Your nonprofit’s website is your “home” on the internet. It tells your organization’s story, conveys your values, and shares the importance of your mission. You probably carefully crafted it to be informative, inspiring, and useful for supporters of your cause. But, did you truly factor in all supporters— especially regarding the accessibility of your site?
If you didn’t prioritize accessibility best practices when creating your nonprofit’s website, you could be excluding a significant portion of your nonprofit’s supporters from engaging with it.
Simply put, nonprofit website accessibility describes whether or not a website is usable for all site visitors, regardless of ability. Essentially, all users should be able to interact with a nonprofit’s website even if they have hearing, visual, or other impairments.
In this guide, we’ll cover the importance of nonprofit website accessibility and how to improve your organization’s standing. Let’s get started.
Introduction to Nonprofit Website Accessibility
Why is it essential to have an accessible website?
Accessibility in the United States is regulated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Generally speaking, most nonprofits are required to abide by the ADA— any organization with 15 or more employees that has “public accommodations” or services or facilities open to the general public is required to comply.
The question of whether websites fall under the purview of the ADA is slightly unclear. As of 2020, nonprofit organizations’ websites were not required to be ADA compliant. However, the general consensus is moving toward the idea that websites should be legally required to be accessible. Recent court cases have found that if charges are filed against a nonprofit for not being accessible, they can be required to bring their site up to par from an accessibility standpoint. So, as far as whether you’re required to have an accessible site, it could just be a matter of time.
Regardless of the legality, having an accessible website is simply the best practice. Accessibility provides several benefits for your organization, including that it:
- Fosters a more inclusive culture and shows that your nonprofit is welcoming and inclusive for all.
- Creates a more pleasant user experience for all site visitors.
- Minimizes the loss of web visitors due to those users’ inability to interact with the web content.
- Improves the search engine’s ability to read and understand the content on your site, which can improve rankings.
Because of the many benefits of accessibility, it’s worthwhile to evaluate your nonprofit’s website against the official standards for nonprofit website accessibility.
Where can you find the official standards for nonprofit website accessibility?
The accessibility guidelines used to determine a website’s ADA compliance are set by the Worldwide Web Consortium. These standards are called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
The WCAG outlines four core principles of accessible design, including that websites should be:
- Perceivable: Anyone should be able to perceive information on your website, regardless of their ability.
- Operable: Your site navigation should be easily navigable, whether using a mouse, keyboard, trackpad, or assistive device.
- Understandable: Your website content should be structured in a way that’s easy to understand, in a logical and chronological order.
- Robust and Easily Interpreted: The back-end code of your website should be structured clearly and logically to ensure that browsers and assistive devices can easily navigate it.
While these four core principles are a great starting point for understanding accessibility, it’s not quite enough information to begin optimizing your website. Let’s explore a few specific accessibility updates that you can make to align your site with WCAG’s principles.
Four Best Practices for an Accessible Website in 2022
Most nonprofit websites are already largely compatible with WCAG guidelines and accessible. If you followed general web design best practices and are using a modern website builder, your site is likely in good shape to begin with.
However, there are updates that you may have overlooked in the web design process. Consider these four best practices to make your website more accessible for all site visitors.
1. Include text alternatives for all non-text elements.
For website visitors with a visual disability, non-text elements can be challenging to discern. A screen reader or other assistive device won’t be able to interpret what an image is depicting unless you include text alternatives for the device to interpret.
All images that provide meaningful information to users should include either descriptive alternative text or a caption.
Alternative text is largely invisible from the front-end of the site unless the page doesn’t load in its entirety (in which case the alternative text will be shown in lieu of the image). This should be a concise, but descriptive sentence that spells out what the image depicts in words.
On the other hand, captions are visible from the front-end of the site, generally below the image itself. It should generally be structured the same as alternative text.
2. Clean up forms.
Many nonprofits use interactive forms on their websites, whether it’s an online donation form, volunteer sign-up, event registration, or email sign-up. If these forms aren’t accessible, it can deter supporters from signing up to engage with your nonprofit.
When it comes to accessibility for interactive forms, all instructions to fill out the form should be clearly communicated. This includes best practices such as:
- All form fields should have a clear label outside of the box itself, saying what information the field is asking for.
- Inside of form field “boxes,” include “invisible” placeholder text that reiterates the information that should be included or discusses any format specifications.
- Any forms that are required should be clearly labeled as such.
- All forms should be tab-friendly, meaning users should be able to use the “tab” button on the keyboard to navigate through form fields.
The ability to make these changes will depend, at least somewhat, on the web builder and form-generating software (such as your online donation platform) that you’re partnering with. Inquire about the accessibility features of any platforms before investing in them.
3. Streamline the visual design of your website.
The more complicated and flashy your nonprofit’s website is, the harder it is to maintain compliance. Simplify the visual design of your website in the following ways to improve its accessibility:
- Remove any elements that involve jarring or flashing lights, which can cause visual disruptions for some site visitors.
- Hide decorative-only images (such as stock photos) from being shown to screen readers.
- Update the color contrast of any text and the background of your site, to ensure text is visible to visitors with visual disabilities.
While it may seem like these are basic, aesthetic changes, you’ll find that the top nonprofit websites all incorporate these best practices. Check out DNL OmniMedia’s guide to top websites to see what we mean.
4. Don’t neglect your virtual and hybrid events.
While the pivot to virtual and hybrid events in 2020 was a quick adjustment, many nonprofits are planning to keep these event types around for the foreseeable future.
These events take place over the internet, either via your website, a dedicated microsite, or even dedicated virtual event software. Because they’re going to continue being popular in 2022, it’s important to acknowledge that accessibility doesn’t end with your main website— you should prioritize accessibility in your virtual and hybrid environments as well.
All of the best practices noted previously in this guide apply to virtual and hybrid events. However, you should also pay close attention to the video elements of your events. All guests who have auditory disabilities should be able to interact with those elements, which means you’ll need to provide either:
- A full transcription of the audio.
- Live captions.
- Live ASL interpreters.
Ideally, aim to provide more than one of these options— such as live captions during the event and a full transcription after the fact. This way, guests can participate in the method they prefer.
Accessibility is crucial to ensure all of your nonprofit’s generous supporters can access all of the elements on your website. It has numerous benefits, from improved morale to increased engagement.
If you’re using a modern web builder, there’s a decent chance that much of your website is already accessible. However, double-checking for and incorporating these four best practices will help it cross the accessibility finish-line.