It is not just about Cookie Banners...
A life-changing accident...
June 11th 1989. Jess and I were teenagers.
She was the singer in my band and we were also engaged.
We were passengers in a horrific car accident that left us both with life-changing injuries.
I had a collapsed lung and was on life-support and the medical staff put my chances of survival at very slim. I also suffered major head trauma that has led to profound long-term difficulties, particularly in terms of memory and concentration.
Jess suffered injuries that were far, far worse, including a spinal injury that left her paralysed from the waist-down
The image shown here is not of the actual car but the damage was very similar. Amazing any of us survived at all.
... but life carries on
We were due to get married that year but Jess had to spend a year in rehab, learning how to adjust to being paraplegic, so we got married the following year instead. We carried on living our lives, not quite as we had planned before the accident but nevertheless, we still threw ourselves into our passions for music, the arts and life in general. Jess became an International Award-Winning Digital Artist and I composed music for TV and Film. We also had 3 children.
We lived near Chichester, a City in West Sussex, on the South Coast of England and, post-accident, we discovered that Quaint, Historic Chichester was actually Inaccessible Chichester. There were no dropped kerbs, no wheelchair access to any of the listed buildings and no legislation to change this, as the Disability Discrimination Act would not come into being for another 6 years.
One person can truly effect change
Jess, being Jess, formed a pressure group and regularly appeared in the local paper, raising the issue of access for disabled people, time after time. As a result of her efforts, the Local Authority put in over 4000 dropped kerbs and, one by one, the historic buildings found that they could make themselves more accessible after all. She was invited to open a lift that had been installed in the City Council building that was over 500 years old and had become a local celebrity by now. She literally changed the face of Chichester.
She also became part of the net.art movement in the early 1990s and quickly established a strong reputation for her original work. She won international awards on the merits of her work alone, the anonymity of the Web had created a level playing field for her as a digital artist.
What we found on the Web...
In 2006, when we founded Access by Design, the world had, thankfully, moved on to some extent in terms of physical access for disabled people and, although far from perfect, at least legislation existed to ensure new buildings had accessibility incorporated to some extent.
However, we discovered that, as far as the Web was concerned, we were living back in the inaccessible 1990s and the only accessible websites were, frankly, fairly awful to look at with clashing colours and huge fonts.
... and what we did about it
Jess, as a digital artist, wanted to change this and came up with the name Access by Design. The concept was simple, we wanted to prove to the world that you could have a website that was both accessible and attractive.
This was 5 years before responsive design existed, so Jess used proportional design techniques to ensure that none of our websites had scrollbars. Every website we created had a large text version, a high contrast version and a plain text version, as standard.
In 2011, we combined it with responsive design to create the world’s first website that was both fully accessible and mobile/tablet friendly, and we were much gratified to pick up an award for Innovation at the Observer Business Awards 4 years later.
Spreading the message.. as far as TedX!
I kept speaking at networking events about website accessibility and, once people heard the message, it would resonate with them because it is clearly a vital issue, once you start thinking about it. However, as other accessibility advocates will testify, it is a hard and lonely road most of the time.
Since lockdown, I started using LinkedIn more actively and I have been fortunate enough to have been given the opportunity to speak about website accessibility at TedX event in March 2022. Please follow this link to find out more about the TedX event It is entitled "If not now, when?", which is highly appropriate!
Through LinkedIn, I have discovered an amazing network of like-minded people who are as passionate about website accessibility as I am. Many of them have an incredible knowledge of the subject, far greater than myself. It is a privilege to be connected with them.
The problem, however, is that that world is not getting this message quickly enough. The BBC, Microsoft, Google, Apple and many other progressive companies are always striving to create innovative ways of making the Web more accessible for everyone and yet most people outside the "accessibility bubble" have still not heard of website accessibility. The guidelines for website accessibility have been around for over 20 years, everything a web designer needs to know about how to build an accessible website is out there and readily available and yet, the vast majority of websites are still inaccessible for disabled people.
What is the Cookie Law?
Discrimination against disabled people
The problem is that Cookie Banners are a nightmare for disabled people, particularly those who use screen-readers. I have always refused to allow such banners on my websites or on any of my client's websites because website accessibility is far more important than any other legislation that is in opposition to it.
The video you are about to watch is genuine
If you are not convinced, check out this video. I visited the Information Commissioner Office website using a screen reader and filmed the experience on my phone. By the time you reach the end of the video, you will have reached a link that will allow you to actually visit the home page and understand what is on it. Up until this point, you do not even know which website you are on. I challenge you to watch this video through to the end and perhaps then you will want to sign the petition, which you can do by following this link: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/603597
This is not about me blaming the Information Commissioner's Office, they are just following the guidelines. It is the guidelines that need to change.
What can be done?
The only way to can change this and allow everyone to legally drop these discriminatory cookie banners is to seek a change in the law and that is why I created a petition that was published recently on the UK Government website.
(For more information, please see this blog: https://accessbydesign.uk/ban-cookie-banners/)
However, as the title of this article says, it is not about Cookie Banners, it is what they represent.
Blatant but unintentional discrimination against disabled people because the needs of disabled people have not been thought of. My response previously has been to just defy the law and tell everyone else to do the same but I have actually realised that this is a far better, more positive approach.
By focussing on this petition, it allows me to give everyone in the UK an easy action that could, very soon, improve website accessibility for disabled people everywhere and raise awareness in the bargain.
The bigger picture
Very sadly, our 30-year marriage is a chapter in our lives that is currently drawing to a close, but I have always known that website accessibility was always far bigger than just us. I am so, so grateful to Jess for ensuring that the principles of accessibility were foundational to everything we have done and giving me the inspiration to spread the message to as many people as I can.
If there had not been the accident, we would have still, most likely, ended up doing web design but would have given no more thought to accessibility than anyone else. The long-term consequences of the accident had been severe, but a life-changing experience like that is also given a positive meaning because it drives my passion in playing my part towards making the Web a more accessible place.
At the end of the day, this is not about Jess, myself or Cookie Banners, it is about promoting website accessibility and if you would sign my petition and share it with others, you would be doing your bit to promote it as well. Thank you.
Access by Design
Beautiful, Accessible, Web Design, Chichester