Guide Dogs for the Blind Launches State-of-the-Art Website: a Model for Accessibility

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Guide Dogs for the Blind is announcing the launch of its new website. Guidedogs.com was designed to be visually pleasing, and a model of accessibility.

Website accessibility -- luxury or necessity? It's a question that's been around since the birth of the Internet. While in the past, the decision may have been based on political correctness, recent headlines of pending litigation for denying access to information has made businesses start to sit up and take notice.

Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB), an international nonprofit headquartered in San Rafael, California, has positioned itself as a leader of the pack with the launch of its completely redesigned and fully accessible site: http://www.guidedogs.com. GDB set a high bar by overhauling its mid-90s-era site into one that is not only fully accessible, but is visually stunning, and rich in customized user content.

"Our goal is to provide an online resource for our blind and sighted constituents that not only meets their needs, but offers the utmost in user experience," said CEO Bob Phillips. "That means fully accessible content -- period -- throughout the site. It is of the highest importance to us that our visitors are never frustrated with accessing important information. As an organization dedicated to improving quality of life, it is the right thing to do."

San Francisco Bay area-based consultants Adam London and TrendMedia's Brian McNitt were enlisted to customize a site that would streamline business processes yet conform to stringent accessibility requirements. The duo was tasked with integrating their design and engineering with off-the-shelf constituent relationship management (eCRM) products produced by Convio, based in Austin, Texas.

"Convio's access is superior on both the front end and back end," said McNitt. Features include the ability to modify text size.

People who are blind access the Internet by using screen-reading software. But many sites do not take into account visitors and customers who are blind. Most sites are built with tables. On these sites, screen-reading software may follow a line across the screen, from column to column, making comprehension of information impossible. Photos and graphics that are not labeled and flash clips may be totally inaccessible.

London said that while accessibility comes first, "Many websites designed to be accessible compromise the look and feel of the site." GDB's site is visually appealing with large colorful graphics. It is designed for easy navigation by any visitor.

London and McNitt designed the new GDB site to exceed key accessibility standards:

  • The WEC Web Content Accessibility guidelines, including Section 508 compliance: Under Section 508, agencies must ensure that their websites give disabled users access to information that is comparable to the access available to others. The 508 standards dictate minimum levels of accessibility required for any agency's website.
  • The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) accessibility certification: The NFB's mission is to ensure fully accessible information, technology and resources. The NFB maintains that the real problem of blindness is not the loss of eyesight; it's the misunderstanding and lack of information that exists.

Sites designed primarily for accessibility usually do not use drop-down menus, but the GDB site makes use of the latest in accessibility technology: Brothercake Company's Ultimate Dropdown Menu (UDM). "The menu was built from the ground up for full accessibility," said McNitt. "Since there were more than 400 pages of content on GDB's site, easy navigation was a challenge. UDM creates accessibility without compromise -- it offers a sophisticated range of design and usability controls."

"Most websites designed to get NFB certification pay little or no attention to usability," said McNitt. "Accessibility and usability are two different things. Put it this way: you can technically make a building accessible by putting in a water fountain that's the right height and restrooms that are wide enough for someone using a wheelchair. But if you put those things on the 10th floor, the building isn't really usable."

Put all the pieces together, and you have a fully accessible site that serves as a model for the way accessibility can be achieved without compromising capability. "Our challenges were surmountable after all," Phillips said. "The team that built this site went out of their way to ensure that the end product was superior to our expectations, and we're thrilled with the results." And, according to the site's immediate increase of traffic, so is everyone else.

Visit GDB's new website at http://www.guidedogs.com/.

ABOUT GUIDE DOGS FOR THE BLIND
Founded in 1942, Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) was established to serve returning World War II Veterans who lost their sight during the war. GDB currently has more than 2,200 active Guide Dog teams throughout North America, and has trained more than 10,000 Guide Dog teams in its 64 year history. The organization provides the Guide Dogs at no cost to the people it serves, who come from all 50 states and Canada. GDB continues to pursue its goal to provide Guide Dogs to blind and visually impaired individuals and is committed to actively promote diversity in its recruitment of students from all communities to advocate for and support the use of Guide Dogs. For more information, call 800-295-4050 or visit http://www.guidedogs.com/.

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Morry Angell
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