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Accessible community engagement websites

It is a widespread belief among web designers and implementers that sites that are accessible to users with disabilities must by necessity be uninteresting and simple, particularly visually uninteresting.

As the nation’s leading provider of web accessibility workshops it is Vision Australia’s contention that this belief is profoundly misguided. Certainly, a very plain, visually simple site is quite likely to be accessible (although this is not guaranteed). Visually interesting and sophisticated sites can still be highly accessible. Therefore, visually interesting web design and accessibility should not be seen as being in opposition to each other.

Accessibility should rather be viewed as another challenge to designers and implementers, along with creating a site that is usable, interesting, interactive and appealing to mainstream users.

Testing for accessibility should be incorporated in to all testing regimes and not be seen as an isolated event that can occur after general user testing has taken place.

At Vision Australia’s web accessibility workshops we highlight the benefits that accessible design brings to an organisation’s web presence.

Accessibility is not only a legal requirement under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, it enables an organisation to expand its reach into the wider community by supporting access to the 4 million Australian people with disabilities – temporary and permanent, ageing members of society and people accessing the web on a variety of platforms.

With the impending growth of Web 2.0 technologies, the need to embed accessibility into design is vital if the web is to grow into a truly inclusive medium.

Vision Australia recently undertook this challenge by working with the online participation specialists Bang the Table to develop a highly interactive and accessible discussion platform for government and community engagement websites.

The outcome was an application that makes no compromises on design or interactivity, and still provides users with the ability to customize and interact with the application in the manner that most suits their individual requirements.

However, for the majority of websites Vision Australia review it is still the basics that people get wrong time and again. It is generally the smaller things that present the greatest barriers to users.

Vision Australia have produced a list of ten top tips that should be followed when creating an accessible website.

  1. Give all images a text equivalent (alt-text) to describe the image
  2. Use correct heading, list and table mark-up to give meaning to the page content
  3. Create consistent presentation and navigation on all pages
  4. Make links clearly identify their destinations
  5. Use colours with sufficient contrast between text and background colours
  6. Build pages to work with a keyboard as well as a mouse
  7. Allow users to resize the text and page width
  8. Mark up forms correctly and associate labels with their form fields
  9. Use scripting with care and test functionality with a keyboard and assistive technology
  10. Make multimedia accessible by providing transcripts and captions

A tension only exists between accessibility and visual design if creative freedom is the only – or the main – criterion of a website’s success. Vision Australia would suggest that maximizing the users’ experience and meeting business objectives are more common criteria by which websites are judged. In these cases, successful visual designs are those that help meet these objectives. Therefore, accessibility should be viewed as another challenge to designers and implementers rather than as a constraint.

In just one day developers can learn how to rectify these issues and many more, whilst the organisation and its users will reap the benefits everyday.

Find out more about Vision Australia’s forthcoming web accessibility workshops and other services at or on 1300 36 70 55

Neil King has been working in the web accessibility field for over 8 years in both Australia and Europe. In his role as Web Accessibility Project Manager with Vision Australia he provides accessibility support and solutions to a wide range of organisations.

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