Cornwall leads the way with website for visually impaired

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Cornwall Blind Association has unveiled its pioneering new website this month. With over 12,000 visually impaired people in Cornwall*, Gendall Design, who were commissioned to design and develop the site, wanted to create an accessible online environment that catered for visually impaired as well as fully sighted visitors.

Cornwall Blind Association offers a range of services to people with a number of different visual impairments as well as support and aid to family members. Paul Davies, Digital Design Director at Falmouth-based Gendall Design, said “We wished the website to be more than simply an explanation of the services offered by the charity. We wanted the site to be an extension to these services and be a useful place that people would bookmark”.

Joanna Thomas, Communications Manager at the Cornwall Blind Association, explained the process they went through, “We invited many of our members to come in and have their say on what the site should contain and how it should work. The information we gained from speaking with people with visual impairments was invaluable in guiding how the website was formed”. Davies added “There are plenty of accessibility guidelines that need to be adhered to when developing a website but communicating with the people who will be using the site highlighted individual requirements that we needed to be aware of. We came away from our meetings with a much clearer understanding of both the access technologies people use to surf the internet and how many traditional methods used on websites actually hinder many visually impaired visitors. It was astonishing to find out that many of the larger national websites, who claim to be accessible for the visually impaired, are simply unusable in practice.”

The new website features built-in tools to enable the reader to style the site to their personal requirements without hindering people who use external devices to read the content. The site also contains a searchable directory of visually impaired friendly groups and activities being held around Cornwall, guidance on how to help raise funds for the charity, advice on what to do if you feel you are losing your sight, as well as containing the latest national news stories provided by The Guardian. Joanna Thomas concluded, “A great deal of thinking has gone into the site from ourselves and Gendall Design. We are very proud of the final outcome and believe the new website raises the national standards for communicating to those with sight loss.”

Research from the Equality and Human Rights Commission has showed that people without disabilities find accessible web sites 35% quicker and easier to use. “These findings back up the fact that it is good business practice for any company to ensure that their web site is accessible to everyone,” said Davies. “It illustrates the power of effective design.”

Verity Cork, Senior Web Editor for the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) added, “We’re always delighted when accessibility is put at the heart of web design – it’s inexcusable for websites to ignore it. Accessible websites benefit everyone, as they are usually very user-friendly too. They are also a lifeline for people with disabilities, such as sight loss. RNIB offers a wealth of advice on how to create accessible websites and we hope more and more organisations will take accessibility seriously.”

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