The Personal Disquiet of

Mark Boulton

Accessibility and Design are the same thing

– February 15th, 2005 –

Prompted by a letter by Nigel Gill, accound director of Sigmer technologies, in this week’s New Media Age (page 17) I just had to get pen to paper so to speak.

Nigel states in his letter that “general design opinion seems to be that accessibility is diametrically opposed to great design”. What? Is this true? He’s obviously not talked to any good designers. He goes on to talk about how you define design, information architecture and usability etc. Which is all really valid, but I can’t quite get past his opening sentence.

Now, Mr Gill may not have worked with good designers before. He may have worked with print designers who are new to the medium or simply designers who don’t see accessibility as part of their remit, or probably designers who see accessibility as a constraint rather than part of the medium. Accessibility doesn’t mean dumbing down. It doesn’t equal bad design. Is really should equal great design. Take architecture for example.

My father is an architect. He’s designed all sorts of building types for the past thirty five years. A couple of years ago the DDA act in the UK made it UK law that all buildings had to be accessible. This doesn’t just mean sticking a ramp at the front, it is a lot more complicated than that. Public buildings, such as libraries, for example should have accessiblity requirements built in to the fabric of the building - ramps, braile signage, hearing aid loops, attendents who can sign etc. It shouldn’t be dealt with as a bolt-on extra.

I asked my father about this a while ago. What difference did DDA have on his work and the buildings he designed. His reply was “it makes them better”. He went on to explain the DDA is a set of guidelines which good architects took into account anyway and bad one’s now need to follow. The same can really be said about designers.

Accessibility is Design. It’s part of the problem and therefore should be part of the solution. The two are intertwined and accessibility shouldn’t be seen as this black cloud on your design radar.

Filed in: design, personal.

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