The EyeA few weeks ago I would have said I was a pretty good software designer using the many tools we have nowadays to make applications and websites attractive. That was until I spilled a full cup of coffee on my laptop (another story). I am a diabetic and last year started having problems with my left eye, I had developed diabetic retinopathy, but had been going for regular treatments to deal with the small amount of blood that would occasionally cloud my vision. Well the coffee cup incident must have raised my blood pressure enough to cause a major rupture. I had temporarily lost the vision in my left eye (OK no pirate or one-eyed programmer jokes).

Hmm well I thought I still had my other eye and plenty of people get around with just one. Even though I use computers I know from my work with the State agency “Services for the Blind” that they all use computers so I should be OK right? Wrong for one thing my right eye is far sighted and doesn’t seem to participate when I read, so while I can drive OK, seeing close up is a chore. Luckily, having been in the computer business for awhile I had a few different options when it came to monitors. So out came the old 21” CRTs to replace the 17” LCDs which suddenly seemed smaller. Now that was taken care of I was off and running, but one thing I noticed was that even when changing the font size in explorer a lot of websites wouldn’t resize. Even our website wouldn’t size correctly.

I found out that my applications where even worse, after working on many PC’s over the years I had decided in my infinite wisdom that I knew best what fonts, styles and colors to use and didn’t want to inherit those tacky themes that my users would pick. OK, well the website was in redesign anyway so I think I have caught and fixed most of the problems. My application where another matter, yikes with thousands of procedures and screens how would I fix this, especially in my visually impaired state. Since most of my recent desktop applications are written in Clarion I went hunting for templates. Again my good friends at Capesoft came to the rescue with their AnyFont template. All I can say is it would have been impossible to redesign and rewrite all those screens. AnyFont basically is a global template and just goes right in and does its work. It allowed me to keep the same level of design quality in my applications even with my visual impairment.

What have I learned so far from this experience is that more time needs to be spent considering your users and how they interact with your programs and websites. A few things I have noticed about fonts is that ClearType really does help with clarity, all italic fonts are hard to read, and bold applied to any font helps a lot. Underlines stick out better than highlighted text, at least it seems that way to me. Laptops are great, because you can move them around easily so you can adjust the distance. Developing with this as a temporary disability (I hope) has been eye opening (pardon the pun). I am still able to work although a little slower than normal, but I am getting used to it. I think that I will no longer impose my will on my users and if they want to pick white text on a white background all the power to them. I will continue this discussion at a later date and post some examples of my findings, please drop me a line if you would like an update so I can gauge the interest level.

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