Tech Tips: Fresh and Hot

Dan Comden, technology specialist

Not all questions about web browsers and web design are concerned with computer users who are blind. Many people with visual impairments also have difficulty reading the various resources one finds on the World Wide Web. Recently I was asked a series of questions in this area and I thought I'd share my responses with everyone.

  1. So many of the sites are nothing but glare. Bright white with lettering that one cannot see. Is there anything one can do to correct this?

    Just because someone is able to put a page on teh web doesn't mean that they're thinking about the variety of people that may visit their site. It's not at all uncommon to run up against backgrounds with poor contrast, strange combinations of text colors, or just downright atrocious color choices. There are a few things you may be able to change on your end to help with this phenomenon.

    There are two solutions to look toward here. If you're using a screen enlargement package that allows for inverted text colors, or custom text colors, adjusting the settings should suffice. CloseView, MAGic and ZoomText all allow for color inversion, which is the simplest method of coping with those blinding white backgrounds.

    I personally don't use a screen enlarger, but I do take advantage of some of the features contained within the browser I use to make sites I visit easier on my eyes.

    My personal web browser of choice is Netscape. Within the Options-> General Preferences dialog box is a tab for "Colors." It is quite easy for me to change the settings here so that the browser will always use the same background and text color regardless of what a web site has set up. This includes overriding the sometimes confusing background images that some sites use. This is one of the main advantages of Netscape over Microsoft's Internet Explorer. IE allows the user to specify text color and background, but there's no provision to override background images.

  2. Can one set his/her browser to only view in the negative image?

    It *is* possible to force Netscape to display white text on a black background. Images or graphics will still be displayed in their original colors, which isn't possible when using the inverted color options available with screen enlargers. Again, use the "Colors" dialog box within the Options->General Preferences menu item. Make sure you change the colors for text, links and followed links so that they all show up well against the background color you've chosen. Finally, make sure the "Always use Mine" button is checked for the Colors option.

  3. Why does the same site look different when one uses Netscape, the AOL browser, and/or Internet Explorer? The graphics will not even be in the same place. They will appear centered with one browser and over to the left or right with another browser.

    All browsers will display a site slightly differently. Not only is this due to the fact that they're all different programs, but it's also a function of custom settings within each browser that may be slightly different. With a well-designed site where the web maintainers have truly tested their pages with a variety of browsers, the effects of using different browsers should be lessened.

    Unfortunately for now, with the "browser wars" between Netscape and Microsoft in full swing, we won't see these effects diminish any time soon as both companies continue to push features that only work with their own brand of web browser software. This sometimes means that a site may be inaccessible with a certain type of browser, or that the effects of the different HTML tags uses will be manifested in very different ways. My advice here is to politely encourage web maintainers to consider the full range of visitors to their site and suggest that they minimize or eliminate the use of browser-specific tags. Those of us who have been on the web for a while now are familiar with the "Optimized for Netscape" or "Best used with Internet Explorer" type of notices on web pages. I have found a variant of these types of notices that uses a button titled "Best Viewed with Any Browser."

    Also, keep in mind that anyone can change the font style and size that is used to display text in your browser window. Oftentimes this means that information won't always be presented in the same general area due to the resizing and positions that takes place due to different typefaces used.

  4. Is there a browser most compatible with screen magnifiers?

    Not necessarily. There are so many degrees of visual impairments that it's impossible to come up with an answer to this question. Use the screen enlargement software that you're most comfortable with and make sure to learn the features to truly take advantage of what the software can do for you.

  5. Is there a browser more compatible with low vision people viewing the screen with "just poor vision"?

    There's a relatively new browser called pwWebSpeak that looks to be very promising. Often thought of as a browser for people who are blind, it also is an excellent choice for people with limited vision. More information on pwWebSpeak can be found at the

  6. When constructing a Home Page, what size font should be used to approximate 14 pt or higher? Some print on the URLs are almost impossible to see because they are so small.

    Again, don't count on the web designer to make the customizations necessary for you to see the screen well. Use the font options including with most graphical browsers to set fonts style and size that is comfortable for you to read. On pages with different font sizes, take advantage of your screen reader to temporarily increase magnification to read those smaller fonts.

It's important to keep in mind that there are a lot of people out on the web designing various sites. With the large variety of HTML tools now available, it's relatively simple for anyone to get a web site up and running. What isn't simple is to create and install a site that is well designed and a pleasure to use. Think back to the days when the Macintosh computer first came out and nearly everyone who had one would use as many fonts as they could when creating a document.

Now we know that having many different typefaces in a document really makes it difficult to read. People who were creating documents needed to learn the basics of document design in order to do a good job. I think we'll see the same thing happen with web pages. Just because it's farily simple to put a web site together doesn't mean that it will be well-designed. As web users, it's our job to provide polite and specific suggestions to web managers so that we can all benefit from what this resource has to offer.