The United Kingdom-based Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) recently produced a nice mini-site entitled “10 Things You Should Know About Web Accessibility.” For the most part, it’s excellent — a friendly voice, a casual approach, elegant presentation, and good information.
It does, however, intimate one of my pet peeves in documents promoting web accessibility:
Hey good lookin’
“But accessibility always compromises the design, doesn’t it?”
Wrong. Your site can still look beautiful.
This doesn’t precisely say that compromise is not required for accessibility; but it’s certainly implied by the language chosen.
To suggest that compromise is not required is simply a mis-representation of the truth about accessible web design: you do have to make compromises. Whether they’re compromises concerning how information is presented, the color contrast between elements, the specific uses of language or technology, you have to make compromises.
The perception seems to be that making compromises for accessibility means that you create an unattractive web site or otherwise decrease the aesthetic value of your web creation. This is not true: but it’s inaccurate to say that you don’t make compromises.
Truth: Effective accessible design has requirements which will require compromise in many areas.
It’s important to educate all participants in a web design project on accessibility before any serious work is done, to help prevent problems. If the designer knows to check contrast levels before proposing a design, they’ll start by creating an aesthetically elegant design with the color palette available. If they aren’t aware of these problems, you’ll end up making compromises on colors — and, without extensive modifications, it is entirely possible that these compromises could have a damaging effect on the aesthetics of the site.
Compromise shouldn’t damage aesthetics or accessibility: but poor planning almost certainly will.