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Tearfund’s journey to building an accessible website

12 November 2021

Whether your website provides a service or is primarily used to engage supporters, charities need sites that can be used by as many people as possible. If we do not prioritise accessibility, then we miss that opportunity.

At least one in five people in the UK have a long term illness, impairment or disability and many more have a temporary disability. Making a website accessible means making sure it can be used by all those people, including those with impaired vision, motor difficulties, learning disabilities, deafness or impaired hearing.

How accessible is your website?

In 2019 Tearfund’s Digital Team was growing increasingly aware that our website was probably not very accessible! This was validated when we paid for a very quick audit and discovered 55% of our pages had significant accessibility issues. Some of these issues didn’t surprise us, but we did also find some issues we hadn’t even thought about.

An audit is a great way to see how accessible your website currently is, which is helpful both for your understanding but also to show the rest of the organisation. We presented our audit results in staff forums to encourage everyone to think about accessibility and understand why we needed to prioritise it. You can carry out accessibility audits with agencies specialising in accessibility or by running usability testing with those who have additional accessibility needs.

Accessibility is everyone’s responsibility

Triggered by our audit results, we started more research into web accessibility and decided to work to meet a WCAG AA standard, which is now required for EU government and public body websites. But it soon became clear that meeting this standard couldn’t just be the responsibility of one person or even one team. That’s because you need to consider accessibility through everything from brand and design to build and content creation.

Here are some of the things we learnt…

Brand

An accessible website needs an accessible brand! As a digital team we fed into our latest rebrand to ensure the font we were using was going to be accessible on the web. We were also able to advise on colour choices while checking for colour contrast along the way.

Design

Our digital UX designer makes sure to consider the accessibility in the design of all components, as well as when creating whole page layouts. This includes considering size, spacing and colour, as well as zooming out to check pages work in a predictable way.

Build

Our front-end developer ensures our content is accessible to those using assistive technology. In the build we ensure we have text alternatives and easy ways for users to navigate through the page without using a mouse or if they have a different display set up.

We do most of our website work in-house, but where we do outsource, we now ask agencies and freelancers to commit to delivering a AA accessibility standard.

Content

Our digital copywriter is a great guardian for ensuring our web copy is easy to read and understandable to a large audience and our content producers consider accessibility when creating video, providing captions and avoiding use of flashing content.

Examples of the Tearfund website on different devices

Acknowledging our limitations

Accessibility is a journey and we still have some outstanding issues that we’ve addressed in an accessibility statement. These types of statements help audiences understand the limitations that websites have and demonstrate awareness of the issues that exist and how site owners are working to address them. We added our statement after the accessibility optimisation but you can create an accessibility statement at any time to help your audience use your site.

Accessibility is an ongoing process

After we implemented the work to make our site more accessible, we carried out another audit. This time we worked with Hassle Inclusion, who carried out a ‘live’ audit, where a consultant tested the site in front of the team. This further improved our understanding, as we could see first-hand the issues people may experience and work there and then to fix them.

The audit showed the website was reaching a AA standard, which is a real testament to the collaboration and focus on accessibility from our excellent team.

But we won’t be stopping there. In order to help us maintain the good accessibility standard, we also want to start including people who have additional accessibility needs in our bi-yearly usability testing, to check how our supporters experience the site. We hope that this, as well as implementing our learnings and the best practice knowledge we have gained, will ensure as many people as possible can continue to interact fully with our site.

This article is part of the CharityComms resource ‘Accessible communications: A starting point for fostering more inclusive comms’.

Hannah Graham

Head of digital, Tearfund

Hannah Graham is head of digital at Tearfund. In 2020 Hannah led a multi-disciplinary team to re-platform the organisation’s supporter facing website: www.tearfund.org.