Accessibility in the Directory

Photo by Agence Olloweb - pays more than lip service to standards designed to promote website accessibility and ease of use.

Website Accessibility: It’s the Law

Did you know that the UK’s Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) together with its associated Code of Practice that was added in 2002 made it illegal to discriminate against disabled users by publishing poorly-designed websites that fail to avail themselves of appropriate technology for users with impaired vision or other disabilities? Did you know that some of the largest counselling and psychotherapy organisations in the UK appear to have been routinely breaking this law in some fairly extreme ways, even in their therapist directories that are ostensibly there for no other purpose than to serve the public interest?

And did you know that the law became even stricter in October 2010, when the new Equality Act came into effect?

Website Accessibility at

At, we have made a much deeper effort than is evident at pretty much any other directory we’ve visited.

We have gone through the full list of relevant accessibility guidelines and ensured that wherever appropriate, our site complies with accessibility best practices. We’ve put a huge effort into making this directory accessible and easy to use, and we are confident that you’ll find our site among the most accessible available in the field. At the same, we’re not resting on our laurels: is still a work in progress, undergoing continuous improvement. If you find that we have it all wrong somewhere, or even if there’s just a minor tweak that you think could improve the way the directory works, we’d love to hear from you! Just give us a shout via our Contact page.

One primary exception to published best practices does occur in the case of our using absolute, rather than relative, measurements. Back when Internet Explorer version 6 was by far the web’s dominant browser, it was thought to be crucial to employ relative size measurements, because that browser was incapable of resizing anything whose size had been specified in absolute units like pixels. However, times have moved on, and Internet Explorer 6 is now considered obsolete. Its successors, including all later versions of Internet Explorer, as well as recent versions of Safari, Google’s Chrome, Firefox, Opera and others all provide either a page zoom function or a text zoom function which works properly regardless of whether sizes are specified in absolute or relative units. While strictly speaking, opting for absolute units means that we are not in full compliance with accessibility best practices published back in the heyday of IE 6, in reality the use of relative sizing has always been a very poor solution for overcoming the design limitations of Microsoft’s browser. Why? Because the use of relative sizes requires making assumptions about the base font size the user has configured for their browser. If it happens to be at the default of 16 pixels, then relative sizing can work nicely for many people. But if it happens to be anything other than the default, then the accessibility problems caused by measurements becoming too large or too small relative to the base font size can actually be pretty severe. Given that IE 6 is now considered obsolete, we have opted for absolute sizes in order to overcome the accessibility problems caused by the old stopgap solution of relative sizing.

Oh, and so what was so bad about accessibility at some of the other directories we’ve visited? Don’t get us started on the reliance on JavaScript, the Flash, the automatically refreshing or rotating content, the lack of persistent URLs, the inaccessible forms, the frames, the layout tables, and more… All too often, it really does seem like the underlying core of potentially accessible technologies is just plain missing, while one or two quite superficial signs remain. For example, one practice we’ve seen is to put up a page labelled ‘Accessibility’ with some advice about how to operate your browser’s controls to increase or decrease the size of text on a page. Now we’re not sure, but if you’re a user with limited vision, and you’ve visited a few other sites on the web before stumbling upon an ‘accessible’ directory, mightn’t that sort of advice come off as just a teensy bit…condescending? Like telling a visually impaired visitor to your ‘accessible’ office building that they really ought to listen carefully before crossing the street to your front door? Another common trick to tick the superficial ‘accessible’ box without actually implementing accessible technology: display a trendy ‘Valid XHTML’ badge on a page which happens to be badly broken, entirely invalid XHTML! Again, don’t get us started…

Learning More About Website Accessibility

For legal information, these sites offer some valuable information:

For your organisation:

And if you’re a designer or web developer interested in accessibility, here are some resources we think are worthwhile:

This article was originally published by on and last reviewed or updated by Site Editor on .

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