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Fifteen years after the Web Accessibility Initiative was launched, which aimed to improve web usability for those with disabilities, online accessibility is still widely ignored.

Far too often there is a belief that a compromise must be made between accessibility and an attractive design.

As a result, a myriad of misconceptions have emerged, often preventing people from making a determined effort to integrate accessibility into their websites. 

Dispelling the myths

Although there are a number of advantages to creating an accessible website, including the potential increase in audience numbers, digital organisations need to demonstrate it is possible to achieve this without impacting on design, and this is often where the problems begin.

By failing to ensure sites are functional and accessible without compromising on design, businesses are essentially risking customer experiences (CX) and therefore revenue.

A popular myth relating to web accessibility and user experience (UX) is that accessible and attractively designed websites do not ‘go together’.

A significant number of advocates of web accessibility tend to have content and/or technology driven websites and do not demonstrate that creativity can also be included as part of an accessible user experience. 

 

However, web accessibility need not affect the physical design of the site itself in any way. Instead, all websites should be beautiful and easy-to-use, whilst offering  a high level of accessibility which in turn creates an excellent user experience and a positive online journey. 

The misconception that websites have to sacrifice design for accessibility comes from the early days of the internet, when technology restricted the developers’ choice in terms of accessibility and design.

However, in today’s reality, the web designer has a lot of freedom to design creating and engaging experiences.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) explain that website designers can use images and videos on their websites as long as they ensure the content is still fully accessible by providing captions for videos or offering alternative text descriptions.

Accessible sites do not have to be text-only, with monochrome designs and static content, because after all, accessibility is a key part of UX. There are a number of layout and design options which mostly happen behind the scenes and do not affect the presentation or the accessibility of the website.

For example, text size can be big or small, provided it is re-sizeable and you can use as many images as you like, as long as an alternative, detailed description is also offered to the user. 

Today’s web designers need to think about implementing interactivity features, such as presenting information in a compelling format for modern web browsers, as well as for assistive devices, such as screen readers which will improve the overall web page design, whilst sustaining the website’s accessibility levels.  

Designing an accessible future

In today’s digital world it is possible to create a media-rich, interactive, attractive, engaging and accessible site for everyone. Those who claim otherwise often misinterpret the accessibility requirements and perceive them to be more restrictive than they actually are.

Web accessibility was once overlooked whereas today it is considered a fundamental objective. It is therefore the responsibility of UX professionals to be accountable for providing a holistic, design-orientated approach, which is usable by everyone, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for any reworking or specialised design.

Web accessibility is not only about disabled users being able to access the website; it is about those in charge of user experience who should provide exceptional experiences to ensure universal access whilst maintaining a high level of creativity, design and functionality.

Simon Norris

Published 26 July, 2013 by Simon Norris

Simon Norris is CEO and Founder at Nomensa and a contributor to Econsultancy.

3 more posts from this author

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Lisa Riemers

I can't help feeling this post is preaching to the converted on Econsultancy! Do you have any examples of websites that really achieve the nirvana of accessible beauty?

over 3 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Lisa - you may be right. As for examples, that's a great idea. Let me see what i can do?

over 3 years ago

Verity Pillinger Cork

Verity Pillinger Cork, Senior Manager, Digital at RNIB

Have a look at these websites from RNIB:
1. Read for RNIB Day: www.readforrnib.org.uk
2. Spot the Signs: www.rnibspotthesigns.org.uk

The Read for RNIB Day site was developed in Wordpress by Screencandy (http://screencandy.co.uk/) and Spot the Signs was developed by Torchbox (http://www.torchbox.com/)

I totally agree that's it's possible to make a beautiful website that is accessible as well as user-friendly. We find it helps to think about accessibility right from the start - get an expert in at the wireframe stage even. Often people try to retro-fit accessibility - they come up with their design, fall in love with it, then ask about accessibility... inevitibly there will be some changes to make, then everyone gets grumpy that accessibility spoilt the project. That doesn't need to happen if you consider it from the start.

Finally, kudos to Nomensa for their video player, which we love. It's in use on both the websites above. Accessible and yet slick... it looks 'normal'! Hurrah.

over 3 years ago

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Simon Norris

Hi Lisa

Good point re examples. The original article did include an example but I'd suggest our own site www.nomensa.com and www.gov.uk.

over 3 years ago

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Mark

I would point out that having an accessible website is a legal requirement in most western countries. Not having one is an invitation to get sued.

Have you had that discussion with your company's risk manager or legal department?

Most of you probably have not.

So there's really no option: You have to build an accessible website, period.

over 3 years ago

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Nathalie Allard

I agree with Simon, beautiful, usable and accessible websites can be achieved. For me, it's all about achieving the perfect balance where you don't compromise on any of the 3 elements to achieve success in one of them.

In my experience, you need to have a team of designers, developers and UX designers who understand web accessibility really well to make it work. The problem is not the difficulty, it's the misconceptions and lack of understanding among professionals.

over 3 years ago

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Geoff Paddock

Websites with a lot of content, and especially content that changes regularly, need a helping hand with testing for accessibility.

Making a website accessible is a tough job, especially when you consider the complexities involved - An average site [300 pages with 125,000 combinations] requires over 1,000,000 tests to make sure it's going to operate correctly across many browsers, user hardware types, corporate access [firewalls/proxy servers/networks] as well as with many internet service provider and hosting possibilities - both hardware and software [including operating systems/database servers].

The Web Management Toolkit from Sitemorse is being used by a large number of web managers to ensure they keep on top of making sure content is accessible. We have published a free guide to accessibility testing, available via the Sitemorse blog.

over 3 years ago

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Alastair Campbell

Hi Geoff,

Whilst accessibility testing is important, it isn't really the thrust of the article. If you consider accessibility as something to check afterwards it will be too late. I like this as a physical example:
http://www.rollingrains.com/2009/08/andreas-buzzing-about---ramps.html

Accessibility needs to be considered from the start, often right from the brief. If it is designed in from the start you don't get the awkward moments like "oh wait, we have to put a pause button on that carousel?", or "oh, who's going to do the captioning then?".

Also, when running you first accessibility test the things that need fixing should be an order of magnitude easier to deal with.

People were asking for examples, I would suggest (as well as our site):
http://accessibilitystatementgenerator.com

Now you might turn the firehose on those and pick some holes, but as we've tested them from an interaction point of view I'm confident that any issues would be minor and probably not affect people (which is what it's about).

-Alastair

over 3 years ago

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Natalie

Firstly, great article.

The ability to create a fantastic, functional and aesthetically pleasing design website that is also WCAG 2.0 (level AA) compliant is something we have been struggling to get *out there* for some time. In fact, it is a continuing struggle.

As Mark points out, in most western countries it is a legal requirement but rather than legal bashing we are trying to show the inclusive nature of well designed websites along with the added economic benefits (people can purchase your stuff).

I also agree with Nathalie, it is critical to have web designers, developers and content authors know about web accessibility and useability and what they need to do make it work.

WCAG is really daunting. The Access iQ website (www.accessiq.org) has taken the guidelines and broken them down into each main website function (developer, designer and content author), so they can work out what they need to know and importantly *how to do it*.

The complete guides and useful tool and resources can be accessed from http://www.accessiq.org/create

To be cheeky - I would also ask, Is the e-Consultancy website WCAG 2.0 Level AA compliant??

over 3 years ago

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Solo Tim

Do we have curriculum on Independent Living Education? I need some on that types.
If we do so, may I have it for our members.

Regard

Solo

over 3 years ago

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