Nonprofit organizations should care deeply about accessibility, but recent studies show they’re falling short. Really short.
The good news is that it’s quite possible to build beautiful accessible websites with attention and care. Nonprofits must make web accessibility a priority to better serve their constituents and embody their values in their websites.
The WebAIM Million
Recently, the web accessibility organization WebAIM got the web’s attention with their report “WebAIM Million” looking at the accessibility of the top 1 million home pages.
For anyone not familiar with web accessibility, it’s the practice and techniques of ensuring websites are usable regardless of how someone accesses a website. This includes people with vision, hearing, mobility, or cognitive impairments. Many folks in one or more of these groups rely on assistive technologies that enable the perception and manipulation of a computer in ways other than looking at a screen and using mouse and/or keyboard.
WebAIM’s study found an average of 59.6 accessibility errors per page and 97.8% of the web’s top 1 million had at least one error. And that’s not even the worst of it! Automatic accessibility testing can only look for ~25% of all accessibility standards, so the true number of errors is certainly much higher.
Why 60 Errors is greater than 60 times worse than 1 error
To help visualize how bad the state of web accessibility is, imagine walking down one block of sidewalk. An “accessibility error” for a sidewalk is a crack here (one error) and a tree root there (another error). Now imagine a block of sidewalk with 60 of these errors. Some are cracks and bumps, but others might be an unpaved segment, a 20-foot-deep hole, or just a massive wall halfway down the block. (And of course, there are no curb cuts on the corners.)
That sidewalk is bad enough walking, but imagine you are using a wheelchair or walking with a limp. These sidewalk issues are cumulative and vary in severity, but when you have enough of them, they will severely degrade or completely prevent any ability a person has to use the sidewalk.
The WebAIM “Nonprofit 100”
WebAIM followed up their big study with one investigating a subjective list of the top 100 nonprofit websites. These sites tended to be for larger organizations, often with an internal web team. Their report on accessibility errors among that sample was not encouraging either.
98 of 100 sites had at least one accessibility error and there was an average of 49 errors per page. This is consistent with the 47 errors-per-page for .org websites in the WebAIM million sample and 97.8% of overall websites with errors.
Why Nonprofits Should Do Better with Web Accessibility
Thinking back to the sidewalk example, 49 errors is a smaller number than the top 1 million sites’ average, but it’s probably not enough to make much of a difference. Do you care how many specific issues there are on a sidewalk if it’s impassable?
The sad part of this is that nonprofits should be on the leading edge of web accessibility! From WebAIM’s summary of their nonprofit study:
[M]any organizations are very aware of social issues and work hard to be inclusive, if for no other reason than to make sure patrons have access to online content and donation opportunities. So, should we expect the nonprofit world to have a greater degree of sensitivity, awareness, and action to include those with disabilities?
Yes. Yes we should.
Many of These Errors are Easy to Fix!
Frustratingly, many of the errors found in both studies were “low hanging fruit” errors. That means they are generally easy to fix or avoid in the first place!. Still, these types of errors can have a major impact on a visitor’s ability to use a site. Those errors were:
Especially for those first two errors, these are issues where the site editors must be aware of these concerns and work to proactively address them.
It’s Very Much Possible to Build Accessible Nonprofit Websites
Reading these depressing results and thinking about my own commitment to building accessible websites, I reviewed a number of sites I recently built.
I used WebAIM’s WAVE online testing tool to review 5 websites I have launched in 2019 and my own two primary websites.
When looking at these results, remember that this tool doesn’t check for all possible errors, nor does the absence of errors mean the sites are perfectly accessible. The reports listed a few false-positive contrast errors which I removed from the count. The data also only applies to a single point-in-time test that could always change with a content, plugin, theme, or WordPress update.
|Website||Errors on 6 June 2019|
(linked to report)
|Consortium for Service Innovation||1 (missing form label)|
|Poverty Action||12 (empty link, 11 contrast)|
|Computing Kids||5 (missing form label, 5 contrast)|
|Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks||5 (contrast)|
|MRW Web Design||0|
|Nonprofit WP||1 (contrast)|
Following a series of fixes taking about 1.5 hours total (at no charge to the clients), I have removed all but 1 contrast error in the original report. 1 new contrast error appeared on a second test before publishing this post. For various reasons, those two remaining errors are more complicated to fix. So at publication of this post, 5/7 sites have 0 errors and the other two have 1 contrast error each.
Here’s a gallery of all those home pages. Notice how varied they are in design, and yet they can all be made almost completely accessible! Accessible websites don’t have to boring, similar, or limited in features or design.
There is almost certainly room for further improvement to these sites, but they are all significantly better than the 47 errors-per-site average for the “Top 100 Nonprofits”.
Do Your Part
As I’ve written before, making an accessible website is like a relay race. WordPress must be accessible. Plugins and themes must be accessible. Web developers must combine these components accessibly. And finally, site owners and content editors must enter accessible content.
That may sound like a lot, but it’s possible with the right combination of attention, education, and a culture that buys in to the importance of an inclusive web built for everyone.
All websites should be accessible, but nonprofits have an even greater responsibility to lead the way in building websites that include every single member of the communities they serve. Reflecting on the results, WebAIM asks: “So, what are YOU going to do about it?” That’s the right question.
If you aren’t sure about the accessibility of your website, the recent WebAIM studies are the perfect motivation to test your site, learn more about accessibility, and start improving your site today!