helper” home page.  In the interest of reducing the number of distractions, also a Web-accessibility recommendation for people with cognitive disabilities, I may limit the number of its selectors to three.  One will reduce the font to the same size as the default font of the visitor’s Web browser; one will make the font even larger than the site’s standard (large) font; and one will set/restore the font size to the site’s standard.  The way this works should become more clear once the font-size switcher is in action.

Note: There are two disadvantages to the font-size switcher.  One is that it uses JavaScript.  Thus it will not work for those people who disable JavaScript in their Web browsers.  The other is that it uses a cookie to store and use the visitor’s font-size selection across all of the site’s pages.  So, the font-size switcher will not work for those people who have prevented the use of cookies by their Web browsers.  If anyone knows of a font-size switcher without these limitations, please let me know.

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One Response to “Web Site Font Sizes & Switching for People with Cognitive Disabilities”

  1. Jared Smith Says:

    “If anyone knows of a font-size switcher without these limitations, please let me know.”

    The browser.

    While increased font size can be of benefit to those with certain, though rare cognitive disabilities, they are generally of more benefit to users with low vision that do not know how to increase their font size in the browser and are also not using a screen enlarger. And generally this only becomes an issue on web sites that have a default font size that is too small to begin with. In short, they have potential to help a very small portion of the population. And even then, these widgets only provide benefit on the single site that implements them.

    Now consider who has potential to be disadvantaged by such widgets. Blind users don’t care, screen reader and keyboard users must navigate them, those with cognitive disabilities must comprehend them (what’s a stack of A’s anyway?), and those with normal vision get no benefit from them. So they can potentially provide minimal benefit to some users while becoming a disadvantage to everybody else.

    And if your site has adequate font size (which ClearHelper certainly does), they shouldn’t be needed anyway.

    A better approach would be to inform and educate the user that they can increase the font size themselves in the browser. Consider the approach of ssa.gov, a site very likely to have visitors that need increased font sizes. The most optimal solution would be better implementation and presentation of this functionality in browsers.

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