Falkirk Wheel, Panoramic view.

Falkirk Wheel, Panoramic view.
Image by Cameron Lyall, GNU license Wikimedia

22 July 2011

Technical Documents for Accessibility

I cannot wrap-up my stay in Dundee without addressing my favorite thing about it: accessibility. While the accessible design in Dundee (well, all of the UK really) may be just another part of everyday design to those who live here, an American cannot help but notice these innovations everywhere. I was especially excited by the technical documents that help disabled peoples navigate the city more easily and those that help designers consider their design and the ethics behind it. I could talk about a lot of things, but I want to focus on two particular technical documents from a pile I’ve collected over the span of the last two months. I am in the process of creating a website that delineates more of Dundee’s accessible design, but here is a preview.

“Access for Disabled People: A Guide to Dundee” (brochure created by Dundee Access Group)

When visiting the information center at Dundee I came across a thick yellow brochure that outlines several issues of accessibility for visitors. Those include:

On-street accessible parking spaces

Public Conveniences


Places to Eat and Drink

Places of Interest, Leisure, and Entertainment

Shopping Centers

Departments Stores

Public Buildings and Libraries

Health Centers


Dental Practices

Fitness Centers

Football Grounds


Airport, Bus, and Rail Stations

Post Offices

Yes, this brochure is quite thick. Each section names a location, provides its phone number, and provides comments on accessibility. In the center of the brochure is a map that marks “Disabled On Street Parking.”

The brochure is an updated edition, one of many revisions since 1993. It also welcomes people to add to their information by contacting the Dundee Access Group. I have also included their site below.


This type of document would work well on a college campus such as Purdue University, because our campus design did not take into consideration accessibility, rather it was an addition. While we should continue work on altering the design of campus so that it is accessible to all people, I think this brochure can help while we work on improving campus. While students, faculty, and staff, have formed their own transporting habits on campus, our visitors still have to become familiar with that space. I think such brochures are just as important as a campus map or other brochures we distribute at the information center.

“The University Web Accessibility Policy” (University of Dundee)


While most college campuses in America have extra services in their information technology departments at Purdue, I came across a document I had not seen before at Purdue University: a document that addresses how instructors design course websites. The idea of universal design as an aspect of web design is not new, but it is one of debate. Should we make universal rules for how we design websites so everyone can access it, or does that hinder our creativity? I’ve heard the same arguments in physical campus design.

Though, this document lays out two principles on Information and Communicative Services website that can help and aren’t going to stop creativity.

Principle 1: Use the Web wherever possible to reduce exclusion and promote equality

Principle 2: Make sure that Web resources are designed to be optically accessible

Each principle comes with guidelines for successful implementation. My favorite part is how they address the question I’d expect: Designing a website for a course is hard enough, what if I’m not skilled enough to make it accessible? Well, they answer: The University has separately published a Web Accessibility Definition of Best Practice and other supporting resources, all freely available to staff, that encapsulate current best practice in accessible Web design. (These are available online from the Web Accessibility Service web site.) The resources for teachers makes accessibility even more possible and attainable.


These documents are new to me. While we can complain about the poor design on college campuses, what can we do as technical writers now? I think the documents above are representative of the United Kingdom’s innovative accessible design, but also of their way of filling in the cracks before the spaces alter (no space here is complete perfect in terms of accessibility). As technical writers, maybe we should start looking for opportunities to fill in these cracks. While we should continue critiquing these spaces, how can we facilitate and be productive in starting these discussions? Working on documents such as these will uncover the problems of campus design, while serving a purpose until these issues are fixed.

1 comment:

Patti said...

This is excellent, and I'm impressed with the thorough manual Dundee has. I wonder, though, if many cities or universities might have something similar, but totally fail at communicating this to the public, or even other departments/branches.