Scrap text resize widgets and teach people how to resize text

Something that always bugs me is when somebody slaps a text resize widget on their site and calls it "accessible". Job done. Maybe that is a bit unfair since there are many sites that actually are accessible that have a text resize widget, but my non-scientific guess is that a majority of sites that have a feature like that are a long way from being accessible and use a text resizing widget as a band-aid instead of addressing the underlying problem.

Instead of cluttering client sites with this kind of widget I've started adding a set of pages with information that helps the user resize text in their browser. It's a bit like the information provided by the BBC's My Web My Way but nowhere near as detailed (the BBC site really is incredibly detailed, with screenshots and explanations for many, many combinations of web browsers and operating systems).

The reason I'm providing this info instead of text resizing widgets is that I hope it will teach people how to use their browser, thus enabling them to resize text on every site they come across while using the Web. (Unless of course it's an all-Flash site or a site that uses images for large portions of text, but in those cases there is always the option to do what I do – use the back button and be done with the site.)

I'm not the only one to think helping people understand how to use their browser is a better idea than replicating browser functionality. In Teach a Man to Fish (or How to Resize Text), Ian Lloyd posted a video (Text Resizing - Visual Guide) he created that explains how to change text size in several different browsers. In addition to visually showing how to change the settings, the video contains a voice-over which will help understanding.

I think this is a great idea, and a nice complement to screenshots and textual descriptions of changing the settings. However I think YouTube may not be the best place to host a video like this because of the low resolution and high compression it uses. A video of this kind needs to be crisp and non-blurry, considering the target audience.

I don't know which options are available if you can't host the video yourself, but I have a hard time believing even a fairly large video will be downloaded enough times to bring down your site or increase your bandwidth costs by any significant amount (if at all).

Posted on September 21, 2007 in Accessibility, Browsers, Usability