Visionary Design Awards – the winners

Written By: Peter Abrahams
Content Copyright © 2006 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

The Visionary Design Awards, supported by Barclays’ Community Investment programme, are part of an ongoing campaign by the National Library for the Blind (NLB) to encourage website publishers and designers to consider access technology such as magnification, text to speech and refreshable Braille when they are designing their sites.

The awards for 2005 were presented on 2nd March 2006 at a diner in London by Robert Llewellyn (star of Red Dwarf and Scrapheap Challenge).

From the original long list of over 100 sites nominated by visually impaired people, 30 short listed candidates were chosen. There were seven prize winning categories and a wooden spoon category.

There should have been a further category for children’s sites but none of the nominated sites for this category were considered good enough. The organisers have kept this category open until May and are keen to have further nominations.

Winning a prize is great and the teams were obviously delighted when they received their glass trophies.

The real importance of these awards is to raise awareness of the issues and to show that web sites can be accessible and attractive and functional all at the same time. All the winning, and short listed, sites certainly demonstrate this.

I have listed all the winners below (and the short list at the bottom) with my views of the good practice and design they demonstrate (the last two—Smurf and Kate Bush—are particularly intriguing):

News and Information

Winner: Your London –

Go to this site and press the tab key. It will say ‘Jump to content’, press enter and you will go straight to the content. This is where you normally want to go. Try getting to the same place just using the tab key and count the numbers of key depressions before you get to where you want. This is a very easy technique to implement on any new web site with just a bit of coding in the templates.

Young Adults

Winner: Connexions Direct –

All the text on this site sizes correctly. Change the text size (click view, text size) and all the text gets bigger, including the text on the buttons, and the site looks and works fine. It really is important to make the text on the buttons and the input-fields resize.

Voluntary/Not For Profit

Winner: RNID –

The RNID is the largest charity working for the UK’s 9 million deaf and hard of hearing people, so you would expect it to have an accessible site but remember this is an award for the blind rather than the deaf. A good feature on this site is the Accessibility Page (tab twice and hit enter). The page gives a clear description of what the RNID has done to make the site accessible. Having a page like this is a good indicator that you are taking accessibility seriously. Ideally this page and a privacy/security statement should be the first pages developed on a site as they deeply influence the design.

Commercial (non-e-commerce)

Winner: Stable Close Veterinary Practice –

Here is a small business showing that getting it right is not difficult, it just need a bit of thought and the desire to be inclusive. The input forms are particularly good with a clean design and a simple separation of the different areas of information. My only recommendation is that they look at autofill options and see if they could work better. If you find it hard to type then autofill is a really useful option.

Commercial (e-commerce)

Winner: Ocado –

Ocado is an on-line supermarket run as a partnership with Waitrose. This is an easy to use site with enough visuals to make it attractive but not with so many that it distracts or makes it difficult to use for people with disabilities.

Public Sector

Winner: Great Sampford Primary School –

Another small organisation showing how it can be done, without removing the element of fun (float the mouse over the picture of the headmaster). The most impressive part is the high contrast button on the right. The site has set up more than one style sheet and the high contrast version provides a better solution for a variety of visual impairments. It is always possible to view a site without a style sheet (click view, page style) and it should be clear and well laid out, try it on your site.


Winner: Environment Agency SMURF project –

SMURF (Sustainable Management of Urban Rivers and Floodplains) shows information about the River Tame. The geographic information is displayed in away that is easy to use, attractive and accessible. The interesting part is the WebSMURF System, on that page click the letter A and you will see how to use the system without using a mouse.


An award was also due to be presented in a Children’s website category, but none of the nominated websites reached the required accessibility standards. NLB has challenged web designers who have created sites for children to come forward to claim the award if they feel they have achieved a good level of accessibility.

Inaccessible Site

The wooden spoon: EMI Records: Kate Bush –

This site uses a lot of Flash. Flash is often a problem because screen readers can not understand the information on the screen. The home page does give an html option and this works OK for a while, but if you go to media, sound and click on the audio player you hit the problem that the tab button does nothing. There is no way for a blind person to use this site and this is really unfortunate as music is so important to them. It may be appropriate that the song you can not hear if you can not see is ‘How to be invisible’!!

Short List

The short list is included here as it includes other interesting sites. The short listed sites by category were:

Children’s Websites

  • No sites short listed

Sites for Young People

Public sector


News and information

Voluntary Sector / Not for profit

Inaccessible website