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Making the world more accessible with web design

By Anne Stefanyk
April 26, 2021

A cell phone, computer monitor, tablet, and laptop displaying the same website.

When architects and construction professionals start designing a building, one of the first things they have to consider is accessibility. Good building accessibility means creating spaces that can be used by anyone. It includes, but isn’t limited to, people who use wheelchairs, canes, and those with vision or hearing impairments.

Accessibility by itself refers to the “ability to access.” It’s the idea that anyone in the world, regardless of location, language, disability, or platform, can participate or engage with something. It pertains to anything from your local grocery store to the Internet.

Without building accessibility into the foundation of all of your engagements, you’re turning away one-fifth of the world population who have a disability or struggle to access services or products.

To start fixing this problem, prioritize accessibility with your nonprofit website. It’s not uncommon for copywriters or web developers to accidentally create accessibility barriers for  aesthetics or convenience. But if your web design isn’t accessible, you risk missing out on online donations and other conversions.

Don’t start panicking if you’re unsure whether your website is accessible! You’ve come to the right place. This article will answer these following pressing questions about where to begin:

  1. What is web accessibility?
  2. What are the ADA and WCAG?
  3. How can web design affect your nonprofit’s accessibility?

Having an inclusive content strategy and taking steps to make your nonprofit web design as accessible as possible is crucial. Read on to learn more. 

1. What is web accessibility?

Web accessibility is the idea that everyone can use all internet content, regardless of location, device, language, or ability. This attribute allows people with a diverse range of hearing, movement, and sight to not just passively interact with the online world but engage and contribute to it.

This is why your nonprofit’s website accessibility is so critical. Your site is the center of almost all of your online engagements. As soon as people enter your home page, they’ll likely be looking for your donation form, event calendar, and other ways they can interact with your organization.

For instance, if your website focuses heavily on images or graphics, simply not including captions or alternative text can drive away supporters or donors with a visual impairment or slow internet speed.

Thus, full accessibility can:

  • Foster a more inclusive culture for your organization.
  • Provide a user-friendly, pleasant experience.
  • Minimize loss of website visitors.
  • Increase mobile usability.
  • Improve ranking in search engine results. 

To ensure baseline accessibility, your website needs to be easy to use, intuitively navigable, and maintain regulatory compliance. Regulatory compliance means that your organization and your site need to comply with all relevant laws and policies, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

2. What are the ADA and WCAG?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a 1990 law aimed at protecting individuals with disabilities and ensuring they have the same opportunities as persons without disabilities.

How does the ADA impact your nonprofit organization? The ADA applies to any organization with more than 15 employees or that has any “public accommodations.” If your organization fits these guidelines, remaining ADA compliant is necessary. Failing to do so can lead to legal repercussions.

Legal debates have ensued on whether websites are considered public accommodations. A 2019 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision stated that most organization websites, including nonprofits, do violate the ADA if they are not accessible to those with visual, auditory, and other disabilities.

It’s best practice to fully comply with the ADA even if you’re not sure if your organization falls under it. To ensure that your website is ADA compliant, look to the WCAG usability guidelines.

What are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines?

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are usability standards developed by the World Wide Web Consortium. These guidelines help assist websites to reach ADA compliance. 

The WCAG currently has three levels of compliance, A, AA, and AAA. To learn more about the WCAG and what these different levels mean, we recommend checking out Kanopi’s article on demystifying accessibility and compliance.

3. How can web design affect your nonprofit’s accessibility?

Now that we know the importance of website accessibility and compliance for your nonprofit organization, how can you ensure that your site is living up to these standards?

First, let’s review WCAG’s core principles of accessible design, POUR:

  • Perceivable information and intuitive user interface
  • Operable UI (user interface) and navigation
  • Understandable information and UI
  • Robust content and reliable interpretation

When you’re designing or updating your website, make sure user experience is a top priority. The best nonprofit sites are created when the designers put themselves in the shoes of an organization’s supporters and site visitors.

Here are some common steps you might take to optimize your site:

  • Require that all non-text content (image, video, audio) also has a text alternative.
  • Try to stay away from purely sensory characteristics (such as sound and images) to convey important information.
  • Streamline your online donation process by ensuring that the form is embedded on your donation page. Ensure that form fields are also clearly labeled with instructions. (For more donation page tips, iATS Payments has a dedicated resource!)
  • Don’t use flashy elements or bright lights to protect those who are seizure-prone.
  • Use a sticky navigation menu so that connections to popular landing pages are easily accessible as users scroll through your site.
  • Optimize your website for mobile use, like keeping the orientation to portrait mode.

If you feel like creating an accessible and fully compliant website is more than a few minor tweaks, you might want to partner with a professional that can walk you through the process and design your site with these standards in mind. 

Wrapping Up

Although your organization alone can’t make the world a fully accessible place, you can take the steps that promote this ideal. With more and more users accessing the internet and engaging with it every day, it’s important that your nonprofit website welcomes them. Use this guide for critical insights, and good luck!

Tags: Technology; Websites