justify this! why text alignment is important

When it comes to web accessibility, most organizations tend to focus solely on people with visual disabilities. They ask:

  •  Are these colors safe for hard-of-seeing or color blind people?
  • Do these images have alt tags so that people who have images turned off, or cannot see them, know what they are missing?
  • Will zooming or magnifying the browser window hopelessly mess up the layout of my page?

Something a little less obvious is that there are good and not-so-good ways of presenting text on the screen.

For example, text justification. I’m not talking about getting people to say “right on!” about what you’ve written. I’m talking about having your words line up neat and pretty with the leftmost and rightmost edges of the text area on your webpage. This is done by varying the spaces between words. Like so:


While this may look cool and orderly, it can cause problems for users.

Justified column edges require spacing words in different ways, so big white gaps often snake through the content. Depending on the size of the words, those gaps can be pretty huge.

People with dyslexia or cognitive disabilities may have difficulty following the pattern of the text. Every time they hit a whitespace chasm, their brain and eyes have to pause to get their bearings. You want your users to quickly and easily get the message you’re sharing, not wrestle with it.

These gaps and unevenness are literally magnified for people who are using Zoom or Screen Magnification to better read words that are too small for them.

Ask yourself: Do the supposed aesthetic gains of justified text outweigh the obstacles they throw in some of your users’ ways?

The safest bet is to employ tried and true left-justified text! It looks just fine and, more importantly, reads better for everyone.


Steve Grobschmidt (@aquinaswi) is the author of theaccessibility.com.

16. March 2012 by Michael Seidel
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