Legislation will see sites become more accessible

Digital designers look set to benefit from Government legislation that will soon require websites to comply with tougher accessibility standards, it has emerged this week.

From October 2004, Internet services must be made available to everyone, regardless of ability, including people suffering from visual, auditory, physical or cognitive disabilities. Companies will be forced to redesign websites in order to comply with guidelines.

‘Ensuring a website is accessible means modifying the layout and navigation, not just creating a text-only version of the site,’ explains JKD client services director Simon Stokes. ‘It’s a common misconception that making a website accessible means compromising on design.’

JKD is currently ‘retro-fitting’ the website for Waitrose in conjunction with the Royal National Institute for the Blind, which is testing the site to ensure it meets the charity’s own standards. The site is set to go live by October in time for the busy Christmas season, says Stokes.

JKD’s work enables users to control the typefaces and colourways themselves and uses fewer graphics, says accessibility consultant Simon White, who works with the group and Waitrose. ‘We’re trying to bring down barriers. It’s the on-line equivalent of building a ramp at a store,’ he says.

Certain changes to websites, such as creating tables that work with any browser and using fewer images to speed up sites, will benefit all users, whether suffering from disabilities or not, White adds.

Elsewhere, charity St Dunstan’s has relaunched its website, designed by Dot Creative (pictured), to provide a usable environment for its members, ‘St Dunstaners’, and to ensure compliance with the guidelines.

The charity provides rehabilitation and care for blind ex-service men and women and, according to Dot Creative new media director Steve Levin, the challenge was to build a creative website and not resort to a text-only version.

‘I tried to keep it quick and simple. The principle can be applied to any website, aimed at any audience. If you don’t overload it with visuals it can make a big difference,’ says Levin. ‘Many designers don’t realise how many visually-impaired people use the Web.’

The site, www.st-dunstans. org.uk, enables blind users to navigate around the site using ‘speech reader’, whereby text is read out loud. Users can manipulate the screen using the arrow keys on the keyboard.

The site features fewer drop-down menus and links embedded in copy, which do not function with speech reader, explains St Dunstan’s head of marketing Rosemary Cottrell. Instead, all links are contained in one area at the bottom. The site avoids saving key words as graphics in favour of resizable text and has been tested by the charity’s members, as well as sighted people.

‘Very few sites allow partially sighted or blind people to browse,’ says Cottrell. ‘You can’t use Flash, rub overs or drop-down menus.’

The legislation, called the Disability Discrimination Act, will also apply more widely to other sectors such as interior design. Buildings will need to be more accessible, addressing issues such as wheelchair access, colour schemes, door handles, acoustics and furniture design.

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