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Designing for the disabled and willing made easy

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We old AJ hands were well sensitised to the real-life issues of designing for the disabled by that éminence grise, Selwyn Goldsmith, who wrote the AJ handbook on the subject. AJ buildings editor Barrie Evans, who was there at the time, now points me to the charity Ability Net at www. abilitynet. org. uk. It offers all kinds of advice about designing for the computer and disability - and naturally, offers website design and auditing services.

One of the things that Selwyn taught us was that disablement covers a wide range (there are 8.5 million people with disabilities in the UK) and is not, as many architects seem to think, just about wheelchair users. These days that includes people who have difficulty using that most prevalent of technologies:

computers. First there is the issue of website design, which is one of the reasons why this column bangs on so determinedly about sites whose text size you can't alter.

The other reason is that most of your clients are likely to be of an age when spectacle wearing has ceased to be a recreational activity.

And then there is the law. It hasn't been tested, as far as I know, on the subject of architectural websites, but they certainly are subject to the Disability Discrimination Act.

Second is how you make your computers accessible to disabled people in your office. Three big issues here are how to make input comfortable, how to see/hear the output, and how disability-ergonomic is the software. Quite often it is a matter of using contrasting text/background or magnifying text - sorry, there it goes again. Best to look at the site and maybe get some advice from the Ability Net consultants.Naturally you don't have to take it. Recently, a friend of mine was vigorously quizzed by a disability consultant (not from Ability Net) about what provision her building made for people of small stature. She's waiting for the recommendations with bated breath because she thought her building was pretty good in this respect.She teaches primary school kids.

sutherland. lyall@btinternet. com

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