Top award for accessibility
Is it possible to design a fully accessible website which is also dynamic and caters to both blind and sighted users? We embarked on an ambitious project to find out. As a result, we are proud to announce that we have received a top digital accessibility award for our efforts.
When making the decision to launch a new website, we faced a unique challenge: designing a fully accessible site from the ground up, not only for our audience of blind and vision-impaired users who often have a range of co-existing conditions, such as cognitive decline and hearing loss, but a sighted audience too.
In the face of the common belief that accessible websites are boring and don’t provide a dynamic experience for users, we welcomed the opportunity to prove the naysayers wrong. We collaborated with sector leaders Reason Digital to create a website that balanced accessibility, usability and engaging design.
Right from the start, we chose not to rely on existing accessibility tools. Instead, we set out to create an accessible website from the outset. In order to achieve this, we consulted with the blind veterans we support through multiple rounds of checks during the design process. Given our audience’s range of sight levels, diversity of tools used to access the internet, and spectrum of co-existing conditions, this testing process was paramount in achieving the final outcome of producing a website that is user-friendly for all.
Following extensive testing by accessibility experts AbilityNet, we received an ‘Accredited Plus’ certification, which recognises the website as not only compliant with the required technical standards of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, but also usable in real life, proven through testing by users with a range of accessibility requirements.
Why make an accessible website?
Accessibility was the number one priority when we started designing and building our website. We worked to make sure it was easy to navigate and ensure content was easily read and accessed by everyone.
We designed the website with three key audiences in mind. Firstly, vision-impaired users who are not yet receiving our support. Research showed that these users may be struggling with mental health issues and cognitive impairments and may be visiting the site using older technology.
Secondly, our blind veterans, with an average age of 85-years-old. The needs of people with a vision impairment change as their sight loss journey progresses and so we needed the website to work for these users at every stage of that journey.
And finally, all users, providing the same rewarding and informative experience for those without a vision impairment, such as our supporters and those representing our beneficiaries.
The design process
We spoke to our veterans, their partners, and our staff and volunteers about their needs throughout the design process.
Some vision-impaired people use screen readers, which read everything on the screen aloud. But not everyone uses this technology. If users have low vision rather than no vision, they might be using screen magnifiers. Magnifiers enlarge the screen, meaning much less of the screen is seen at any one time. To deal with this, we adopted a clear and simple visual design to help those using screen magnifiers.
Our next consideration was that many website users are potential beneficiaries. From our research, we know that many blind veterans are in crisis before they join our charity. They are often suffering from extremely poor mental health and may be in denial about their access needs. Because of this, we ensured that the site has a very low cognitive load, meaning that it’s easy to process and understand.
In order to do this, we opted for a clear, simple website design that was easy to interact with. By using plenty of white space and breaking up text with images and graphics, the pages don’t become overwhelming for the user.
We used clear, concise everyday language and structured pages with clearly defined sections, using headings and subheadings, to ensure that the reader can easily find the information they need.
We worked with pioneering accessibility charity AbilityNet to audit the website across desktop, mobile and tablet. During user testing, participants conducted a thorough review and provided feedback on the website using different technologies, such as screen reader, keyboard, voice recognition software and screen magnification software.
The site was tested by six users for 90 minutes each. They included participants from a diverse range of user groups including users with a vision impairment, neurodiverse users, those with hearing loss, and users with a mobility impairment.
Following feedback and rechecks we achieved a WCAG – AA rating and received AbilityNet’s top award for accessibility, Accredited Plus.
Jane Murison, Design and UX Director at Reason Digital, said:
“It’s been a huge privilege to work on a project that really lives up to its promise to prioritise accessibility and usability, putting the experience of users with access needs at the heart of our design and development.
"Beyond just adhering to guidelines, we worked directly with blind users to establish their needs, to understand their wide range of assistive technology, and to garner valuable insights to help improve our designs and prototypes."
Mark Whatham, our Head of Marketing & Communications, said:
“As we move forwards with the website we’ll make sure we work closely with our beneficiaries to ensure that accessibility remains at the heart of everything we do. We have some exciting developments in the pipeline for a beneficiary resource area which will need to be accessible for our blind veterans who have a broad spectrum of vision impairments.
“If there’s any organisation that would like to understand more about making an online experience more accessible, we would be more than happy to talk them through our journey and what we learned along the way.”