Not all designers are happy about the British Standard draft on Web design

A British Standard draft on Web design should improve online accessibility for the disabled, but not all designers are happy, says Tom Banks

A new BSI draft on Web accessibility for disabled people has been produced that will change the way digital consultancies and Web development groups operate in the future.

Design groups are already required to consider the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the World Wide Web Consortium (known as W3C) guidelines when designing websites.

Now, according to Julie Howell, chairwoman of the committee responsible for the draft (BS 8878, titled Web Accessibility – Building Accessible Experiences for Disabled People), the draft will seek to create a unified standard that will instruct both client and consultancy to create improved accessibility for the consumer.

Howell says, ‘It’s crucial we get feedback from Web groups. It’s a social responsibility and it makes good business sense even though [the proposal] is not law. Complying means opening Web content to a much bigger audience, although people tend to think of disability as a minority issue.’

One example of how the DDA has affected brand design is when the Design and Artists Copyright Society revealed a new identity in November, designed by 300million. The decision to change the identity was partly driven by the old identity falling foul of the DDA.

Tania Spriggens, DACS director of communications, says, ‘There were two areas – the use of lime green on the Web and in print – that were causing issues. We had a lot of feedback and found out that people were finding it difficult to read. We are aware that the DDA takes into account those with visual impairment and needed to address the issue.’

Digital consultancy Clusta tries to make accessible websites as a matter of course, but creative director Matt Clugston finds that current guidelines constrain creativity and don’t achieve the best results for disabled users.

Clugston says, ‘If you’re doing a full Flash site, that proportion can’t be compliant and you can end up doing a back-up site for it in HTML. W3C compliancy is very restrictive and that seems unfair. I completely agree that everybody needs Web access, but maybe we should be looking to use Flash in more engaging ways.’

Andrew Pinkess, strategy director at Rufus Leonard, concurs. ‘It’s very restrictive from a design point of view,’ he says. On a site Rufus Leonard made for Save the Children – – the client wanted a design that conveyed its message powerfully, rather than a completely accessible one.

Pinkess says, ‘This site is as accessible as we were able to make it, but some of the techniques used are either not covered by current legislation or are in advance of it.’

Ed MacDonald, testing consultant at Rufus Leonard, adds, ‘We need to start thinking of accessibility as fluid and evolving, like the Web. There is a network of accessibility-minded developers working out [ways] to encourage accessibility.’ But he believes that the draft will be detrimental to this. ‘It will greatly encourage compliance to W3C guidelines,’ he says.

Clusta also believes the solution is to design a way out of the problem. Clugston has been developing a webcam that responds to movement as a mouse would. He ‘absolutely’ sees design like this as an answer to Web accessibility.

Howell talks of ‘harmonisation’ and a ‘nationally recognised system of accreditation’, but the draft is dividing opinion.

Independent design consultant Martyn Perks says, ‘It’s questionable whether disabled people have fully benefited from those paying lip-service to their needs, as many sites are still hit-and-miss affairs.’ He adds, ‘An important and unintended consequence of an accessibility standard may well be the lessening of the need to invest in researching and developing innovations that might benefit everyone, transforming people’s interaction with digital content.’

Hugh Huddy is campaigns officer for accessible information at the Royal National Institute of Blind People. He explains that a broad range of assistive measures need to be put in place to help the blind and partially sighted. ‘Speech needs to be converted into spoken word. There should be screen magnification and high contrast settings,’ he says. ‘Screen readers allow you to navigate the links. It’s vital.’

Huddy, who is himself partially sighted, adds, ‘For blind professionals it spells the future – shopping, banking, downloading documents – but only because of good Web design. Without designing to accommodate, the designer risks blocking access to those users.’

measures to improve web access

• The draft, BS 8878, can be viewed at

• Comments on the draft will be accepted until 31 January

• The board that created the draft comprises 18 organisations including Ability Net, BBC, Lloyds TSB, IBM and The British Dyslexia Association

• The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 states, ‘It is unlawful for a provider of services to discriminate against a disabled person […] in refusing to provide, or deliberately not providing, to the disabled person any service which he provides, or is prepared to provide, to members of the public

• The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are produced by the World Wide Web Consortium

Hide Comments (3)Show Comments (3)
  • Mark Wilson November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    It’s irresponsible of our industry to suggest that accessibility is an option, and that we should be taking new approaches to achieving it, simply to paper over the cracks of not addressing it properly in the first place.

    Of course accessibility, like all aspects of the web, is a fluidly developing set of requirements and opportunities. It goes without saying. Compare a screen reader today to one from a few years ago and you’ll see immediately how the standards have not kept up with the technology that is available – but that assumes, incorrectly, that everyone has access to the latest assistive technologies. Just like everyone is using the very latest browser versions on the latest computers.

    We should be reliant less on standards and more on real-world practice, but for the most part, the existing standards are good, and when followed, allow for most disabled audiences to make good use of the web.

    There is no reason that sites like Save the Children should be inaccessible, and I’d argue that it’s irresponsible for them to be. All of our work on the main STC website met the highest accessibility standards and there is no sustainable argument for delivering inaccessible sites other than a lack of understanding of how to deliver them.

    Flash is often a problem of course – designers like the visual freedom it gives them but rarely understand the real-world behaviour of users – but it isn’t to blame. Those who choose to use it inappropriately are.

    Ultimately, we have a responsibility to provide our clients intelligent advice on what constitutes good practice. Accessibility is one of the design constraints that make working online interesting – my view would be that if you have to ignore that constraint, you’re not solving the design problem properly. It’s interesting to see, in lab tests with fully-able users, how many inaccessible sites are rejected by users as too slow and hard to use. Why? Because the constraints that accessibility place on us are positive ones for all users when they are properly understood.

    As an industry we should be passionate about how design can deliver a well-considered holistic user experience solution, not just a visual solution – which, unfortunately, still seems to be the approach taken far, far too often.

  • Patrick H. Lauke November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    The comments from designers about how restrictive accessibility guidelines are, and how full flash sites need a fallback html version, seem quite out of date, particularly in light of WCAG 2’s results-driven, rather than technique-driven, approach. also note that neither the DDA nor the proposed british standard mandate any specific technologies or techniques, but merely aim to ensure that best practice is adopted, and that a consistent process is in place to ensure this.

  • Linda Ditri November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Readers may be interested in the following training event which will address the issue of accessible design.

    Accessible design Workshop – ‘Beyond Big Type 2009’
    Thursday 19 March 2009, 9.30am – 4.30pm, in central London
    An Employers’ Forum on Disability training event in partnership with Wire Design Ltd.

    This workshop will focus on how you can use industry guidelines, as well as your own internal guidelines, to ensure that you can maximise the impact of your design and marketing and remain innovative while ensuring your communications are accessible to everyone, including disabled people.

    Targeted at graphic designers, marketing and communications managers and disability or diversity champions, this workshop brings together top designers, marketing and communication professionals, from across all industry sectors, to explore and engage in creating a more inclusive approach to design.

    See weblink for further details

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