Wondering why you keep hearing about accessibility in marketing and web design? It’s not a nonprofit thing or even all that new (though we did include it in our marketing trends for 2022). There’s a loud call for organizations of all kinds to fully learn and embrace values of diversity and inclusion that extends into all areas of their work. Taking the step to improve your website’s accessibility is one of many ways to level up.

If you’re new to the guidelines and recommendations for accessible web design, it can quickly feel overwhelming to the point that your nonprofit doesn’t take any action.

And while it’s true that some websites are probably better off starting from scratch when it comes to meeting accessibility standards, there are practical ways of tweaking an existing website to be more welcoming and inclusive. 

What is Website Accessibility?

Website accessibility is the idea that visitors of all abilities can effectively use your site. Given the large number of people who live with some form of disability, as well as those who may experience short-term limitations or situational disabilities, it’s no small concern for businesses, government services and organizations that serve the public.

Accessibility is also something that extends beyond a single website. According to the folks behind Global Accessibility Awareness Day—happening tomorrow (May 19th)—we should all be working toward digital accessibility in a comprehensive way.

Every user deserves a first-rate digital experience on the web. Someone with a disability must be able to experience web-based services, content and other digital products with the same successful outcome as those without disabilities.

GAAD Foundation

But don’t worry, you can take this one website at a time for now! In this post, we’re going to share some first steps that you can take to get your website on track to offer a more accessible experience that welcomes your full community.

Review Website Text

When you’re not sure where to start with website accessibility, turn your attention to the text. First and foremost, the text on your web pages should be easy to digest in both its message and its format. 

Wondering what that means in practice? Here’s where to start for more accessible content:

  • Follow a consistent heading hierarchy, starting with Heading 1 (H1) for the page title and working your way through additional headings (H2, H3, H4) in the page content as needed. Both visitors and assistive devices like screen readers will get a better sense of the structure and flow of information.
  • Use descriptive link text to let users know what to expect when they click. Where are they going and what will they find there? Skip the “click here” links in favor of something like “Access the full report (PDF)”.
  • Minimize the use of tables within the text, which are challenging for screen reader devices to read in a logical way. At the very least, add a caption that summarizes what the table is showing or your main takeaway message.
  • Avoid the trap of excessive text formatting, such as large portions of text that are bolded, italicized, underlined or in all caps. Not only does it make your page hard to read, but it can also distract from the key action you’d like someone to take.

Checklist: Improve Your Website’s Accessibility

Use this checklist to run through essential accessibility items for each page on your nonprofit’s website.

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Audit Website Visuals

If you removed all the photos, videos and graphics from your website, would visitors still be able to read and do all of the things you hope they would be able to do? 

If you’re relying on images and things like colored backgrounds to convey information, here are a few ways to improve your website’s accessibility:

  • Add alternative (alt) text and captions when using images and videos that serve more than a purely decorative purpose. WebAIM offers excellent tips and examples for different scenarios.
  • Check your colors with one of many free color contrast tools out there so that you’re not excluding visitors with low vision who find it challenging to read text on colored backgrounds. Similarly, avoid using the color of text on your pages to convey important information—which won’t be seen the same way (or at all) by some users.
  • Test dynamic design features like overlays, image lightboxes and website pop-ups to ensure that they are usable with a keyboard and readable with a screen reader. No one wants to feel stuck trying to access or close your content.

Adjust Website Forms

It’s easy to overlook the design and functionality of website forms, especially since they don’t tend to be very text- or image-heavy. However, given the role that forms play on nonprofit websites, they are an essential piece of improving your website’s accessibility. Why not make sure that everyone can subscribe to emails, apply for a grant or make a donation? 

We were thrilled to see the accessibility improvements that Gravity Forms added to their form builder, but you don’t need to use their service to offer more accessible forms:

  • Audit any placeholder and descriptive text used in your form to make sure that it offers clear instruction and is visually easy to read. Default to using labels for your fields, which are typically more accessible than placeholder text within the field itself.
  • Note any required fields using field labels and an asterisk rather than relying solely on color and text formatted (like bold, red text) to denote the requirement.
  • Confirm that fields are logical and reasonably easy to complete so that users aren’t discouraged by the overall length and details that seem unnecessary.
  • Use a submit button with live, descriptive text instead of a graphic with text (inaccessible unless you’re using alt text) or a generic word like “Complete.” Try out phrasing like “Apply for ___” or “Subscribe to __”. 

If you’re still feeling like you don’t know where to begin, use our tips for testing accessibility on your website to get a baseline of where things stand today. 

Working to improve your website’s accessibility can seem like a major undertaking—and it is a challenge in many cases where a site is outdated and difficult to update. But don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Focus on making continual improvements that show your commitment to making your content, and your mission, welcoming and inviting to all.

What types of website changes has your organization made as part of accessibility goals? Do you have any other tools or tips for practical improvement that help make sites more inclusive? Let’s move into the comments.