'i' The Case for Accessibility

As has been pointed out already by several participants on a recent thread in the 'uk.railway' newsgroup, Public Transport provides an excellent example of how Web technology can be employed to good effect. Some splendid initiatives have been seen in various places, both in the UK and abroad, providing various ways of accessing each of the relevant information areas that a user of Public Transport needs: journey planners, fare information, and last but not least, up-to-the-minute information on service delays.

In quite a number of cases, however, one finds that the information has been provided in ways that are, quite unnecessarily, accessible to only a limited number of browsers or browsing situations.

The technology of the web makes it feasible to offer information in such a way that it can be accessed from any web-browsing situation. There are many benefits in allowing it to do that job, and many disadvantages in drifting into a reliance on vendor-specific techniques, or in assuming a specific browsing situation (and then "arguing with customers" who for their own good reasons are unable or unwilling to change to the author's own choice of browser software or browsing situation).

Designing web sites with full accessibility in mind does not (as is sometimes misleadingly claimed) require additional design work, nor require different versions of web pages for different viewing situations. On the contrary: experienced web designers report that designing to one, published, interworking specification and to clear accessibility guidelines is easier and more economical than trying to design specifically for several different vendors' browsers, and then trying to rectify the problems on a piecemeal basis afterwards.

Public transport represents a situation where accessibility of information is even more relevant than usual. Some users will already be under way, and wish to access information via their cellphone and palmtop computer, or over an expensive hotel dial-up line. Some users may suffer from impaired eyesight, and need to view the information in unusual ways (e.g magnified, or even using a speaking machine). Many of the techniques that are used on the web in an attempt to impose a specific graphic design on the reader are potentially hostile to these accessibility considerations.

The process of "designing" a web page is not - or it should not be - at all comparable to designing, say, a magazine article, or printed advertisement, which is going to be printed in one size on one kind of paper with one set of colour options, and in the hope of attracting the attention of a reader whose thoughts are elsewhere. A web page will only be seen by a reader who has deliberately sought it out and keen to have the information which it offers; it will be displayed in many different ways according to the reader's situation, and any "design" procedure that fails to take this into account is misguided.

In recognition of these considerations, therefore, we are seeking a commitment on the part of UK transport information providers to the principle that all users of the World Wide Web, particularly those in the UK, should have easy, unobstructed access to all UK public transport information available on the web, regardless of the computer system or browser software being used.

This principle applies most especially to those sites whose content may be subsidised by the taxpayer, whether indirectly through subsidies provided by the Rail Franchise Director, or by various local authorities and Government bodies who fund this information provision directly through taxation.

This small Web resource is intended to provide positive, helpful advice and guidance to all who wish to achieve these aims.

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© 1997 A.J. Flavell and I.W. Logan. Last updated: 14 Aug 97 at 1955BST HTML 3.2 Checked!