The design of the Arts Access site exceeds the WCAG 2.0 guidelines - not just by meeting machine-defined standards, but considering them from a human perspective. To achieve this it was integral that both the organisation and the end users be engaged in the design process. The team at Arts Access are experts in their field. A co-design approach ( including a series of collaborative workshops) allowed us to harness their knowledge and use it to shape the new site. Normally, accessibility testing is simulated with software - a mode of testing fails to connect the design with real user need. The final design was tested with users with different disabilities to ensure the site met our accessibility aims.
The testing sessions allowed us to make sure the final design was meeting the accessibility needs of users with disability, highlighting ways to optimize for screen-readers and other accessibility tools, such screen magnification systems. The site launched on February 17th, 2016, and was immediately embraced by the Arts Access team and their community. The site is a key part of their service offering, doing justice to their purpose and better supporting their day-to-day operation. The site connects users with accessibility-specific events listings, and acts as a platform for artists to communicate with the public, share their story and sell their work.
The new site design plays an active role in helping Arts Access to meet their objective of connecting people with disability with the arts sector. The site now functions as a core service for its members and audience, presents a massive shift in how they communicate with the world, and delivers a huge return on investment. The Arts Access site represents a new approach to accessible design that is scalable, transferable, and would benefit all organisations - not just those explicitly concerned with accessibility. The improved user experience offered by the Arts Access site benefits all users - both with and without disability - improving the organisation's ability to engage a broader audience.
The Arts Access site sets a new standard for accessibility online, combining the highest standards of accessibility with a careful aesthetic consideration. To live up to the aim of creating equitable art experiences for users with disability the site had to offer a quality of experience that was rare in accessible sites. When sites are optimised for accessibility, aesthetics and functionality are often neglected. Indeed, accessibility standards have been an excuse to produce mediocre online experiences. The site has created a new paradigm for accessible online experiences - one in which accessibility and usability go hand in hand, creating an elegant experience for users who so often miss out.
Creating a highly accessible website that is also beautiful is often considered too hard. A lack of attention to aesthetics and functionality means many accessible sites present truly awful user experiences. We genuinely believe people with disability deserve better. The Arts Access site offers a unique experience to users with disability, as accessibility was optimised while enhancing, not sacrificing, user experience. This fusion of accessibility, user experience, and beauty sets a new standard for the disability sector, demonstrating that accessibility can enhance, not hinder, good design.