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 – www.savethechildren.org.uk/kroobay – 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 www.bsi-global.com/drafts
• 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