Font Resizing Widgets: A Help or A Hindrance to Accessibility?

Font resizer A font resizing widget enables your blog readers to easily increase the font size to suit their comfort level for reading.

It seems like a handy tool to make available to readers to increase accessibility. However, as is often the case with features that appear, at first  glance, to improve accessibility, there is no consensus on whether providing such a tool is actually a help or a hindrance.

Advantages of a Font Resizer

Proponents of this feature say it provides a quick way for people to adjust the font size when needed. The feature is ideal for individuals who do not need a full blown magnification program (e.g., aisquared’s ZoomText) and for individuals with limited internet experience who do not know how to change the font size settings within their browser.

The feature also assists individuals with cognitive impairments who do not have the skills to adjust their browser settings or who are locked out of their browser settings.

Disadvantages of a Font Resizer

Proponents of this feature say it adds more clutter to the site, particularly for keyboard users who then must tab through more content to reach the content they want. They claim that adding such a feature benefits a select few while negatively impacting the experience of many. They offer that it is better to educate readers on how to change standard browser settings.

In his post Web Accessibility Preferences Are For Sissies?, which discusses the disadvantages in greater depth, Jared Smith points out, "There may be places where accessibility preferences, widgets, or controls are justified. My point is that they always come at a very steep cost – and that developers should balance the possible advantages of web accessibility preferences with the significant disadvantages."

What Do You Say?

Do you provide a font resizing widget on your blog? Would it depend upon your targeted audience of your blog? Do you wish more or fewer bloggers included such a feature? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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23 Responses to Font Resizing Widgets: A Help or A Hindrance to Accessibility?
  1. Ricky Buchanan
    Twitter:
    April 6, 2011 | 6:45 pm

    I don’t ever provide these on my blogs, but interestingly I do sometimes use them when they’re on somebody else’s! I have a large screen and somewhat crappy vision so I read large sized text. I know perfectly well how to change my browser settings but most browsers will only let me easily enlarge text OR enlarge the whole page (including layout) – both Safari and Firebox let me choose which type of “enlarge” I want to use, but won’t let me enlarge both at once. Since both types have good and bad things about them, being able to use a combination is the best – if your page already takes up 80% of my screen size then enlarging the whole page means that my text will quickly run off the sides and become unusable, but OTOH if I enlarge only the text then I can’t easily see the images on most sites. Generally I leave my browsers set so that the enlarge button/keystroke enlarges the whole page because this is most useful in most situations, so if I happen to be on a website which has an enlarge-text widget then I’ll enlarge the text as well as enlarging the whole page so I can read things.

    This confused and ungrammatical description was brought to you by the phrase “A picture’s worth a thousand words” and if anybody would like screenshots to illustrate then I will provide!

  2. Glenda
    Twitter:
    April 6, 2011 | 7:21 pm

    Ricky, thank you for that detailed description of how you view sites and how font resizing widgets are, indeed, useful.

    Would you be interested in doing an interview or a guest post sharing what other obstacles you face online and what you wish bloggers knew in terms of accessibility?

  3. Web Axe
    April 6, 2011 | 9:38 pm

    I say no to text resize widgets. This is definitely the responsibility of the browser. But unfortunately, this is another area where browsers have failed the user. When the functionality is available, it’s hardly ever easy to find. More in my blog about this from last year: http://webaxe.blogspot.com/2010/08/no-to-text-resize-widgets.html

  4. oihana
    April 6, 2011 | 10:49 pm

    I don’t know how many people use it, but I’m trully in love with the BBC’s accessibility help (www.bbc.co.uk/accessibility). There, they teach people how to use and configure their navigators and operating systems for accessibility issues.

    Coming back to the topic, in their site (www.bbc.co.uk) they don’t have the text enlargement icons, as they teach you how to do it with your navigator or operating system in that web page already mentioned. On the other hand, the do have these icons in the accessibility help page; I guess this is because, supposedly, you don’t know yet how to do it on your own. How BBC uses these icons seems quite logical to me, don’t you think so? They provide the icons until they teach you how to do it on your own so you don’t need them any more.

