Creating accessible charity web content: 42group’s guide

Create people-first charity websites

The internet is for everyone, but poor quality charity copywriting, content and an awful user experience can create barriers for those with some requirements. Online accessibility is important, enabling everyone who visits your website to be able to access, understand and enjoy your content. Accessible web content is a combination of clear content, copywriting and behind-the-scenes technical improvements to 

Why bother with accessibility? The more inclusive and accessible your content, the bigger your audience and the larger your impact. Maximising content accessibility isn’t just common sense; it’s a legal requirement. We could provide a stat here showing that millions of people with impairments and disabilities access the internet, but you should already know that.

Nobody should need to force you to do the right thing. The good news is that creating accessible copy and content is simple, effective and will improve impact. How? Here’s 42group’s guide to creating accessible charity content.

Understanding web accessibility

Let’s start with a brief description of web accessibility. To us, web accessibility is about ensuring there are no barriers to accessing, experiencing, and enjoying your content. 

The technical standards are set out in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). This is a lengthy – and vital – document that explains your responsibilities for making content and sites accessible. 

If you haven’t read this, it’s an important place to start.

The document can be complex, but you’re not alone. You’ll find that there are hundreds of organisations that can help you audit your website and identify areas where you need to make improvements. Much of this focuses on technical aspects and user experience – but content plays a role, too.

Charities are bound by the Equality Act 2010, like the rest of the UK’s businesses and organisations. This landmark piece of legislation sets out the responsibilities of all organisations to ensure equity of access.

It’s a lot to take in, but the way to approach these guidelines and legislation is a way to optimise your websites and improve the user experience. 

For example, websites should be accessible to those with sight impairments. The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) has produced a toolkit to help content designers and website builders test the accessibility of sites and identify areas for improvement.

Why accessible content is vital for charities

The WCAG outlines best practices and the Equalities Act 2010 provides the legal context, but there is arguably an even stronger moral case for web accessibility for charities.

Charities exist to change and improve the world for the benefit of all. If your content is inaccessible, it’s fundamentally excluding one (or more) audience. This limits your engagement, influence, and impact – and in a world where charity competition is growing and fundraising is more challenging, this matters.

One great example of a charity website that gets it right is the disability charity Scope. The website exemplifies everything we’re talking about here. The content is clear, the site accessible and all technical elements have been tackled (image text, simple and accessible navigation, clear headings, etc.).

The Scope website is accessible and clear while being contemporary. The accessibility of the website doesn’t inhibit creativity or make the website clunky – it actually improves the user experience for everyone and it’s not the only benefit…

Why an accessible website boosts SEO

Accessible websites are better for SEO. Why? Because you’re sending the strongest signal to Google that you care about your audience and understand their requirements. 

The technical elements are important but matter less to your ranking than the clarity and simplicity of content. When you write for accessibility and put the user experience at the front of your thinking, you’re naturally (and in some cases, unintentionally) optimising your site.

We’re not going to go too deep into charity SEO here, but clear headings, logical content flow, a fast and functional site and easy-to-understand CTAs are all strong signals to Google. 

An accessible website removes impediments to your audience and also to Google’s algorithm. Accessible charity websites rank better. 

Key areas for improving web accessibility

We’ve explained the legal, technical and moral reasons why you should ensure website accessibility – now here’s how to do it. To illustrate what we mean, we’ve provided some examples from several UK charities so you can see the principles put into practice.

Alt text for images

Screen readers offer those with visual impairments the chance to understand and experience your site. They read the text and provide descriptions of images and other elements (like buttons), enabling those who can’t see your website clearly to use it.

Screen readers use image Alt Text to help readers understand what an image is and what it signifies. When you upload a photo to your site, you add a short description to the alt text, which sits behind the page (it isn’t visible). As the reader scrolls down the page, it reads your alt text. 

Good quality alt text = a more accessible website.

One of our favourites is the British Heart Foundation. They use descriptive alt text for images to enhance understanding and provide vital context for visually impaired users. Alt Text doesn’t have to be creative or complicated (in fact, it shouldn’t be). Keep Alt Text descriptions simple and 

Accessible navigation

Website navigation – effectively the flow of the user through the site and their ease of access to important information – is vital. Poor navigation can be frustrating for any user, but for those with disabilities or those with neurodiversity, it can prove to be an impenetrable barrier.

User experience experts can help you create a logical flow through your site. This specialist task is based on user feedback, testing, and insights. 

Even if you don’t have the money or time to do this, you can improve the navigation of an existing site using clear headings, a consistent layout, simple calls to action and contact touchpoints.

Cancer Research UK provides an excellent example of these principles. The website is designed to be straightforward and accessible, with clear headings and a consistent layout that make it easy to find the content you need. 

Keyboard navigation

Can you navigate through your website using the keyboard alone? You may not have tried – but you should. (Here’s a useful guide on how to access a website using a keyboard.) While we may scroll through sites using a mouse, trackpad or finger (on a mobile or tablet) but not everyone can do this. 

