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Online accessibility in the arts – what we learnt at #AMAConf

19 July 2019

During the 2-day AMA Conference, we met individually with 28 organisations to review and discuss the accessibility of their websites.

The theme of this year’s conference was Rewire – Culture, Audiences and You. Making your website accessible is about reaching new audiences by changing your perceptions. By rewiring your approach to accessibility. (We’ve written about Creating an Access Culture in your organisation on AMA’s blog.)


It’s not us … it’s you

When we talk about 'website accessibility' most people assume we mean the code and how your website works. That's only part of it though.

Web developers can build you the most technically-accessible website ever. But if you add images without alt text, write copy that people can’t understand, or use low-contrast colours for vital information, your site is not accessible.

Our reviews focused on things you can do now to make accessibility improvements, without the support of your web developers. Here’s a rundown of the most common themes, and some of the stats to help you benchmark your website.


Language

The average reading age needed to understand copy on the websites we reviewed was 25.

To put that in context, the average reading age of adults in the UK is 9.

This might sound low to you. But the UK population is all kinds of diverse; English isn’t everyone’s strongest skill or first language. Keeping your writing easy to understand is important.

What’s the challenge?

A lot of feedback we got from AMA delegates is that they don’t have control over web copy. Event and exhibition copy comes from external artists and promoters. And organisational copy is usually written by committee and/or senior management.

How can we do better?

We suggest sharing Hemingway App with your colleagues and external partners. Have a goal for the reading age of your website (e.g. Grade 10), and encourage people to review – and edit – their own copy to meet that goal.

It won’t always work! But with both creative control and the tools to review what they've written, at least some people will be encouraged to write simpler copy. (Which will be easier for everyone to understand.)


Images and video

None of the websites we reviewed had alt text on every image.

Missing alt text, text as part of imagery, videos without subtitles ... we saw these no-nos on every site we reviewed.

It’s great that our websites are becoming more image-led, and that we can produce good quality videos on a budget. But if you can’t see the picture or hear the video, you’ll miss out.

What’s the challenge?

Adding alt text to an image takes seconds. And adding subtitles to video is simple to do with the right tools. So why don’t we do it more often? Frequently, it's down to habit. We’re failing to ask ourselves "Could I understand this content if I couldn’t see like I see, or hear like I hear?".

How can we do better?

Consider having an organisational wide ‘pass’ test for images and video content: Does it have alt text? Is the file name understandable? Does the video have subtitles?

Start small. Ensure all key images on your website have alt text, and that video content has subtitles. (Or has a written transcription available.) Key pages to review may include Your Visit, How to Book, and event pages.

You can then build on this. Remember; sharing the load and keeping alt text short and simple will help. And take pride in the fact people can understand your image and video content, regardless of how they access it.


Colour

Every website we reviewed had a least one inaccessible colour combination.

Colour plays a significant role on most websites. Whether it’s a way for you to communicate your brand, theme content, or indicate strands of work.

What’s the challenge?

There are two issues here. First, brand colour palettes. These have often been developed for use in print, so they might not work online.

The second issue is the level of flexibility. A lot of the websites we reviewed had the option for admins to change colours. This means we can be led by artistic ideas, rather than practicalities.

How can we do better?

First, consider how colour is used on your site. Does it sit behind text? How big is that text? What colour is it? Does colour feature on key calls-to-action (e.g. 'Book' buttons)?

Once you've reviewed how colour is used, test the contrast using a contrast checker. If colour features on vital information, make sure it passes contrast checks.

If your brand colours aren’t accessible online, consider ways to use showcase them that don’t make key actions on the site difficult. For example; use words as well as colour-coding for event categories.


Everyone wants to do better 🙌

As a sector, we care about the accessibility of our websites. It was amazing to see the level of attention – and genuine care – people have when it comes to making their websites more accessible.

The good news? There’s a lot you can do that won’t cost money, won’t take much time, and can feed-in to other areas of your business.

We’ve pulled-together a few handy tips and links to help you improve the accessibility of your organisation’s website: Access Resources

And if you’d like a review of your website to see how you compare, get in touch with me.

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