Andrew Coleman of Galloway's talks about why charity websites need to be accessible, and how to deliver it.
Here at Galloway’s, we’ve been working on a project to help visually impaired users who don’t normally use assistive technology. It’s taught us a lot about accessibility and support for individuals.
Accessibility is particularly important for charities whose service users are likely to have a disability. But we feel it should be something that all charity services take into account, whatever your user group.
It’s intensely frustrating for individuals with sight loss when there is a site they simply can’t access. Especially when there’s information they need to access. If they need to book a ticket and fill out a form, and can’t, it can be extremely difficult.
There are a wide range of disabilities and needs out there which need to be catered for. I’m mostly going to focus on helping visually impaired people, which is my main area of expertise, but much of this is going to be true for other accessibility needs as well.
Accessibility needs to be considered from the beginning
Perhaps the main thing to say is that we need to stop thinking of accessibility as an afterthought. It needs to be built into products from the very beginning. It’s an ingredient in the cake, not the icing on top.
We’re seeing that Apple and Google are now building in accessibility right at the start of the process. All products are considered for accessibility, and the range of accessibility features on devices is enormous.
Don’t build a product and then ask how blind people are going to use it. There is a very good chance that if you try to introduce accessibility measures at this stage they won’t look right and they won’t work well.
So think about how people are going to access your services and information. Ideally, you would like people with accessibility issues to have the same opportunities as other people. How is this going to be done?
That means understanding the audience. What are their needs? What kinds of technology are there available which do and do not work for people with accessibility issues? What tools are they going to use to access your website? Will your site be compatible with those tools?
Keep it simple
For people with low vision, it’s helpful to have the option to move to large print, without too much detail on the screen, and to avoid encoding information in pictures and graphics as much as possible.
Try to make sure the most important information on your site is available in a variety of ways. So the more information you can offer that’s available in audio format, the better.
Blind people are likely to use a tool such as a screen reader, which reads out the information on the screen, and makes it audible for someone who can’t see. These include products such as Windows Narrator, TalkBack on Android, or VoiceOver on Apple.
There are a lot more mainstream accessibility features built into everyday products nowadays. A simple glance through the accessibility options on an iPhone will show you how common this is. So whenever you’re building a new app or website, take a look at what best practice in accessibility is, and how it ought to be incorporated, and see if you can follow those standards.
Some tools to build websites come with built-in accessibility features. That means these sites can be easily modified to change the colours and the text size, or to make other accessibility changes.
Apps are generally much easier to navigate than websites. The service tends to be designed in a more linear way and is easier for someone with limited sight to follow. But once again, it’s worth thinking about how to build in the best practice tools.
Practically, it’s important to do some research. Talk to organisations with expertise in this area, so they can test what you’re doing and make sure it works. And test it out. Find out how the site is actually experienced by people with accessibility issues. Carry out research with user groups and seek feedback before your product goes out to the public. Make sure you have something which they’re happy to use.
It’s for your own good
The final thing to say is that making your site and apps accessible will benefit you.
Most people have a target to get a certain number of people using their website or app. To build an audience, you have to meet their needs. And there is a huge audience out there who need accessibility support.
People with disabilities make up a quarter of the UK adult population, and while not all of these people will have accessibility needs, very many will.
There are two million people living with sight loss alone, of whom almost 400,000 are registered blind and partially sighted.
As a person with a visual impairment myself, I tend to stick to sites and apps I know I’m going to be able to use. Even if they’re maybe a bit more expensive, I’ll still use them, because I know I’ll be able to accomplish what I want.
So making your site accessible will get you more traffic, and help you engage with more of your service users.