Why accessible charity design is NOT for everyone 

What is accessible design and how does it differ from inclusive design? And why is it important to ensure that your charity has a website and brand that is both?
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Accessible charity design whether it be branding, website or campaign can be tricky. I mean the needs of someone who is visually impaired vs someone with epilepsy are vastly different, in fact, they could be the polar opposite. When you need to consider permanent versus temporary needs. A migraine sufferer might view your website one day and need no adjustments whatsoever, but the next day may need assistance to make a website design work better for them. 

What is the difference between accessible and inclusive design for your charity?

First off, they aren’t just the same thing.

Let me take you back to a cold, dank day a few years ago. I was waiting for a train on a drafty platform. I found the warm(ish) waiting room, a long, narrow space with an equally long, narrow, very basic-looking bench. It comprised just two very long lengths of wood, attached to the wall with some brackets. I sat down on the empty bench, and another commuter joined me. Then as more and more people came in, looking longingly at the bench, we all kept on shuffling down. Until I ran out of bench and slipped off the end. Thankfully it was an extremely slow-mo fall and I just styled it out (I didn’t, but anyway). What’s this got to do with design I can hear you wondering. Let me tell you.

Inclusive Design, well that’s all the people on the bench. Shuffling down and making room for others and making it work as best we could. Rather than a few of us just saying, “screw you, ya snooze ya lose” and spreading out along the bench. It’s about accommodating as many people as possible.

Accessible Design, well that’s the point just after I fell off where my newly found bench buddy, smiled and shuffled back a little so I could sit down again. It was about making a specific adjustment for just me, to make my experience better. 

Ok, back to the here and now. So if Inclusive Design is about designing for the masses and Accessible Design is about personalising it for a specific individual how can you satisfy both? It’s important to remember they work together, but never become the same thing.

Your charity’s website and all things digital design

This gives us huge opportunities for change and additions and makes our job easier compared to print media. When we design a charity website we carry out due diligence to ensure the design work is inclusive. 

For example, we use tests to ensure the colour contrast is good. Have you ever looked at bright green text on a red background and felt like the letters are swimmings around? Well, that’s an example of poor contrast and we’d want to avoid that. The size of text is important too, no one wants to read a paragraph that’s the size of small print. They will just give up. But beyond the usual stuff that makes a website work well for the majority of people, we will then use technology to help people to personal it for specific needs and requirements. AI can get a bad rep, but AI technology is allowing people to easily change their experience and make it bespoke to their needs instantly.

  • Struggling with all the colours, we’ve got a plugin that, with a click of a button, can make it black and white or muted tones. 
  • Prefer to read it in Welsh, Urdu, Polish? There’s technology for that. 
  • Want to make the size of the copy larger, no problem. 

You get the gist. 

It’s also super important to make sure your website is built properly. One example is ensuring your content is tagged so technology like screen readers, used by blind or visually impaired people, can function correctly. It is also key for anyone who relies on tab navigation.

Printed charity design – adverts, brochures and more

It’s trickier for sure as it’s less flexible. Once you’ve got an ad printed in a newspaper, you can’t then press a button and change the type size or up the contrast. But it doesn’t mean you can’t do it at all. Take a leaflet for example. Inclusive design is still about ensuring your type is a good size, colour contrast is right and font styles are legible. But then maybe on the back cover you’re clearly signalling where readers can gain access to the alternative print versions. Maybe one that’s in a different language or access to an audio transcript. Maybe, it directs them to your website for a truly bespoke experience.

Why does this matter for your charity?

And why should we bother with all of this? Well aside from various legislations across the world, which is ever evolving to reduce discrimination especially online, why go out of your way to alienate members of your customer, supporters or end users? And aside from that,  why not just do it because it’s nice not to be a d*ck. As a designer, it can be hard sometimes to accept that there are constraints you need to work with, rather than against. But that’s for a different blog. So, I will always champion inclusive and accessible design for any charity brand, website or campaign I work on. I never want my work to be the Mean Girls of concepts. Wilfully alienating people because they aren’t part of the clique. As I said before I’m less, ‘you can’t sit with us’ and more, “hey, here’s a really long bench, come sit down”.

Cross symbols denoting non accessible charity design

At Northern Bear we specialise in working with charities and non-profit organisations and because of this accessible design is consistently high on our agenda. Whether it’s a new website, logo or brand guidelines it’s a big part of our DO MORE GOOD ethos. But no matter your, target market or message, design is only truly great when it doesn’t discriminate. (We might get that printed on some t-shirts). 

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