Photo by Thomas Renaud on Unsplash
July 8, 2020

How can you make your website friendlier and more accessible?

Amanda Luker

Advomatic’s Sarah Durham and Amanda Luker discuss how to constantly improve your website, create different ways to experience content, and run accessibility audits of your nonprofit’s website. Learn how you can make your website friendlier to all users, including those who are differently abled.


Sarah Durham: Welcome to the smart communications podcast. I’m Sarah Durham and I’m joined today by Amanda Luker who is a front end developer at Advomatic. Hi Amanda.

Amanda Luker: Hello.

Sarah Durham: So for those of you who don’t know Advomatic, Advomatic is Big Duck’s sister agency and they build and maintain and continuously improve websites for nonprofits. And Amanda, it turns out, is something of an expert in building and maintaining friendly and accessible sites, sites that more people can use and enjoy. So I invited her on the show today to tell us a little bit about what makes a site friendlier and more accessible. So before we dig in, tell us just a little bit about how you got interested in this topic, Amanda.

Amanda Luker: Sure. I went to an event in Minneapolis which is where I’m from. It’s a company called WECO and websites are tested by users with different disabilities, varying abilities. And I went to an event where we went around the room and watched while people with different disabilities use websites. And it was very interesting to see how, for instance, a blind user would interact with a website or someone who needed braille to read a website would use it and it was very eyeopening to see that and it made me think that we needed to incorporate some of these things into how we do our work at Advomatic.

Sarah Durham: And Amanda wrote a really interesting blog that I’ll link to in the show notes where she took a look at the democratic presidential candidates. This was in the summer of 2019 and she did a little bit of an analysis on their websites and highlighted some of the things that they were doing that made their sites either easier or perhaps more difficult to use. And it’s an interesting thing. I mean as a front end developer, I think now you bring this lens to everything you do. How many people can see and use and interact with this website effectively? Do most front end developers do that? What does a front end developer do?

Amanda Luker: More and more. I think one issue is that often as a development shop we don’t get access to how the designs will look until they’ve already been made. And so if we have feedback, you know, we need to be talking to designers before that. Issues of contrast especially need to be addressed during that part of the process. But there’s a lot you can do once you start implementing a website design to improve accessibility and usability. A lot of times it’s adding alt attributes or descriptions to images or videos. That’s a big issue. Making sure the navigation makes sense and a user can tab through it using a keyboard. That’s a huge issue as well.

Sarah Durham: So it’s an interesting thing to me because I hear this word accessibility bandied around a lot and when I hear you talk about it, what I’ve come to understand through our conversations is that it’s much more about not necessarily making a site different for people who are differently abled, but more so just thinking through the multiple ways that different people want to use your site. So why is that? How do people use sites differently? I’m saying this because I’m thinking about our listeners as nonprofits who might already have a website or might be thinking about a website, how should they think about how different people use their websites?

Amanda Luker: One thing to think about is that it’s about constant improvement. The issue I had with the report that was done on the presidential campaign websites that said none of these websites are accessible is that they are accessible. They just could be better. So it’s not about complete remediation, it’s about constantly improving it and making a website more user friendly. Well, I think about it in terms of creating multiple ways of experiencing content. So that might mean adding a transcript or captioning videos. Preferably you do both. You just throw up an embedded YouTube video and you’re eliminating a large segment of your population from being able to see it.

Sarah Durham: We do it with the podcast on our website. If you, you can listen to the podcast on the website, but you can also read a transcript of the podcast. So if you have some sort of auditory impairment or you’re just simply sitting in a place where you can’t listen to something aloud, then you can read the transcript.

Amanda Luker: Right. One other thing that can happen is users can get trapped on a page. So if you’re a user that needs to use a keyboard, you could just be tabbing through and never be able to get out of like a rotator or something. So it’s just like thinking about the different avenues that a user might experience the content.

Sarah Durham: So if a nonprofit has built a website or is about to build a website in a standard tool, let’s say like Drupal or WordPress or something like that, do those platforms sort of out of the box? Let’s say you’re building a website for a small organization and you’re just using a template that came with Squarespace or Wix or any of those lower costs, DIY site builders, are they thinking about accessibility? Do they come with those things or do you, if you’re building your own website, have to?

