This year marks the 33rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in various areas, including employment, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications. While the ADA was enacted before the widespread adoption of the internet and digital technologies, it has a significant impact on mandating digital content and services to be accessible to people with disabilities.
In today’s fast-paced world, technology plays an increasingly vital role in connecting nonprofits with their donors. From online fundraising platforms to social media campaigns, the digital landscape offers immense potential for expanding outreach and impact.
However, amidst these technological advancements, it is crucial for nonprofits to remain mindful of an often-overlooked aspect: digital accessibility.
By embracing the following 7 steps, nonprofits can ensure their digital platforms are accessible to all, demonstrate inclusivity, enhance donor engagement, and foster a more compassionate and impactful philanthropic community.
1. Understand Digital Accessibility
Digital accessibility refers to the practice of designing websites, applications, and digital content in a way that enables all individuals, including those with disabilities, to perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with them effectively. For nonprofits, this means creating an online presence that is welcoming to people with diverse abilities, including those with visual, auditory, motor, and cognitive impairments.
2. Adopt the Inclusivity Imperative
Incorporating digital accessibility should not be seen as an optional add-on, but rather as an imperative for fostering inclusivity within the nonprofit sector. Just as physical spaces are expected to be accessible to everyone, the same principle should extend to the digital realm. By making accessibility a core value, nonprofits send a powerful message of compassion, equality, and understanding.
3. Address Common Accessibility Barriers
Understanding the challenges faced by individuals with disabilities is the first step toward addressing accessibility barriers. Some common issues include:
- Visual Impairments: Nonprofits should ensure their websites are compatible with screen readers, use descriptive alt text for images, and maintain clear and consistent navigation.
- Hearing Impairments: Providing accurate captions and transcripts for videos and audio content ensures that those with hearing impairments can fully engage with multimedia content.
- Motor Impairments: Designing websites and forms with keyboard navigation in mind helps individuals who cannot use a mouse or touchscreen.
- Cognitive Impairments: Simplifying website layouts, using plain language, and avoiding flashing animations can make digital content more accessible to those with cognitive challenges.
4. Collaborate with Donors and Advocacy Groups
To best understand the diverse needs of their donors, clients, and/or beneficiaries, nonprofits should actively engage with individuals and advocacy groups representing various disabilities. Feedback from these communities will provide valuable insights into potential improvements for digital accessibility.
5. Prioritize Web Accessibility Compliance
Many countries have introduced web accessibility laws and guidelines to ensure digital content is accessible to all citizens. Nonprofits must stay informed about these regulations and work toward meeting or exceeding the required accessibility standards.
For organizations based in the United States, the W3C Web Accessiblity Initiative* provides a comprehensive look on best practices for web accessibility.
6. Conduct Regular Accessibility Audits
Conducting regular accessibility audits of digital platforms helps identify and rectify potential barriers. These audits can be carried out by internal staff or external consultants with expertise in web accessibility. This will ensure things like accessible and inclusive website design, functionality, and structure are in place to remove any barriers affecting individuals.
7. Train Staff and Volunteers
Educating staff and volunteers about the importance of digital accessibility and providing training on creating accessible content empowers the entire team to contribute to an inclusive digital environment.
In this digital age, nonprofits have an opportunity to create meaningful and lasting connections with their donors through accessible online platforms. Embracing digital accessibility not only aligns with core values of compassion and inclusivity, but also strengthens the bond between nonprofits and their donors, and even enlarges an empowered donor pool. By working together to build a more accessible future, nonprofits can ensure that every individual, regardless of ability, can participate fully in the philanthropic journey.
Let’s champion accessibility as a cornerstone of modern nonprofit values. Here are a few resources to help you get started:
- Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG): the source of truth for all things relating to digital accessibility standards.
- The A11y Project: a collection of community-sourced resources for web accessibility.
- Deque Systems: a wealth of resources such as webinars, articles, and checklists to help organizations improve their accessibility efforts.
- WAVE Web Evaluation tools: free and easy evaluation tool/browser extension that helps organizations make their web content more accessible.
* It’s important to note that the interpretation and application of the ADA in the digital space can vary, and there are ongoing discussions and legal developments in this area. While the ADA is a U.S. law, other countries may have their own accessibility laws and regulations that impact the digital realm. To ensure compliance, many businesses and organizations strive to follow accessibility guidelines such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) issued by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). These guidelines provide best practices for making digital content accessible to people with disabilities.
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