Have you listened to your website lately?
July is Disability Pride Month, and if your organization is committed to showing support for DEI, it’s a great reminder to evaluate whether your website is as friendly as you intend it to be for people with disabilities. Making sure your website follows Inclusive Design Principles is yet another way your organization can express its commitment to welcoming people of all abilities. These principles express themselves in many ways.
One of the simplest things you can do is make sure your website uses alt tags in its HTML code. Alt tags are text descriptions of important images on your website. They describe the images to readers who may be using a Screen Reader to browse your website. Alt tags make your site more accessible to people “hearing” your site’s information instead of reading it. But they’re also important to your SEO because web crawlers use alt tags to understand the context of your images.
Here’s a very fitting example. The Disability Pride Flag pictured here was collaboratively designed by Ann Magill, a woman with disabilities herself, and input she got from people in the disabled community. So much thought went into this inclusive design, from what each color represents to how they display on digital devices. The alt tag we used to describe this image of the flag is: “A charcoal grey Disability Pride Month flag with a diagonal band from the top left to bottom right corner, made up of five parallel stripes in red, gold, pale grey, blue, and green.” If you heard that description, hopefully you could picture something very similar to this flag in your mind.
Alt tags are just one small piece of being both accessible and inclusive in your web presence. And with 26% of the US population experiencing disabilities, from your website to your social presence, your organization probably wants to be inviting to the 61 million people who might access your content differently.
We know it can be daunting to think about whether your website is meeting the ADA’s Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) for accessibility, let alone whether it is a welcoming place for a person with disabilities to find what they’re looking for. Recently our President, Jen, gave an overview of Inclusive Design Principles for a podcast called “Weekly Dose of NonProfit.” We think you’ll find it’s a non-intimidating way to get some great tips starting down the path to better accessibility. You can watch/hear the podcast on YouTube.
Not to steal Jen’s thunder, but one of the recommendations she shares in the podcast is that you download a free screen reader app and literally listen to what your site has to say. You can even download a screen reader as a Chrome extension in your browser, or check out “Read Aloud.”
What’s a screen reader?
The most basic explanation is that a screen reader is a type of software that converts digital text into audio, or even Braille depending on the type of reader. Basically, it provides a way for people to experience your web content without reading it with their eyes. Screen readers are used by more people than you might think. They’re not just for people who have visual impairments. People with disabilities like dyslexia, ADHD, and other cognitive impairments can find screen readers useful. And some people who are really auditory learners might just prefer to take in information from the web in this way.
Screen readers look to your website’s HTML code to understand and translate your web content to the reader. So some special tags need to be included in your code when the website is designed or updated for the site to be understood the way you intend. (Important note for digital marketers: using HTML tags correctly and well is also a benefit to your site’s SEO. So it’s an added bonus to make sure your code is on point. Here’s a case study of Non Profit SEO Services in action in case that intrigues you.)
So what does your HTML code have to say (and teach)?
If you take a listen to your site through a screen reader, you might find out that your alt text descriptions aren’t very… descriptive. If you have images that are key to your website content, you want them to tell the best story they can!
You might also learn that your website’s navigation needs some work. Just try using the tab function to navigate in the screen reader and you’ll see what we mean! See if you can find some of your organization’s most important content, in a straightforward way. The User Experience with the screen reader can tell you a lot about the UX of all your website visitors. You might be unintentionally frustrating them more than you thought.
You might also discover that the organization of the content on your site needs some Marie Kondo type attention. If you get frustrated trying to find important information using the screen reader, chances are web crawlers aren’t having an easy time of it either. Again, making the content on your site easily accessible for people with disabilities can teach you a lot about how ALL people might have a better experience with your site by making some accessibility improvements.
A screen reader isn’t going to be a magic key to website accessibility and design inclusion. But it’s a way to experience your web content differently, and “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes,” so to speak. We think it’s a pretty cool exercise in so many ways, and you’ll likely learn a lot about improvements you can make for all visitors – even including Google’s web crawlers.
It’s not simple or quick to transform your site into a website that’s AA rated for accessibility. But it’s easier than you might think to take those first few steps. Listen to Jen’s podcast to start, and then find more inspiration from this case study in website accessibility. Our clients at Prism Health North Texas worked with us on a custom WordPress website that truly prioritizes accessibility, along with effectively reaching and serving their audience. You can get there, too. Disability Pride Month is a great time to express your organization’s dedication to inclusion by making important steps toward better accessibility in your digital presence.