    • Stomme poes
      Twitter:
      April 7, 2011 | 4:19 am

      oihana: Unfortunately the BBC’s accessibility page’s Linux section is a little… outdated. Hopefully someone updates it!

  5. Christophe Strobbe
    April 7, 2011 | 3:12 am

    The W3C has an interesting article “Better Web Browsing: Tips for Customizing Your Computer” at http://www.w3.org/WAI/users/browsing
    It also covers resizing text and images in various browsers.

  6. Stomme poes
    Twitter:
    April 7, 2011 | 4:16 am

    I’ve never used them or offered them. If I ever received data suggesting I had a pretty good % of users who fit that category (need text enlarging but don’t know how to use their own browsers) I’d add the “Text too small? Hold down CTRL button and hit +” somewhere visible (doesn’t work in Opera, but in general Opera users are somewhat… sophisticated).

    Like Ricky above I enlarge text on web sites regularly and lament the decision the Chrome dev team made to remove text-enlarge. 99% of the time I don’t want images enlarged, they look like pants anyway (if there was text in the image, I still can’t read it). Plus, Zoom makes a scrollbar, whereas I build my sites to (usually) not scroll when text is enlarged in the browser.

  7. Lainey Feingold
    Twitter:
    April 7, 2011 | 4:48 pm

    The biggest fight I had with my web developer in 2008 was his insistence that I NOT have a text re-sizing widget. He came down firmly in the camp that it was bad practice to even hint that all text on a properly designed site should not resize with ctrl (apple) + or -. I never did put in the widget even though I’ve had the site for 3 years. Still, many people I talk to do not know how to enlarge text with browser controls. We put a whole paragraph about this in the help section (http://lflegal.com/accessibility/#resize) but i doubt anyone reads it. I know that everyone should know by now how to resize text, but since they don’t, I think a widget is a nice thing to offer visitors. Hmmm, maybe now’s the time to put one on LFLegal?

    • Glenda
      Twitter:
      April 7, 2011 | 5:29 pm

      Lainey, in my opinion, an accessible site is a work in progress, given the continuous changes in technology. I’d say if you feel strongly about adding a text resizing widget for your readership and clientele, add it for a while. Try it in different locations. Gauge the response. Then decide whether it is worth or not.

      Give it a shot and let up know what you discover.

  8. Glenda
    Twitter:
    April 7, 2011 | 5:04 pm

    Thanks for this insightful discussion.

    For bloggers who are working towards an accessible blog, would you say a separate page, perhaps similar to the BBC’s accessibility page yet simpler, might be a move in the right direction? What else might be included on such a page?

  9. Paul J. Adam
    Twitter:
    April 7, 2011 | 8:25 pm

    I’m in favor of using them, but I don’t think it should be required. Personally I use them myself if available when reading articles online for the same reasons as Ricky. Plus there is no other way to resize text in Mobile Safari.

    • Glenda
      Twitter:
      April 8, 2011 | 12:13 pm

      Paul, interesting point about not having access to browser settings on the mobile devices. I’m only familiar with the iPad where I can enlarge the page by spreading my fingers. Does that not work on other devices?

      • Paul J. Adam
        Twitter:
        April 8, 2011 | 12:25 pm

        Hey Glenda, well that’s pinch to zoom which will also cut the text off the screen if you zoom in too large and then you have to pan sideways.

        I put text +- on a website I made for an accessibility competition so a user could increase the text size on their iPad and not have to pan side to side to read. http://pauljadam.com/bluemistband

        • Glenda
          Twitter:
          April 8, 2011 | 1:12 pm

          Great idea, Paul! That panning gets annoying.

  10. Susan
    April 8, 2011 | 2:26 pm

    I work on sites for non-profits, specializing in accessible usable interfaces. This is one of those discussions that people have strong opinions on, many of them based on facts, though as pointed out the facts vary with the group you’re talking to and the technologies available.

    I don’t put them in. I do make sure that the fonts declared aren’t in absolute sizes for older browsers and will scale nicely.

    In a loose poll we did through one of these sites, we asked users to identify themselves within three groups and then asked them questions, including the widget one. We received 72 responses back.

    The majority (which by no means is everyone) of users who need increased font-size already are using some technology that gives them this, and say they would not use this functionality.

