Contempt for Visually Impaired and Older Readers

As a middle-aged man, I have eyes that match my age, perhaps even a bit older. I have worn glasses since I was in my early twenties, and have worn reading glasses for a long time as well. I also only see out of one eye, having amblyopia (the other eye sees just a blur.) Since my work is done on a computer, I use special computer glasses – with lenses adapted for the precise distance between my eyes and the computer screen – so I don’t squint or tire myself out.

I have long railed against designers and developers who don’t offer font size choices in their apps. I recall a recent information-gathering app that I tried in beta. I launched the app, saw the tiny font, found no option to change the font size, and promptly deleted it. On the Mac, you can still zoom the screen (System Preferences > Accessibility > Zoom), but on an iOS device, you don’t have that option. So whenever I try a new iOS app and see that the twenty-something designers didn’t correctly estimate their audience, I let them know. In some cases, this gets fixed – a couple of Twitter clients, for example – but in most, it is ignored.

I saw the most contemptible example of this yesterday. The Guardian newspaper recently did a redesign, altering the format of the paper (they went from a broadsheet to a tabloid), and slightly changing the layout on their website. As such, they released a new version of their iOS app. When I looked at it, I saw no way to change the font size. But I found this:


In other words, if you are visually impaired, you will have to pay to be able to read this app. This is an incredibly evil thing to do, and certainly immoral. How can a newspaper think that an adjustable text size is not a standard feature, but expect people to pay extra for it?

Guardian, I won’t pay you for that, and I think what you are doing is misguided, and, perhaps, illegal. But to all designers out there: don’t think that your eyes are the same as those of your users. The number of people who need glasses to read is much higher than you probably imagine, if you’re a millennial with 20/20 vision. Be careful; if you alienate your users like this, it could be very costly.

Update: interestingly, since the time I looked at the app and took the above screenshot (January 17, 5pm UK time), the Guardian has updated their app. There are now font size settings, and the premium tier makes no mention of font sizes. I’m glad they changed this so quickly, and wish all developers would make this sort of change.

10 thoughts on “Contempt for Visually Impaired and Older Readers

  1. Interesting. Here in the US store I found the Guardian app and loaded it up to check out their layout. I love the typeface they use (do you know the name?).
    I get a zoom icon with a wide range of adjustments, for free. I didn’t even have to do a free registration. Their subscriber benefits don’t mention changing font size so this must be a UK only restriction. I hope they change it. I’ve worn glasses since 2nd grade & am hopelessly nearsighted.

    • This was in the iPad app. I just downloaded the iPhone app, and it’s different. I also don’t see the same Premium subscription offer in the iPhone app. I’ll update the article.

    • Interesting. They updated the app 15 hours ago, after I had taken that screenshot, and I see the font controls, and I no longer see it mentioned in the premium features.

  2. Great point to bring up. I recently unsubscribed to the streaming horror movie service Shudder because they redesigned their iOS app so the movie descriptions are now not only tiny (they always were), but are now dark grey text on a black background. I sent an email, waited a couple months to see if they’d make a change, and when they didn’t I cancelled. Apparently the designers and most of their subscribers have perfect vision and can’t understand what I’m complaining about – I guess it’s cool look for a horror movie site. Cool, but unreadable and therefore not worth my money.

  3. Bingo! One of my longstanding complaints. I always give low rated reviews and specific complaints to those app builders that don’t get it. I can almost understand it with a small developer, but, large companies that (should) have user interface design groups also seem to design for 20 year old eyes. Another associated issue is those that insist on using low contrast displays like brown text on a black background.

  4. »On the Mac, you can still zoom the screen (System Preferences > Accessibility > Zoom), but on an iOS device, you don’t have that option.«

    Fortunately you do. I have it mapped to double tapping with three fingers and use it constantly when I forget my reading glasses.

    • Yes, but then you have to move the page around a lot to be able to read anything. On the Mac, with separate windows, it’s a lot easier to view content zoomed.

  5. Thank you for this. I hope the right people read it and change back to black text on white, or a choice of, instead of pale gray, always with the option of enlarging. And Apple set the model with its fixed gray tiny type. Many blogs are using light light gray also. And online stores with light gray on black. Looks nice, but don’t they care if someone reads them and buys something instead of deleting because it is not worth the effort…

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