AXS creates accessible design for the vision-impaired

AXS helps users understand Glaucoma

AXS Studio specializes in the art of science communication. Recently, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) launched our latest collaboration: an animated, on-line learning tool, The Glaucoma Challenge.

Now, let’s just pause a sec – I don’t know about you, but I can look back on that last bit and ask:

“On-line animations for the blind?!”

However, armed with recent CNIB “schooling,” I can now answer: You bet!

While working with the CNIB, I learned that the majority of people that access CNIB services have some degree of vision. So it’s not so much that we were creating web modules for the vision-impaired, but resources that that can be accessed by everyone, no matter what their degree of sightedness. As part of its mandate, the CNIB promotes accessible design. Traffic signals, menus, media — if designed to be accessible, everyone can enjoy their benefits.

The Flash-based Web modules that we created featured:

  • Options to increase on-screen text size
  • Compatibility with screen reader software (for those with more severe vision loss)
  • Clean, clear line art with bold colour fills
  • Descriptive text equivalents for all illustrations and animations so the content could be enjoyed by anyone

In a way, the visual style of the illustrations and animations was also chosen in the spirit of inclusiveness. Vision loss is a sensitive subject and depictions of eye anatomy and disease can, very understandably, make people squirm versus get them interested and engaged. To present sensitive content, in a friendly, disarming way, we turned to cartoons.

I’ve been drawing comics and cartoons since I could hold a pencil but, as a medium of communication, I still find it full of surprises and boundless potential. Saturday morning laughs, super heroes (tights optional), a dark graphic novel, a politically-charged editorial. Whatever your definition, you have to admit that ‘toons’ can take on really heavy material but somehow still retain this quality of universal accessibility. Maybe it’s the enduring perception of the medium being “for kids” or its association with humour. Strangely, this is the medium’s strength and it was a hit with the CNIB. Using cartoons proved a perfect strategy for engaging reluctant users and a very gratifying experience for this particular lover of the medium.

So far, we have created two Web modules for the CNIB:

  • “The Glaucoma Challenge” launched March 6, 2008
  • “The AMD Challenge” launched September 2007

We hope to build on our work-to-date and further explore accessible web design and inclusive illustration in future projects.

Challenges we’re itching to tackle:

  • Increasing image contrast options
  • Colour palettes for the color blind
  • Further improving Flash’s compatibility with screen reader software