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Mark Atterbury offers advice on how best to reach disabled and deaf people online.

The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) states that service providers must not discriminate against disabled people. A website is regarded as a service and therefore falls under this law, and, as such, must be made accessible to everyone. The good news is that project managers have access to a growing armoury of resources and tools so that they know how to ask for accessible websites from their developers. Some arts organisations are making their websites more accessible, but there are many arts websites out there that are just not accessible at all.

Are you engaging with young disabled and deaf people? If you want to develop your young audience, including young disabled and deaf people, making your web accessible is key to your marketing strategy. Be aware, however, that many young people don’t identify as deaf or disabled. But making your website more accessible will benefit all young people. Young people’s needs will also change over time and, as you develop relationships, keep asking them for their access requirements and general wants and needs.

What can you do?

  • Think about your navigation – is the most important information first? Are your headings meaningful?
  • Use colours, symbols and pictures to illustrate your pages, key information and navigation or entry points.
  • Use plain English! Everyone will be able to understand your material better, and as most web users ‘scan read’ text on a website, it’s crucial to get your messages across simply and effectively.
  • Use breadcrumbs (navigation links telling you where you are within the site) so that people know where they are and how to retrace their steps.
  • Have ‘skip navigation’ and ‘clear link names’ for people who use keyboards and screen readers.
  • Encourage users to comment, add their own content (whether it is photos, videos, artwork, etc.) to develop relationships and ownership.
  • Use social networks like YouTube, Facebook, Bebo or Myspace to connect into existing networks.

Bear in mind that Facebook is not very accessible for people who use screen readers because the text is fixed at a very small size, and there are often images without appropriate describing text. Learning disabled, visually impaired and dyslexic people are unable to interpret the randomly generated text pictures to verify their login. Facebook has recently added an audio link to the process as an alternative.

A recent ‘State of the eNation’ report on the accessibility of social networking sites found that the majority of social networking sites “effectively lock disabled users out”.

The following scenarios are taken from Shape’s Accessible Marketing seminar:

Joanna is deaf

She likes to use email to communicate and to book tickets. Clear navigation on your website will enable her to use it easily and make booking tickets and seeking further information simple. The multi-media content of your website is currently not available to her – until you use a multi-media format that enables synchronized captioning of audio and description of video. Your marketing department also set up a dedicated chat area on the website where disabled people can exchange ideas about your venue. Joanna found that the Web-based chat format, and the opportunity to provide Web-based text comments on events and facilities, ensured that she feels involved and valued as a customer.

Alan is learning disabled

He has difficulty with abstract concepts, reading and doing mathematical calculations. He usually finds his own information about the visual arts club he attends at your venue, but sometimes finds that he becomes confused, and finds it difficult to keep track of when sessions are and what the programme is, as well as getting information about other things going on. He can use websites fairly easily if they have a lot of pictures. Your site does not currently have many pictures and is predominantly words – which Alan finds difficult. Your marketing department is redesigning the website. They have decided to use consistent design and consistent navigation options so that users like Alan can learn and remember their way around it. They will also use clear and simple language so that their customers will be able to quickly understand the material.

Mark Atterbury is Communications Manager at Shape.
T: 020 7619 2608 (voice);
E: mark@shapearts.org.uk;
W: www.shapearts.org.uk

Find out more about Shape’s Accessible Marketing and Publicity seminar and Shape’s Accessible Websites panel session at www.shape.arts.uk

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