Designing for Accessibility

These pages will hopefully be useful to you however you choose to access them, because we have invested significantly to ensure the site is accessible via assistive technologies such as screen readers, as well as via devices besides personal computers. It is now our policy that all content produced for the site must maintain this same high level of accessibility.

Accessibility by Design

Long time visitors will know that in late June 2004, we left behind our original and not ideally accessible version of the site. While retaining our original content, we made very significant investments to restructure the site and ensure that it would be fully accessible to visitors who rely on screen readers, other assistive technologies, or other types of devices besides personal computers to access the web. We also took the opportunity to update the ‘look and feel’ of the place, and we hope we’ve struck a good balance between everything that so quickly helped the original site to become a leading counselling and mental health destination, and everything that needed to be changed to make the site more accessible to more users.

For us, there’s no going back: it is now our site policy to produce all content with these same high standards of accessibility in mind.

Why Discriminate?

It is an unfortunate fact that the bulk of sites on the internet today discriminate against blind and partially-sighted visitors using screen readers as well as many other visitors using other assistive technologies or other devices besides personal computers to access the web. Why? The reason so many sites discriminate against so many users in this way is that ‘under the hood’, they rely on outmoded design techniques from the 1990s, using complex table-based HTML markup to lay out content on a page. These large and complex tables, while they may produce layouts which are visually appealing for normally sighted visitors using regular computer screens, are extremely difficult for screen readers and other types of assistive technologies to handle in a way which provides the user with anything at all like the same kind of flow of content.

In fact, the web standards bodies never intended for HTML to be used in this way. Rather, the intention has always been for content to be separated as much as possible from markup and layout — but 1990s-era web browsers just weren’t very good at supporting many of the features which would enable web designers to create more accessible site designs, and most (understandably!) just gave up and took the easy way out.

Solving the Web Accessibility Problem

That situation has changed significantly, however, and improved standards support in the main web browsers now makes it possible to create functional and visually appealing layouts without resorting to the old 1990s methods. (In my personal view, Microsoft remains the single largest impediment to the development of innovative and non-discriminatory web sites, due to the widespread perversions of web standards they continue to incorporate into their dominant web browser.) Not all web designers are willing or able to invest the resources required to use current technology — after all, the old methods will continue to produce functional, if bloated and inaccessible, web sites for a long time to come. But fortunately, more and more designers and the sites they produce are entering the 21st century, and the number of accessible sites is increasing rapidly. National governments are even starting to take action; a law in the United Kingdom, for example, now limits the extent to which companies may discriminate against users by producing inaccessible web sites.

Hopefully, the archaic web design methods of the 1990s will soon be a distant memory.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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