Accessibility is at the core of what we do and we intend to make the information on this site viewable on as many platforms and by as many people as possible.
In order to ensure that the content of this site is accessible, it has been decided the design and construction of the site should be carried out in accordance with the guidelines provided by the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). These guidelines are broken down into 3 levels of priority.
The WAI guidelines state that in order for a website to be considered accessible, it must at least conform to all Priority 1 checkpoints. Every page on this site, unless explicitly stated, conforms to not only all the Priority 1 checkpoints, but also to all Priority 2 checkpoints. This is known as ‘Double A conformance’ to the guidelines.
We believe that, by aiming for Double A conformance wherever possible, we have built a web site that will be accessible by the vast majority of users, whatever their platform, connectivity and abilities.
In order to conform with the requirements of the W3C WAI, we have had to discard many of the traditional tricks usually used to design and lay out web sites. Over the lifetime of the Web, designers have had to contend with the many idiosyncracies and outright failings of the major web browsers and, as a result, have often used HTML in ways that detract from the accessibility and legibility of their pages by ‘non-standard’ browsers (e.g. table elements for layout). Some web sites even go so far as to insist on a particular platform configuration being used to view their content.
Luckily, the W3C, as the body in charge of standards for the Web, has provided a standardised way of dictating the presentation of web sites without having to twist HTML into places it was never intended to go. This technology is called Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and it allows web designers to produce accessible, comprehensible HTML pages and then lay presentation information over the top of this to produce an attractive graphical layout on browsers that support it.
Unfortunately, despite the fact that CSS has been around in one form or another since 1996, most of the browsers from the last few years do a pretty bad job of rendering pages laid out with it. Mostly this is because they only support a limited subset of the specification, but in some cases, it is because their support for CSS is spectacularly buggy. The latest versions of the major browsers do, however, support the majority of the specification in a predictable and compliant way.
This does, however, leave the designer with a problem. How does one build a website in such a way that it conforms to W3C standards, while ensuring that your design is not mangled by those browsers which either don’t support CSS or are incapable of displaying it correctly?
The approach that has been taken with this site is essentially to accept that not everyone will be able to see the site as the designer intended. The overriding concern here is that the content of the site is accessible to all, not the design. We have therefore employed various (standards-compliant) tricks to hide those parts of the CSS layout that will be rendered incorrectly by some browsers from those browsers. This means that users who have standards-compliant browsers will be able to see the site in its full graphical splendour, but those users who have non-compliant browsers will, depending on the capabilities of their browsers, see a more plainly rendered version of the site tailored to their platform.
Unfortunately this does mean that some users who are used to seeing sites that have been built to cater for the idiosyncrasies of their particular, non-compliant, browser will potentially be surprised by the appearance of this site as presented to them. However, they will still be able to view all the content of the site and this is our prime concern. Hopefully, as time goes by, the proportion of users with broken browsers will decrease and more people will be able to access not only the content of the site but also its design and layout. One of the advantages of creating web sites that conform W3C standards is that future generations of browsers should have better and better support for those standards and should therefore be able to display the layout of the site perfectly.