A life-changing accident
My journey towards and through digital accessibility has been an unusual one.
In 1989, I was a passenger in a car accident, along with my fiancée Jess and two friends.
It left us with life-changing injuries, Jess most of all. This drove her to fight for greater physical accessibility for disabled people in the City where we lived. This was Chichester, West Sussex in the UK. There was no legislation in force at the time to support Jess's efforts and yet, as a result, and those who campaigned with her, Chichester went through a dramatic change.
Changing the face of Chichester
The District Council put no less than 4000 dropped kerbs in and around the City. Protected buildings that were hundreds of years old found that they could, after all, get lifts installed to allow wheelchair users to access floors above ground level. One by one, they all fell into line and made physical adaptations to allow easier access for disabled people. Jess literally changed the face of Chichester through her tireless work.
Wind the clock forward to 2006. Jess had previously been creating websites for many years, as a successful, award-winning digital artist. She also wrote and taught modules on website design to degree students at Chichester University. When we started the agency and began to sell websites to local businesses, Jess discovered that there was such a thing as website accessibility.
She also discovered that guidelines on website accessibility had actually been in existence since 1999.
Unfortunately, the only websites that actually met this accessibility "criteria" were not great, aesthetically, to not put too fine a point on it!
This is why we came about!
This was how Access by Design was born. We wanted to prove to the world that you could have a website that both looked professional and was also accessible for everyone, regardless of their ability or disability. Jess drew up a set of checks that would be applied to each website we created, ensuring that it met the highest standards of accessibility and they have been the foundation our everything we do.
We had something that made us different. Every time we launched a website, we had disabled people test it and give us reports of their experience. These audits were used for our own internal development but it was also a service that we had always offered to other businesses.
A Universal First!
Jess stepped down from the business in 2010 but our approach to accessibility was now firmly established. We continued to develop our approach to innovative, accessible web design and, at the start of 2011, something incredible happened. By now there was a huge growth in the use of mobile devices and customers were faced with the option of either paying for a separate mobile-friendly website or just accepting that their website would be very small on a mobile phone and very difficult to navigate.
A technique called responsive design emerged and it solved the problem. You were no longer forced to have a separate mobile version. Instead, this technique allowed you to create different versions of your website that would be automatically switched, according to the size of the screen they were being viewed on.
So what did we do? We combined this new technology with the accessible web design techniques that Jess had developed years previously and created the world's first website that was both fully accessible and also fully responsive with different size screens. We have continued to do that since.
I gave talks at local networking events about website accessibility for some years and it was always extremely satisfying to see people's faces when the penny would finally drop and they would understand what website accessibility was actually about.
Switching to online
Lockdown changed things, of course, but as networking went online, like everything else, I began speaking at more events. We had also begun to get more enquiries about website accessibility audits. I began to spend time posting about website accessibility on LinkedIn.
Invited to speak at a TEDx Event!
In the Summer of 2011, I was approached by Dale Howarth, who was putting together a TEDx Event on the Isle of Wight. The theme of the event was "If not now, when?" and he felt strongly that my message fitted perfectly with it and I was invited to be a keynote speaker.
By the time of my TEDxTalk, in March 2022, I had built up an accessibility audit team, consisting of some quite amazing disabled people. They share their screens with me and I record their experiences and supply the video files as part of every audit we do.
My TEDxTalk was very well received by a live audience of over 100 people. When it was released on the TEDx YouTube Channel, a few months later, it was listed as an Editor's Pick and received 20,000 views in the first 24 hours.
It has now also been featured on TED.com and, in 4 months, it has received over 650,000 views.
If the car accident in 1989 had not happened, Access by Design would not have happened and we would have just been like every other agency. Not understanding website accessibility. I would not have the mission that I have had since we began. To Change The World, One Website at a Time.
If you would like to talk to me about any aspect of Digital Accessibility, please follow this link to arrange a consultation.