The National Trust’s website is a fantastic example of a website that can be navigated solely using your keyboard. The National Trust sites enable users to scroll, click, read and register – all without a mouse click or finger tap.

Captioning and transcripts for audio and video content

When you watch a video on social media, you’ll often see they’re captioned or with subtitles. It’s because people watch them without the sound on – but it’s also about accessibility. So much of web accessibility is about challenging assumptions. 

Go through your site and provide captions and transcripts for all multimedia content.

The Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) ensures all its video content is captioned, making it accessible to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. It’s a simple but highly effective way to improve accessibility.

Inclusive language

Every website should use clear, accessible, inclusive, and jargon-free language. Modern website users are solution-oriented visitors, and we don’t want to have to wait or wade through irrelevant, unnecessary, or unclear content to get the answers we want.

(We go into greater detail below on creating accessible content, so don’t worry you haven’t wasted your time.)

There are so many great examples of clear charity content, but Mind stands out to us. The mental health charity really embodies great content, using clear, simple, and inclusive language to make its online content accessible to the widest possible audience.

Accessible copywriting tips

Accessible copywriting is about finding the clearest way to convey your message. It sounds counterintuitive, but writing in this way can be a challenge for many people. Why? Because you’re creating content, then 

  • Understand your audience – Great content is created for an audience. Do you understand yours? We’re not looking to label people but to understand their motivations, preferences, priorities and problems they may experience when accessing your content. 
  • Assess what works (and what doesn’t) – Your website analytics and user data will provide some idea of the content on your site that works and what doesn’t. You can also broaden your search and look at sector leaders (like the examples we’ve provided above) to understand best practices. Look beyond the words on the website and understand how they use content to convey their messages.
  • Use simple language – We love complex works and catchy phrases, but consider how effectively they capture your message. Simple language is, by its nature, accessible to your audience – and to algorithms. 
  • Create a logical structure – Accessible content is effectively structured with easy-to-understand headings (H1s, H2s and H3s) and a logical flow. 
  • Think in questions, provide answers – Content should be focused on answering the questions your audience wants answers to. Sites like Cancer Research or the NHS websites, for example, do this wonderfully well. They’ve invested time to understand what their visitors want and provide answers in the clearest way possible within the fewest clicks.
  • Edit and edit again – Great content is a combination of inspiration and editing. When you’ve created content always apply an editorial process to it. This not only identifies errors, but if you (or a colleague) approach it with fresh eyes or a new perspective, you can identify errors or areas for improvement.
  • Translate what’s on paper to the page – Content that works on a Word Doc or Google Doc may not work on the site. Always build a stage into your process that analyses how content looks on a page – and how it can be improved. 
  • Test content – You may have a deep understanding of the principles of people-first content, but you need to validate your viewpoint. This happens through testing. If you can, use focus groups and user tests. If not, check with colleagues, friends, or family members to get an honest and impartial view.
  • Codify best practices in a content guide – When you establish a tone of voice and approach to your content, capture this in a content guide which you can use as the basis of creating any new content. This can save time and money and reduce your reliance on specialist charity content agencies like 42group.

How to improve accessible content: Audit, edit and improve

We know charities are under pressure to do more with fewer resources. While you may not have the resources to commission new content, you can improve existing content with our three-step process. 

  1. Audit – Start by understanding where your site is failing in terms of accessibility standards. Technical elements can be checked using a free website accessibility checker. We don’t want to criticise professionals, but for charities with limited budgets, a lot of UX and content accessibility is common sense. Approach your site as a new user and ask yourself relevant questions. Is it clear? Do I know what to do? Can I find the information I need? Can I connect with the people I need to? This audit can identify areas for improvement which should be prioritised. Start with the biggest impact changes and work from there…
  2. Edit – Every charity would probably love a new website, but before spending tens of thousands, explore the improvements you can make to your existing site. Editing content, improving technical accessibility, and refining the navigation are all achievable within your existing site. At 42group, we regularly work with clients to support this process, providing cost-effective and rapid improvements to their sites.
  3. Improve—The process of improvement is continuous. You need to ensure that you have the ability and confidence to edit, update, and improve your site as you add content, new sections, products, services, or customer touchpoints. As previously mentioned, we encourage the creation of toolkits, guides, and other internal resources that internalise knowledge and share accessibility best practices.

We use this simple, three-step process when engaging with clients. It’s about embedding best practices and providing organisations with the capability and confidence to take charge of their content and accessibility.

Wrapping up…

It’s a no-brainer that charities should ensure their websites and content are accessible, but so many don’t. Accessibility isn’t a one-off activity but a continual process that involves assessing what works, refining things and looking to the future. 

Ensuring your charity website is accessible is a legal requirement. More importantly, you have a moral duty to the people you represent. Accessible websites have more impact and influence – inspiring visitors. This can increase awareness and drive donations.

Searching for a charity content partner?

At 42group, we provide people-first content, copywriting and web editing to help you create human connections.

Get in touch if you’d like to know more about what we do and how we can help you…

Get in touch

Want to connect with your customers?

Get in touch!