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Building in accessibility from the beginning

18 January 2022

Website accessibility is important for every single person who uses the internet. When we consider online accessibility, we might start out by thinking about people using screen readers, or neurodiverse users. But actually, creating friction-free accessible web journeys helps everyone to get what they need online.

In 2019, Young Women’s Trust set out on a journey to completely refresh our website. Accessibility was one of our key considerations from the very beginning and we were thinking about it in the widest possible terms. Our ambition was that everything from colours, to content, copy, and images considered accessibility. Our approach was to keep equal access at the heart of the project by involving charity service users at every stage.

In practical terms, the first step was to ensure that our brief for the website build clearly set out our ambitions for accessibility. This helped us to team up with a digital agency who cared as much as we do about creating brilliant experiences for all website users.

With our agency, we developed designs for the site. We thought carefully about how we could use our brand colours in accessible ways. But there were some challenges around this: for example, some of the colour combinations in our existing brand were not very accessibility friendly. So, we expanded the palette slightly and thought about how to combine colours accessibly in the designed elements.

Top tip! If you are not sure about whether the colours you are using on your designs are accessible, you can check online. Free tools like WebAIM’s Contrast Checker can give you a nudge in the right direction.

Writing for accessibility

We believe information on our website should be simplified, but doesn’t have to be simple. Everyone should be able to understand the information we provide. One way that we ensure this is to use plain language across our website.

This includes:

  • Using short words and avoiding jargon.
  • Using shorter sentences, with simple structure and punctuation. Sentences of around 11 to 15 words are easier to understand than longer ones.
  • Using bullet points and headings to break up text.

Using plain language has never come at the expense of losing our brand voice. It just ensures that every person who uses our website can engage with the content.

Top Tip! We use the free Hemingway App to identify complex sentences and structure.

At Young Women’s Trust, young women are at the heart of everything we do. For the digital team that means we regularly co-create web content with them.

As we prepared to create the content for the new website, we formed a working group with young women. For that group, we ran a workshop on writing for accessibility so we could discuss these skills when we were co-creating. This not only helped us to create accessible content, but also allowed us to share our knowledge with young women who can take these skills forward in their own careers.

Usability testing and feedback

We knew when we started designing our content, that using tools and our own knowledge would only tell us half the story of our website’s accessibility. We wanted to test with real people who would be using our website regularly. This would help up to understand if our content really was clear and accessible.

We engage young women in regular user testing, for yearly web reviews and when new functionality is added to the site. This has been incredibly helpful for us as site managers, as testers pick up on unclear actions and sentences, as well as general design functions that could be improved. Often when you have been working with the same webpages for a while it can be difficult to pick up on things that may need changing. Working with people with a fresh perspective of the website really helps us to design content that works for our users.

Top Tip! Keep testing, especially when you have new content. This doesn’t have to be a lengthy process. Five or six testers will give you a good sense of whether a new page is working.

Our accessibility journey continues

The website launched at the end of 2020 but that was not the end of our accessibility journey.

Together with young women, we worked to create an accessibility statement for our website. It maps out all the things we are doing to make the site easy for everyone to use, but we also list the work we know we still have to do. We want to be transparent and show how we aim to be better.

We also love to share our knowledge with our colleagues. We help them check documents, presentations and reports to improve their accessibility. We also run training sessions for colleagues and recently held a session on Writing for Accessibility.

We continue to learn and try new things. We know we are not perfect, but want to improve because good accessibility makes the internet better for everyone.

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

Sarah Sheerman-Chase

Head of digital, Young Women's Trust

Sarah Sheerman-Chase is head of digital at Young Women’s Trust. She began her career in digital working on a programme teaching young people to code. She is passionate about creating simple, enjoyable and accessible online experiences.

Ashleigh Harman

Digital content officer, Young Women's Trust

Ashleigh Harman is Digital content officer at Young Women’s Trust. She has worked in digital for 10 years. Ashleigh loves content design, as a neuro-diverse person she is passionate about digital accessibility and the importance of ensuring content works for everyone.