Accessible websites shouldn’t mean unimaginative

Your article Open Season (DW 5 February) raised many interesting points. Accessible design is not merely about improving the lot of the visually impaired. While the Royal National Institute for the Blind has done a great job raising the profile of accessibility issues, its emphasis is, quite naturally, on its audience. But the Web is ideally the great equaliser – the one place where people can be treated equally, no matter what their circumstances. Thus the definition of good interactive design shifts to where it should have been all along: using the medium to deliver clear, logical, well thought-out messages and services to the audience.

The inclusion of accessibility in a website’s design and development does not need to be, as is often considered, a difficult process that degenerates the overall impact and design of a site. Many websites are already very accessible until the point that the design is created in HTML or an equivalent programming language.

Exclusive design and development is often used as an excuse for a text-only version of a website. In part, this is due to a misunderstanding of what makes a site accessible in the first place. Moreover, it shows a complete ignorance of the methods that disabled people use to access content and services through a browser.

The cries of the industry that accessible design means unimaginative design no longer hold water. Accessibility touches everyone and impacts on the use of the Internet to millions around the world. It is up to us, the consultancies, to show what can be done and to admit to our clients what is possible and what cannot be achieved, according to the project brief.

Furthermore, pushing the boundaries of accessibility can produce results in opening up new methods of achieving a successful live project for client and user. What is startlingly apparent is that the minimum standard of accessibility that is encouraged by Government does not go far enough and, in some cases, can exclude more users than it does include, especially as they are often the client that is asking for compliance with disability standards as part of their procurement process.

Good design has always been about finding imaginative, effective solutions to the restrictions placed upon us, whether this is by the brief, the medium or the currently held best practice. Only by challenging what is accepted, and working with consultancies that understand the Web Accessibility Initiative guidelines and are prepared to work with designers to create innovative solutions, will we deliver what clients actually need – effective and imaginative communication solutions.

Mark Gristock

Marketing director

JKD

London W1U

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