Amanda Luker: Right. Drupal and WordPress definitely are accessible out of the box. It’s everything that you do to it to customize it and the content that you add to it. Those are the things that will degrade your accessibility. So if you are adding images and not putting descriptions or all text on them, that’s going to degrade your accessibility. If you’re adding plugins, you know JavaScript to make it look fancy, those things could degrade your accessibility. What is alt text? It’s a description on the image that lives in the code, so if somebody is using a screen reader it will read out the description.

Sarah Durham: So instead of just uploading an image and it has a name like you know, happy people.jpeg. I also upload all taxed on that image that is read aloud to people who use screen readers.

Amanda Luker: Exactly.

Sarah Durham: You’ve talked a little bit about forms in some of our discussions about this. Why are forms a different challenge from an accessibility point of view?

Amanda Luker: Forms can be very tricky and for nonprofits especially, forums are going to be one of the number one ways that you are interacting with your audience. You know through donation forms or contact forms, sign up forms, you need them to be super accessible. So that means if somebody is filling out a form and they make a mistake, you need to be very clear about where the mistake was made, highlight it, but also take the user back to that field. These are things that if it’s not done right, a user could bail, they’ll just say-

Sarah Durham: I’m not going to make this donation.

Amanda Luker: Exactly. So that’s one place where it’s worth the extra effort to make it completely accessible.

Sarah Durham: And for an organization that is trying to focus itself on accessibility, perhaps go back and analyze an existing site or something like that. What are the levels of accessibility or where should somebody look to get some guidelines around accessibility?

Amanda Luker: There’s a WAVE, W-A-V-E, testing tool and webaim. They’re the organization that provides that tool. Those are good places to start. WCAG provides the metric for measuring how accessible a website is, so we always aim for AA level of accessibility. AAA is the gold standard and most of what separates AA accessibility from AAA has to do with whether your captioning videos creating these alternative experiences for users with disabilities. Doing that extra due diligence, but AA is something that we bake into all the work that we do.

Sarah Durham: So if you are a nonprofit that’s operating in a kind of DIY way and you want to assess how accessible your site is, you can go online and do some searches, find some automated tools and those are going to give you some results. But if you work with a partner or a web developer who helps you maintain your site, then they should come to the table with those things.

Amanda Luker: Exactly. Google provides another service that’s really nice called Lighthouse and that’s a tool you can just put your URL in and it will give you a score. The issue with that is it’ll give you all this technical feedback, but you may not know what to do with that information. It can get a little hard to crack if you’re not a tech person.

Sarah Durham: A little wonky, so it’s helpful to have a techie. You can call upon to translate some of it.

Amanda Luker: Absolutely.

Sarah Durham: So as we wrap up, I wanted to share a couple of resources for those of you who are trying to figure this out. Amanda just listed a few things you can look at and we’ll link to those in the show notes. There’s also her blog on the Advomatic website and a number of other resources around accessibility by the time this podcast is aired Amanda and I will have recorded also probably a video and posted some things on that. All of those are on but there is also I think a plethora of resources you can find online and ask whomever you work with to do. In particular, one of the things I know Amanda does a lot of for her clients is accessibility audits, like going in and doing an analysis and helping an organization prioritize what should be done first, what are the biggest issues, so that’s probably a good place to start.

Amanda Luker: Yeah, we run a battery of tests. We run some of the ones that I mentioned. We will run those, but then we kind of weight the score based on how important it is and how much time it will take to remediate. And if there’s like, you know, say you’ve got a video that’s like pulsing and you could induce a seizure, we’ll be able to tell you right away like this is-

Sarah Durham: Gotta fix that.

Amanda Luker: This is something we need to fix right away. But like I said, most things, it’s a scale. We’re just trying to always improve and do better.

Sarah Durham: The thing about your website is it’s alive and you have to be constantly in the business of making it smarter, better, easier to use. It’s an iterative, every day your site should be getting better kind of thing. And so this is just yet another sort of module of the importance of making your site better. All right, Amanda Luker, thank you for joining me today.

Amanda Luker: Thank you. It was great to be here.