Websites – Fixed size text and other matters

Written By: Peter Abrahams
Content Copyright © 2006 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.
Also posted on: Accessibility

IT-A and
IT-D fixed size

The articles I write get published in various places but
especially on IT-Analysis and IT-Director. Yesterday some of my
readers pointed out to me that the sites were not accessible
because the text on them was fixed size and did not resize at all
in Internet Explorer. However IT-A and IT-D are independent sites
and I do not have control of the content or the design of them, so
I could only pass these comments on to the webmaster.

I was surprised when I saw the problem because:

  • I had discussed the issues of accessibility with the owners
    when the sites were being redeveloped and most things worked as I
    would like.
  • I now use Firefox on a Mac as my preferred browser and Firefox
    basically ignores the fix font specification and will size most
  • The webmaster is a friend of mine and he understands
    accessibility and has worked very hard to ensure that the sites he
    works comply.

A few emails flew around yesterday and it became clear that the
problem had been caused by a designer with his own style guide.
Graphic designers do wonderful work and make sites look great but
not all of them understand the accessibility issues and they want
their sites to look just as they designed them. There can be a
constant tension between the graphic designer and the accessibility
specialist. I believe this is a fight that accessibility is slowing
winning (especially as we show that there need not be a conflict
between accessible and great looking) but many designers have not
yet been knobbled and the web developer often does not have the
time to cajole them to do what is morally, legally and in the long
term financially correct.

The good news is that cascading style sheets mean that this sort
of change is not that difficult to implement. The biggest effort is
in ensuring completeness and testing the changes against the
various different browsers and platforms. The other bit of good
news is that my friend the webmaster likes a challenge, and likes
to please.

The outcome is that we believe the two sites are now compliant.
I have checked them out on IE6, IE7, Firefox and Safari and the
text sizing seems to work everywhere. Thank you to my readers for
pointing out the issue and a very big thank you to the webmaster
for fixing it.

Can my readers check it for themselves and please do not be shy
in making further comments. But for my and for our webmaster’s sake
please be constructive and polite.

Other solutions

Most sites will not be willing or able to respond so quickly, if
at all, so what other options does a reader have:

  • Desert the site and go to a compliant competitor. Preferably
    after you have politely told the site what you are about to do and
    why; they deserve no better.
  • Use Firefox, Safari and possibly some other browsers that will
    resize fixed size text.
  • Use the zoom feature in Microsoft IE7—this actually makes
    everything bigger not just the text. The text renders well the
    pictures get pixellated but it is an easy solution.
  • Use a magnifier. On Apple clicking ctrl and spinning the mouse
    ball will magnify the whole of the desktop, Windows XP has a simple
    magnifier built in, and this has been improved in Vista. For users
    with a major need for screen magnification there are a variety of
    screen magnifier products of varying sophistication (Dolphin
    Supernova, a supplier of a variety of interesting, assistive
    technology, is the latest I have heard about).
  • Go into the internet options of the browser and play; for
    example in IE6 if I go to tools, internet options, accessibility I
    can ignore font specifications and the text becomes sizable.
  • In Firefox, go to view, page style and choose ‘no
    style’ the page may not look so nice but it may be easier to
    read, or it is possible that the webmaster may have set up other
    styles (for example as I write this IT-A has an
    ‘experimental’ style that has some potential advantages
    such as removing some background colours, as its name implies this
    will not be a permanent fixture but may morph into something
  • In IE got to accessibility and use a style sheet of your

That is all the possibilities that immediately come to mind but
readers are encouraged to add their favourites or expand on how
they use some of these features.