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I'm a developer at a small web agency that works primarily with charities. We tend to put a simple textsize widget on every site (eg. top right on www.embraceme.org). I find myself wondering if that's necessary: if someone has difficulty seeing, then there's a number of tools at the OS/browser level to help them out. If each website reinvents the wheel then that's a new tool the user has to keep relearning (not to mention extra and unnecessary complication on the site). We don't have an accessibility/usability specialist, so would love to hear people's views on this.

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Who is the primary audience of the website? FWIW, this question may help: ux.stackexchange.com/questions/703/font-size-amender?rq=1 –  Matt Obee Nov 19 '12 at 16:52
    
@MattObee I was looking for a fairly general answer - I don't have a particular site (and audience) in mind. That other question is perfect, thanks so much: I'll take a look through now. –  Andy Nov 19 '12 at 17:00
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I side with your thinking these days, though have no data. But yes, all browsers can resize pages just fine, so it would seem that having to build one's own widget is redundant and potentially confusing. –  DA01 Nov 19 '12 at 20:14

5 Answers 5

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Providing such font size options within individual websites isn't as important nowadays than it used to be (for instance when IE6 was a more common browser as it didn't really have a suitable font resizing option) but that doesn't mean it no longer has its place; it is particularly useful if the target audience for the website is more focused to users with disabilities - such as for the London 2012 Paralympics.

However your main priority with font sizes is to ensure you put your site together using correct modern HTML standards rather than focusing on minor 'widgets' here and there.

The main accessibility requirement around text resizing is that:

WCAG 1.4.4 Resize text: Except for captions and images of text, text can be resized without assistive technology up to 200 percent without loss of content or functionality. (Level AA)

This can be achieved in a variety of ways, all using good HTML standards. For example, use standard readable fonts, don't set your default font size too small, keep your fonts in ems instead of px so that they resize correctly when the user adjusts the font size via the standard browser controls, and keep your layout adaptive / fluid so the content doesn't expand out of the screen / containers when the font size is increased.

There are some good suggestions about how to keep your text accessible at the w3c site - Understanding SC 1.4.4 Resizing Text as well as at webaim.org

Check your target audience for your project. If the users are more likely to benefit from the in-page font resizing due to minor visual disabilities or those that suffer from dyslexia, or (and I hope this isn't the case anymore) if they're locked into using IE6 then yes, it's probably going to be useful to provide that option, but for current web design it's more important to get your code in shape and use good HTML and you can let the users take control of how they want to experience the web.

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Thanks, very useful. Could you expand on why dyslexics and those with minor visual disabilities would benefit more from an in-page tool rather than browser/OS-based? Thanks! –  Andy Nov 20 '12 at 9:13
    
@Andy If your site is particularly targeted at users with visual disabilities then you should make more effort to accommodate their needs (not just providing font resizing options, but contrast switching, and even a choice of fonts). Just like you would cater a children's website to the target audience, you should target a disability website to that user, but in general the standard browser controls are suitable because the user sets it per-browser, not per website. –  JonW Nov 20 '12 at 15:10
    
Thanks for clarifying, I'd slightly misunderstood the thrust of that sentence. –  Andy Nov 20 '12 at 15:24

I'd say you include it, not on the right top though. Why? Because older people using the web might not understand very well how to change settings on their browsers and something they can see available right there would be more helpful for them. It doesn't interfere with magnifier software such as Zoom Text, however I don't know how would it interact with screen readers such as Jaws.

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Why not on the top right? –  vincebowdren Jan 6 at 9:31

If you built the site in that way that the font-size (*) can be increased/decreased by the user's browser, there is no need for a widget.

*: Note that font-size zoom is not the same as the page zoom (the latter is the default in many browser today, but it can be switched to font-size zoom by the user).

If your site's font-size cannot be changed by the user's browser (because of a special way you built your site, which should be a very rare case), you should provide a widget.

But if you provide a widget, you should make sure that it works for all of your visitors. I can't use the widget on embraceme.org, because it requires cookies and JavaScript. If you can't built it that way that it works for users with disabled JS/Cookies, too, you should hide it for those.

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If you don't set the font size of the main text, it will use the font size specified in the browser settings. It looks like your site does not set this so it will use browser settings font size, making a text widget somewhat redundant.

(So in the future ensure it remains this way, the font size for the main text is not set in the CSS to keep it working the way it is.)

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Thanks, but I wasn't really asking how to create a resizable site; I'm more interested in whether people feel it's still important from an accessibility point of view to have a text size tool on-site. –  Andy Nov 20 '12 at 9:18

I recently attended a Nielsen/Norman Group conference and this question was asked. The answer they gave was that in the many usability tests that they have done, very very few, if any, users ever actually used the feature.

That said, if you did want it to be used, placing it in the upper-right location makes it much less likely that a user will find/use it.

You might want to try testing some different placements or configure GA Event Tracking to see if people are using the feature at all.

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Exactly what I was looking for, thanks! I'd love to use GA to see how much it's used (and try various layouts) but I don't think we'd convince our clients to fork out for that! Out of interest, what's wrong with putting things in the top right corner? –  Andy Nov 19 '12 at 17:14
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Generally speaking users have a mental model that says "the top right area is for utility links", so if a user was looking to login, for example, they would look up there. Or in this case, the shopping cart is a natural place to look. However for something like a text-size incrementer, they would not normally expect it to be there, and when hunting/scanning will look more to the left side of the page. That said, TEST! :) I could be wrong. –  Charles Wesley Nov 19 '12 at 17:16
    
Thanks, I hadn't considered that; it makes a lot of sense. –  Andy Nov 19 '12 at 17:26
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My concern with usability tests when it comes to accessibility features is that you're not testing the audience that would benefit from this feature. For example I bet nearly everyone on the test there didn't test using a screenreader, or didn't notice that the images had ALT tags, but that doesn't mean we no longer should consider those users that do need these. –  JonW Nov 20 '12 at 16:32
    
I should add the clarification that they were answering the question within the context of usability of the text-size feature in the page itself. They said their test users would use their browser's zoom feature to increase size instead. But I agree when testing accessibility features it is not valid to say it isn't needed if none of the test subjects would use the feature anyway. –  Charles Wesley Nov 20 '12 at 17:03

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