The Disability Discrimination Act will come into force on October 1 this year – and will have a huge impact on how we should, and could, design accessible content.

Many pieces of legislation that touch on the lives of artists and designers have often been dismissed as either a touch barmy, or as simply a piece of legal white noise that simply won’t affect us. And, in many cases, you’d be right.

Legal requirements on working with monitors, or the maximum number of working hours you can total in a week are usually ignored as deadlines loom, brows sweat, curses are uttered, and designs are created. So our eyeballs might fall out, or our fingers no longer work in ten years time thanks to RSI, but hey – that’s tomorrow’s problem.

Only, there’s one piece of legal hoopla that is going to be all our problem come October. That’s when the Disability Discrimination Act comes into force, and it’s going to have huge implications for our work, whether for government Web sites or commercially streamed video. For some, it’s the ultimate challenge to design – a nanny-state solution that will result in Airfix creativity that is more concerned with not being sued, and checking off all the appropriate accessibility boxes.

To recap, the Act is designed to give fair and easy access – and access is the key word, here – to services, facilities, and information. And that means any service or information of any kind. Designed to make sure that disabled people rightly have access to shops, libraries, and the like without having to fight their way up stairs and past barriers that able-bodied people can negotiate without pausing, increasingly it’s being used to focus attention on design, and Web-site design in particular.

Waiting in the wings are organizations such as the RNIB, which reckons it’s considering legal test cases that could be ready to roll when the act comes into play. The reasoning: if visually impaired people can’t navigate or access your site, they are being denied access under the wording of the Act.

So, it’s no wonder some designers are muttering about unfairness and bitching about having to make things compliant.

Yet, this is missing the point. Design is about challenge, about overcoming barriers, and about communication. We fly the flag of innovation – which other group of people can make words sing, type talk, moving images that stir emotions, and B&W photos that move the soul? The are limitations on all these mediums – whether colour, size, delivery, content, or client brief, and every time designers are able to break out their boxes of crayons and deliver.

Accessible design needn’t be a confrontational issue. It can be a liberation. It may seem another boundary to creativity, but the magic designers can weave despite the walls is what really showcases our talent. Design without borders is no fun. It’s boring; the horizon’s limitless and therefore unmeasurable.
And, in case the boss is reading this, there’s good business sense in accessible design.

With more content being consumed like fast food, on-the-hoof via mobile phones, PDAs, laptops and even wireless surfboards (cheers, Intel), creating accessible content means it can be accessed by anyone, at any time, at any place, on any device. Kind of a Martini of design.