Making Your Website More Accessible
We recently did a piece of research for Belfast City Council on how Belfast residents engaged with culture across the city. 95% of non-disabled people engaged in the arts at least once in the past year, but only 86.8% of disabled people engaged. So there’s clearly a potential audience there that we’re missing – but where to start?
When organisations think about accessibility they often think about the add-ons – getting large-print brochures made, creating audio-captions, or adding an accessibility section to your website. While these are all useful things, true accessibility starts with keeping access part of your everyday work and planning. This means that you’ll have to think about access from the start, not at the end. But the good thing about this approach is that it’s usually much cheaper, and it benefits all of your audiences, not just disabled people.
Your website is often the first part of the customer experience, so if it’s not accessible you’re not sending out the right message. Even worse, people may not even be able to find out about all the amazing stuff you’ve got on in the first place.
We worked with University of Atypical to come up with some practical ways to make your website not only accessible, but also welcoming to disabled and deaf audiences.
Any professional web designer should have created your site with accessibility in mind. Often, this means it was created to meet the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative's Content Accessibility guidelines. But there’s a lot you can change yourself to improve your website accessibility too.
There should be a good colour contrast between text and background – for example, black on white/yellow, blue on white, or white on black.
Some of your website visitors will be using screen reading software so that their computer reads text aloud from the screen. This can be really helpful if you have a visual impairment or a specific learning difficulty like Dyslexia. For this reason, it’s always best to have hyperlinks ‘do what they say on the tin’. Instead of ‘click here’, your links should be descriptive e.g. ‘Arts Forum Review Document 2017’.
Overlaying text on images can make the text difficult to read, so avoid this where you can.
For your visitors using screen readers, you’ll need to provide some alternative text or ‘alt text’ for the screen reader to read aloud. How to add this will vary between different website editing platforms, but it’s usually quite simple (here’s how to add alt text in Wordpress). The great thing about adding alt text is that it helps with your SEO and means that your information is more likely to appear in searches.
If disabled/deaf people see images of themselves on your website, you are giving them a signal that they are welcome at your events. If you want photos, make sure you get permission and be sensitive to any requests or refusals: negativity is more likely to be about problems of historic portrayal than a response to your request.
YouTube has made things very easy by providing an automatic video captioning tool, so it takes much less time than you’d think to caption a video. This makes your video accessible for deaf and hard of hearing audiences, along with anyone who hasn’t got sound turned on.
Tip: If you’re uploading video directly to Facebook, they have their own automatic captioning option for Facebook videos.
Almost 70% of online shopping carts are abandoned, so making your ticket booking process as simple and user-friendly as possible can have a big effect on your overall sales. It also makes things more accessible for all your potential customers. Here are some ways to keep the booking process stress-free for the user:
- Disclose your booking costs early.
- Reduce the steps in your checkout.
- Make your forms clear and simple.
- Allow guest checkout and a variety of payment options.
Make it clear if you offer free or discounted carer tickets, and how to book them. Concessions tickets should be easy to book online too – there’s no real reason to ask for proof, it’s more important to be welcoming and trusting of your customers.
If possible use a comments box with a label like ‘Other access requests’ as part of the booking process. It's also helpful to have a section of your website containing further access information on venues/events and a phrase welcoming disabled/deaf people to get in touch with queries or requests.
For those who can’t book online, include all the different booking methods you offer in your event listings.
Bear in mind that people may be booking on a smartphone, so streamlining your booking process can yield higher ticket sales or visitor numbers.
Copy – Keep it Simple
When you’re writing copy, keeping it clear and simple will improve access for people with learning disabilities or learning difficulties like Dyslexia.
Here is an example from the Plain English Campaign:
“If there are any points on which you require explanation or further particulars we shall be glad to furnish such additional details as may be required by telephone.”
“If you have any questions, please phone.”
Here are their guidelines for clear writing:
- a good average sentence length is about 15 to 20 words
- plenty of 'active' verbs (instead of 'passive' ones) (‘The work is shown by the artist’ vs. ‘the artist shows the work’)
- everyday English.
- words like 'we' and 'you' instead of 'the venue', and 'the booker'.
- clear, helpful headings with consistent ways of making them stand out from the text.
Writing like this will appeal to all of your site visitors. No one likes unnecessary jargon, and people will go somewhere else if it takes too long to find the information they need.
The Big Picture
There’s no one event or venue in the UK that can tick a box to say they are truly 100% accessible to all. People’s access needs change all the time, and no one can anticipate every need. But don’t let fear of making a mistake stop you from improving your customer experience and getting new people through the doors. The important thing is to be honest about where you are and start making a change.
You don’t need to go it alone either. The best experts in disability access are disabled and/or deaf people themselves. Consider running a focus group, or an advisory group or work with mystery shoppers. Make it easy for customers to contact you and actively ask for their opinions and ideas. The University of Atypical is based in Belfast and does fantastic work promoting disabled and deaf artists and growing audiences for their work. The company runs an awards scheme called the Arts & Disability Equality Charter, which advises and rewards excellence in disability access, using criteria devised by disabled/deaf people and arts venue staff. The University of Atypical can also supply Disability Equality Trainers and mystery shoppers.