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UK's National Rail backs down from greyscale website tribute to Prince Phil after visually impaired users complain
Protip: Ad/tracker blockers. Use them (though not on The Reg)
In case you hadn't noticed, Prince Philip, aka the Duke of Edinburgh, aka the Queen's hubby, aka Stavros, shuffled off this mortal coil on Friday and thus the UK entered a period of "national mourning".
Far from citizens taking to the streets and screaming at the sky, fists balled in anguish, most folk are pretty chill about the passing of the nation's slightly inappropriate grandad, who missed hitting a century by about two months.
This collective "mourning" was nowhere more keenly felt than on nationalrail.co.uk, whose overlords deemed it necessary to render the train booking website in greyscale as a tribute to the duke.
There's your sort-of-IT angle.
But rather than the maudlin design choice inspiring bittersweet memories of that time when Prince Phil told a 13-year-old kid he was "too fat to be an astronaut", it instead invoked the ire of visually impaired users.
Indeed, some of the Reg readers who got in touch insisted that "a black and white colour scheme for everything" was an absolutely dreadful idea, especially "if you can't see clearly ([and] especially when things like bold text and links can become indistinguishable)."
"As a mark of respect for the passing of an elderly gentleman, they've stopped any other folk with failing eyesight from using the site."
National Rail went hard on the damage control this morning, deleting some tweets and pinning this message to the top of its feed:
The National Rail website has been temporarily greyscaled as a mark of respect following the death of HRH Duke of Edinburgh. We are listening to feedback about how people are using the website and are making further changes today to make it more accessible to all our customers.— National Rail (@nationalrailenq) April 12, 2021
And what, pray, might that feedback include? "Looking to book a train ticket and... struggling with it in greyscale," said one visitor. "@nationalrailenq why's it gone black and white? Thanks."
To which the service's Twitter wrangler responded: "Hello, we've put our website into black and white as mark of respect for Prince Phillip [sic] who passed away last week. Do you need any help with your booking?"
"Oh okay, is there a way to change it back please? Finding it very hard to use..."
"I don't think there is I'm afraid. We're keeping the grey-scale until the end of the week I think... Sorry for the inconvenience of all this."
Others were less forgiving.
Sorry, but this is objectively insane.— James Cherry (@lechuzzles) April 12, 2021
How about showing a mark of respect for your living, visually-impaired customers? Just a thought.— Amy T 💙 (@JolinarSG1) April 12, 2021
Just going to be really direct, you are actively making your website more difficult for disabled people to use, and that's not a worthwhile trade off to make.— Laura Kate Dale (@LaurakBuzz) April 12, 2021
Oh dear. But the fix was pretty simple – ad/tracker blockers.
Yes, while researching this story (read: laughing at the Twitter bloodbath), it took us a minute to figure out what everyone was going on about because nationalrail.co.uk looked its usual full-colour mess to us. It was only when we switched off our "shields" on the Brave browser (the built-in service that blocks ads, trackers, and "other creepy things" – except on The Register and a few other responsible sites who deserve our custom) that we found the startling monochrome.
Other browser extensions like uBlock Origin had the same result. So while National Rail's social media intern thought you might have to struggle through for the rest of the week, really you could undo the damage with a click.
Anyway, within the hour the website had returned to its original (and ghastly) blue/yellow incarnation. As usual, moaning on Twitter gets stuff done.
Unfortunately, the Mayor of London's website has not been smart enough to do the same.
The Register asked National Rail and the Mayor of London's office to comment. National Rail more or less copy-pasted its tweet from above, while City Hall said: "The design of our website has been temporarily altered as a mark of respect during this period of national mourning. Accessibility is a priority for us and the use of greyscale has been thoroughly tested to ensure clear contrast across all our website's elements." ®