Weblogs: Web Accessibility

RNIB Redesign - a webstandards disaster

Thursday, June 26, 2003

The RNIB is one of the main proponents of "Accessible for All" webdesign, and they have made great strides in getting the UK government to wake up and do something about website accessibility. Largely through their actions we have legislation that protects the rights of the disabled to participate in a public on-line environment that is the web.

Just when you think the RNIB can do wrong, they surprise us with an absolute howler. They've redesigned their website - with accessibility firmly in mind - and presented a website that echos back to the bad practices of the browser war era of the previous century. HTML hacked and fudged for presentational efforts, and the resulting structure of a full scale city riot.

In a way I am gutted. I look to the RNIB as a source of guidance for accessibility, yet they flout the basic guidelines of modern web design. How can I reconcile the need and benefits of webstandards when the RNIB totally disregard it? To me, web standards and accessibility go hand-in-hand. Using HTML properly, and using styles to suggest presentation creates a very accessible foundation -- why have the RNIB not chosen to leverage the innate accessibility of HTML? Do we really need to push for legislation that web designers have to produce valid and well structured HTML, even though it makes complete sense?

If anything, RNIB have effectively dented any hopes of UK organisations and companies publishing good quality structured websites. And that is a long term loss to the online community. Looking at the kludges RNIB have used in their design, its going to be an unfairly uphill battle trying to prove that web accessibility doesn't cost a small fortune when done properly. Since the RNIB will be tagged as the people behind accessibility, their website will be focus of how to do it properly - and it clearly isn't a good example to follow.

I could continue with this rant for quite a while, but I think its best to seek the guidance of someone who is wise. Matthias Gutfeldt made an excellent point about complaining about inaccessible and non-standards compliance in alt.www.webmaster a few weeks ago:

"If you REALLY want to do something about the actual problem, namely the inaccessible site, CONTACT THE OWNER of the site and offer to fix his site. Whining and posturing in here REALLY won't do ONE LITTLE BIT of good, we have all heard it a zillion times"

So here's my constructive contribution to the RNIB. A well-structured XHTML rebuild of the RNIB design. I haven't added in the skip navigation stuff yet, but that can be done without affecting the layout and structure. The RNIB are welcomed to take the zip file of the standards compliant design (10Kb).

I see Simon Willison has also done a rebuild.

Further reading:

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