What are the implications of the UK government accessibility guidelines?
An accessible site has to conform to lots of rules and so will be more expensive to build than a conventional site, and will take longer. No, hold on a minute, the government guidelines say that's not true! Oh well, one of us must be right.
Unfortunately, more advanced HTML coding skills and greater knowledge are required for creating accessible pages compared to standard pages. The pages are usually hand-coded and the code is longer than it is for inaccessible pages. There's also a lot more testing and validating involved, sometimes days of it. So it seems kind of obvious to me that accessible pages require more work and therefore cost more, despite the optimistic denial included within the guidelines.
Where you can make savings is on design and graphics, but those savings won't outweigh the extra costs.
The skills requirement means you have to be more careful when choosing who builds your pages. They are more difficult to code than standard pages. If you're outsourcing, make sure your suppliers knows the rules before they give you a quote.
Accessible pages can be attractive, in a minimalist kind of way, but there are many conventional design techniques that are not compatible with full accessibility. For example, the multi-column layout used by many Internet portals, which looks similar to a page from a TV listings magazine and is cleverly designed to draw users in, relies on rigid table layouts and plenty of graphics. That would not be a good starting point for a fully accessible page. Tab index graphics for navigation bars - there's another conventional feature that doesn't fit well with accessibility rules.
It is technically possible to convert these features into something approaching full accessibility, but the problem is the conversions are complicated and bulky, and any lack of simplicity is itself an accessibility failure. Catch 22.
Often the least successful accessible sites are those that fail to abandon regular design techniques and instead try to bolt accessibility on to standard pages. They usually finish up with a half-way house that is neither well-designed nor wonderfully accessible. There are many examples out there on the Web.
If you want full accessibility, embrace its limitations right from the beginning, rather than trying to fight them, and you can finish up with something that is beautiful in its own right, partly because it demonstrates respect for every one of its users, not just the privileged majority.
Note: the government guidelines are rarely used in practice. See UK Accessibility for more details.
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UK accessibility intro + menu
UK accessibility site reviews
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Simple WAI level A checklist
Level A -
TinHat Level A+
Tips for web editors
Non-HTML files (PDFs) and accessibility
Gov guidelines for UK gov sites (intro)