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maria using a large screen

Meet Maria who has a visual impairment

Maria is 50 years old, married, and lives with her family in Madrid, Spain. Maria has macular degeneration, a disease that mainly affects central vision by causing “blind spots” directly ahead. The loss of central vision profoundly affects Maria’s visual functioning.

A day in the life of Maria

When Maria was young she started to study economics at the Madrid business school, but she never finished her studies because taking care of her sons and studying was too much for her. Now she wants to return to her studies by working on line but reading is quite difficult and she has trouble distinguishing colours, especially where contrast levels are poor such as a dark colour on a dark background.

Today she has to upload an assignment that involves the analysis of the financial data from a large European company; the deadline is midnight. It is already 3 p.m. and she knows it could take her at least three times longer to do the task compared to her fellow students.

Challenge 1: dynamic website elements make key website information difficult to locate

Maria needs to gather the information online: she needs to run through reports about the company and use the company’s website. As the blind spots in her vision have grown she is only able to read the headlines of web pages.

She can no longer read the content without using magnification software, which enlarges a part of the screen so that she is able to read the text but the letters are so large that she often has to scroll around.

The company’s website looks fancy, has a modern user interface and a lot of dynamic elements that change when you hover the mouse over them. For Maria this site is a total nightmare!

With magnification, she only sees a very small area of the screen, so locating information is difficult. She is desperately trying to find the company’s balance from last year but is unable to find it. After half an hour she finds the link to the data appears when she happens to hover over a certain menu item with her mouse. The link is positioned in such a bad place that she did not notice it at first.

Challenge 2: insufficient contrast between background and content

To speed up things and to relieve her eyes, Maria uses text-to-speech software that reads the company’s balance report aloud. She is good at multitasking and is able to take notes while listening to the information. At 11pm she finishes her assignment, the only thing that she needs to do is upload the file to the course online platform.

Maria has used the platform for several years and knows the navigation and structure by heart. However on navigating to the site she finds it has changed and the upload page now has grey text on a dark grey background, so Maria has a hard time distinguishing between background and content.

Thankfully, a friend showed her how to use the settings in her browser to alter the background colour in a way that enables her to read the text although this may not work for all websites. Ten minutes later, she has finished uploading the document and goes to bed — tired but happy to know that she finished the assignment in time.

Can you think of any other technological challenges that Maria might face in daily life?

© This text is a derivative of a work created by Johannes Kepler Universität Linz and Université Paris 8 Vincennes Saint-Denis, and licensed under CC-BY BY 4.0 International Licence adapted and used by the University of Southampton. Erasmus + MOOCs for Accessibility Partnership.

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Digital Accessibility: Enabling Participation in the Information Society

University of Southampton