Most people think of blindness as the only visual disability, but limited vision can also make access to eLearning and other online content challenging. Reduced vision may worsen with age, and it can affect anyone. This article addresses visual disabilities, which are included in the “P” of POUR (discussed in “Accessibility from the Ground Up: Build Captions and Usable Design Into All eLearning”)—content that is perceivable to learners’ senses.

“In our society, lots and lots of people wear glasses. A lot of those people, without their glasses, wouldn’t be able to function. But they don’t think of themselves as people with disabilities because glasses are ubiquitous,” said Dmitri Belser, executive director of the Center for Accessible Technology (C for AT) in Berkeley, California.

A person who is legally blind could not read 12-point type on a computer screen; neither could many adults who use reading glasses. They’d also have difficulty reading text in colors with poor contrast. About eight percent of men (and significantly fewer women) experience some form ofcolor blindness, a reduced ability to distinguish shades of some colors, making text in some color combinations unreadable. But, as Belser points out, many learners who have visual limitations do not consider themselves “disabled.”

WCAG 2.0 guidelines include providing alternatives to text, describing non-text items, allowing learners to control the appearance—size, color, contrast—of text, and using colors that offer sufficient contrast. (Designers can use free online tools to check color contrast.) These elements of universal design are helpful to any learner who has even a mild visual limitation.

To meet WCAG Level A guidelines, eLearning designers must use visual clues other than or in addition to color to signify differences. Rather than red and green circles, for example, designers could use a green check mark and a red octagon (stop-sign shape) to signal correct and incorrect choices; they could use different colors and different line styles, such as dots and dashes, to show different subway routes or lines in a chart.