Submissions List TBI Interagency Conference

Making Small Visual Displays Accessible to People with Vision Loss

  • Blubaugh, Morgan


Development of Accessibility Standards for Mainstream Technology


This project seeks to assess and improve the accessibility and usability of small visual displays (SVDs) for use by people with vision loss through development of a set of SVD design guidelines and creation of an online database that consumers and product developers can use to identify accessible SVDs.


The ability to read small visual displays (SVDs) affects successful functioning at home and in the workplace.  SVDs can be found in products as diverse as cell phones, personal digital assistants, photocopiers, fax machines, kitchen and laundry appliances, home entertainment devices, exercise equipment, and diabetes self-management technology.  Individuals with vision loss face severe limitations in using such products safely and effectively because the visual displays lack accessibility features. Although vision and ergonomics experts do agree on the most important optical characteristics of an SVD, many current SVDs utilize inexpensive and commonplace LCD technology, which is far less than optimal. A usable SVD is extremely important to the more than 20 million Americans who report having vision loss.

The "readability" of an SVD depends on two aspects – the ability of the visually impaired person to discern details and the ability of the screen to generate them. These two aspects can be quantified. The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) has created a means to assess SVDs by developing optical instrumentation to measure these displays in conjunction and by conducting a study to correlate display measures with display recognition ability of persons with vision loss in conjunction with the VA Palo Alto Health Care System.

AFB has received a Field Initiated Project from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) to address the issue of SVD inaccessibility through the accomplishment of three sets of outcomes:  
1)  Creation of a replicable and potentially commercializable Optics Lab with the capability for measuring the display quality of SVDs;
2)  Development of a set of design guidelines for SVDs relative to human contrast sensitivity function which will be commercially valuable for product developers; and
3)  A searchable, tabular analysis of the accessibility and usability of SVDs used in approximately 250 products with informative guidance for consumers to use in inquiring about accessibility of products with SVDs.

This is a development project and more.  It is a systems change project, an accessibility project, an advocacy project, and an information dissemination project.  The intent is to establish a market environment in which manufacturers – now and in the future – compete to improve accessibility and give consumers a choice of SVDs that best match their visual abilities.  AFB's approach is to inform consumers and promote change directly with mainstream manufactures. The standards and guidelines created will be shared with the national community of technology experts, national standards bodies, researchers, consumers, educators, and rehabilitation professionals – practitioners who are shaping policy and practices for provision of accessible SVDs.