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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 December, 2003, 01:09 GMT
Awards for websites with 'vision'
Screengrab of Manchester United's winning access site
The way a site looks is still very important
Six websites have been given a Visionary Design Award for their efforts to make them easily accessible for people with sight problems.

Winners of the awards, part of a National Library for the Blind (NLB) campaign, included Manchester United's access website for football fans.

"The winners of these awards are truly revolutionary in what they have achieved," said NLB's Helen Brazier.

Less than a third of websites are accessible to visually impaired people.

The bold and the beautiful

The NLB's campaign encourages designers to think about using magnification, bold colour, text-to-speech and refreshable Braille when creating websites.

"Our challenge to web publishers and designers is to create sites which are not only visually attractive and informative, but comply with the Disability Discrimination Act by being accessible to visually impaired people," said Ms Brazier.

Use ALT tags to describe graphics and other non-text items
Ensure good contrast between text and background
Use style sheets to control screen appearance
Ensure text associated with links makes sense out of context
Provide a text site map
Ensure the size of text can be altered with browser controls
Give frames meaningful titles: Ideally do not use frames
Avoid absolute positioning
Warn users about new windows or pop-ups
Make sure all multimedia elements are optional and provide a text alternative
Those who run websites are legally bound by the Disability Discrimination Act to make sure blind and partially sighted people can access services online.

About 80 sites were nominated for the awards, and the shortlist and winners were judged by partially-sighted web surfers.

The judging highlighted that, just as with mainstream websites, good navigation is vital in website design.

"One thing that was also important for some of the judges was the appearance of the websites," Carol Pollitt, Information Communication Technology and operations director for NLB told BBC News Online.

"It isn't about sacrificing the look for the accessibility."

What users want

Manchester United's access site for example, a winner in the big commercial organisation category, uses a black background with large white and yellow text, and has a very clear navigation system.

Users can also change settings, like font size, to suit their needs, as well as control screen reader functions.

"We spent a month visiting a wide variety of potential site users within their home, school or work environment and observed the problems that they encountered when using standard websites," a club spokesperson said.

"We also consulted the RNIB at various stages throughout to get their views on how best to tackle particular problems."

The club decided to introduce a level of personalisation that was easy to use to satisfy users.

"We used the concept of the club's football kits to offer readily available colour schemes for the site, which users can then fine tune."

"The user is then able to configure the site to their needs and enjoy the content from their site."

Other winners included Rushcliffe Borough Council (Government), the Citizen's Advice Bureau (News and Information), Friendly Duck (Youth and Education), The Bradshaws (Small-Medium commercial organisation), and the Birmingham Focus on Blindness (Voluntary).

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07 Oct 03  |  Science/Nature


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