Accessibility & Design

The Disability Discrimination Act

Website operators and owners have responsibilities under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 to ensure that their websites are reasonably accessible to those with disabilities, particularly to blind and partially sighted visitors. There are up to 8 million people surfing the Internet in the UK alone who might have difficulties with some aspects of conventional web design. The figure world-wide will of course be considerably higher.

The majority of sites on the Internet today do not comply with the accessibility guidelines drawn up by the W3C. However, any website created or updated in the last few years should be taking this into account, especially in light of the news that the RNIB have started to take action against the owners of web sites that are not "open to all".

Problems that users to websites may experience are many-fold, but some are outlined below:

Blind Users

Blind users surf the Internet using text readers that literally speak the words audibly from the website. This sounds simple until you learn how these readers navigate a site, and unfortunately conventional web design techniques make it very hard for them to do so. Text readers can only read simple text and so many elements of web pages are hidden to them, such as:

  • Any feature on the page that relies on JavaScript (buttons for navigation for instance)
  • Any multimedia feature, such as a video or music clip
  • Any information conveyed in a picture

Partially Sighted Readers

Partially sighted readers have even more complex requirements, although they may not require the assistance of a text reader, they often have problems with a page:

  • The colours can make things difficult to distinguish
  • Flashy animations or moving graphics and text can be distracting
  • The text size can be too small and more often than not is not scalable using browser controls (view/text size ' larger in Microsoft Internet Explorer for instance).

Other conditions that must be taken into consideration are:

  • Dyslexia
  • Learning impairment
  • Physical disability (that makes the use of a mouse or keyboard difficult)

You can see that this is a complex issue!

Compliance Levels

We offer three levels of compliance for our clients also (but they are not absolutely based on the W3C 3 levels)

  • Minimum compliance - the addition of a "Text Version" link that takes the user to a stripped down text version of the site. This has advantages and disadvantages. An advantage is that the main site can continue to be non-compliant; the disadvantage is that it is bypassing the law somewhat and marginalising partially sighted and blind users. However it can be a useful first step - which is usually relatively easy to achieve on a small to medium size existing site.
  • Medium compliance - this is where we take reasonable steps in our web design to ensure that most of the checkpoints are met. This means, we believe that the site would be fairly navigable and usable by either a text reader or by a partially sighted person.
  • Full AAA compliance - this is much harder to achieve, although only a few checkpoints remain to be fulfilled, they take the lion's share of the work! We have already successfully achieved this rating on some of our sites, this one being an example.

Please note - we are not legal experts, and these proposals are based on our assessment and understanding of the current legislation, and our reasonable efforts to achieve compliance. Your organisation may wish to take independent legal advice as to whether our proposals do comply with the Disability Discrimination Act.

Achieving accessibility on existing sites

It is often very hard to take an existing site that has been constructed in a particular way , and make it accessible. As with many things, it can be a lot simpler (and cheaper) to start from scratch, rather than painstakingly unpick a site and try to impose a new set of rules upon it.

That said, we can often add a script (on sites that we host) that generates a text version of the site, and which we believe confers the minimum legal compliance, but this is not recommended for most sites.

Sites of Interest

RNIB - Royal National Institute of the Blind website

Cynthiasays - Free validator

W3C - Web Accessibility Initiative

Ability Net