Accessible design awards

In 2002 when I was managing an upgrade of the CommunityNet Aotearoa website we put a lot of effort into designing the new version of the site so that it would be accessible to all users. Our determination to ensure the website was user-friendly to people with sight impairments or physical disabilities influenced the basic structure and meant we introduced some special features, such as access keys. We also knew accessible design benefits most users. Between a team of us – all with different skills and perspectives – we managed to create a website we were confident was accessibly designed.

However, we didn’t know for sure.

It wasn’t until last year when Bill Dashfield, the website’s manager, commissioned an accessibility audit did we find out whether we had achieved our goal. Apart from recommendations for some tweaks, an accessibility assessment by AccEase gave the website a clean bill of health. The recommended changes have since been made.

All this effort and attention to the principles of accessible design were acknowledged at a ceremony yesterday. The Department of Internal Affairs, which hosts the website, was awarded one of three inaugural AccEase Accessibility Accreditation Awards. The Awards were set-up to recognise “… websites that demonstrate best practice in accessibility, significantly exceeding New Zealand and international mandatory standards.”

An AccEase Accessibility Tick can be displayed on qualifying websites for 12 months, until a major revamp, or a substantiated complaint that the site does not qualify. The tick is a great idea and one that I hope gains real momentum.

At the time of the redevelopment I recall a fair amount of stress as we attempted to balance timelines, budgets, experimental design requirements and integration with the Microsoft publishing system. It took both perseverance and willingness to compromise to actually go-live. I’m really gratified Bill and his colleagues are continuing to strive for high standards, and hope CommunityNet Aoteroa keeps setting standards for design and content.