    The majority who are getting near to needing the ability to increase font-size, are more likely to rely on a browser setting or change their settings when needed. They’re the “group” most likely to use the resizing feature, though not the majority within their group.

    People who don’t need to have larger text, polled at not using them even if the text was a little small. Interestingly the majority said they leave and look for the information elsewhere.

    Interesting, though not a real study. The group was limited to people already associated with the non-profit, and the return rate wasn’t great.

  11. Denis Boudreau
    Twitter:
    April 8, 2011 | 2:34 pm

    I believe they shouldn’t be used, as this is definitely the responsibility of the browser, but since browsers have so miserably failed at doing a good job, we’ve had no choice but to resort to using them. I’m all for educating the user instead, but it turns out that those widgets have become a symbol for accessible websites and as such, are expected on websites that claim or are expected to be accessible.

    We recently developed a site for a program we’re running and had decided not to use them, pretty much for the reasons mentioned above to other people. We received a ton of comments (some of them pretty sarcastic I might add) that our site didn’t “look accessible” because it was missing that feature…

    Of course, everything was wcag 2 compliant, but to the uninformed, these widgets are part of the requirements of an accessible website. And since I tend to chose my battles, I decided not to fight that one and just gave it to them.

    • Glenda
      Twitter:
      April 8, 2011 | 5:23 pm

      Denis, this reminds me of when a client said accessible sites are more fun because there are more features to play with. My jaw dropped. I didn’t know how to respond.

      • Denis Boudreau
        Twitter:
        April 8, 2011 | 5:57 pm

        I have yet to get a comment like that, but I can see that person’s point. I guess it boils down to that general idea that accessible websites benefit and improve the user’s experience, whether they are disabled or not. Good stuff. :)

  12. Lisa Barnett
    April 9, 2011 | 5:47 am

    As a usability professional specializing in design for users over 65, I can tell you that text resize widgets are very useful for mature users, who are a population most likely to benefit from enlarged text. I’ve conducted usability tests with hundreds of seniors over the years, and I always ask if they know how to resize a site’s text, because our web developers want to remove this widget from our pages. VERY few users over 65 have this knowledge, and are always grateful when I show them how to enlarge their text with the browser of their choice. Combined with metrics, usability testing on target audiences and primary user groups should help this decision to be made in the best interest of the user.

    • Glenda
      Twitter:
      April 9, 2011 | 10:39 am

      Lisa, yes, I can see font resizing widgets benefiting mature users. Great point about knowing thy target audience!

  13. Glynis Jolly
    Twitter:
    April 9, 2011 | 8:33 am

    I had a resizer in the header of my blog thinking I was being so clever. After reading your post, I went and checked it out. The silly thing didn’t work. It could be because of the template I have or it could be my chosen browser.

  14. Barbara, OT and PT
    April 9, 2011 | 11:14 am

    I’ll answer your question, Glenda, but then must come back to fully evaluate what people have to say here for it’s meaning to me.

    I did not know such widgets exist until now, but I have purposely coded my main post text to be a large font. I struggle with what 12-point looks like on my screen. Like Web Axe, I have assumed those who need larger fonts know how to access them in their browser or have specialized adaptive viewing software. No?

    Thanks for hosting this excellent discussion.

  15. John McGeechan
    April 3, 2012 | 12:43 pm

    I have written a jquery plugin to do exactly this as a community contribution …

    http://simpleritsolutions.com/font-resizer

    And although it is far and away the most popular contribution on my site (I get emails and link backs to it etc). I will be honest, I am not actually a big fan of them.

    But – and this is the crucial bit – I still use them when I have a very narrow and targetted website audience. Let me explain. I have used it on websites that are geared almost solely towards senior citizens who have a very loose grasp of technology. And yes, being able to click a few buttons is much more easy and memorable than using ctrl+/- (Seriously, many of these people do not even know what their browser is, it’s the “thing” that gets them their email ).

    So although I think it’s a crude tool (the browser zooms in and out much better than jquery/javascript), I still think it has it’s place rather than trying to enforce the dogma of re-education, when you know in some cases it is utterly futile.

    My opinion of course, is worth precisely what you paid me for it ;-)

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