Last week the HeX Productions team took a trip down to Neath, South Wales on behalf of Broxtowe Borough Council to witness the website being tested at Shaw Trust.

Blind PersonShaw Trust is a charity that specialises in creating a more inclusive world  for disabled people and other people  experiencing challenges in life. As a part of this, their Accessibility Services team take on websites to be tested for accessibility. These tests are carried out using by Shaw Trust staff members with disabilities.

The Accessibility Services team provided us with an incredibly warm welcome, myself and Jon were introduced to Alan, who is blind, and uses a screen reader.

As a content writer and not a developer, I’m going to shy away from the technical aspects and focus on the accessibility issues that were encountered in the content. After having chance to see how the screen reader worked (Alan even turned off the monitor to give us a true impression), I was interested to see what Alan’s greatest challenges are as someone relies solely on the screen reader to read text online.

He informed me that far too many websites have headers wrong. He explained that too many websites are not ordering their content correctly, H2 tags are not being used after H1 and H3 are not being used after H2. When writing content, H2 should be a sub-heading to the H1, H3 should be a sub-heading to H2, and so forth.

It occurred to me how often I had done this from a purely aesthetic perspective, using H3 after H1 in a blog because ‘it looks better’. Talking to Alan has given me a whole new perspective, because he doesn’t care about how the site looks, he cares about the layout. The physical separation of content through different headers is essential or he won’t be able to navigate through the website.

Moving on from Alan, we were introduced to Michael, who uses voice commands to navigate through websites. From his perspective, most of the issues raised were technical and not content related. However, he did tell us to make sure the website isn’t too hard to navigate. This is something that specifically stuck with me as sometimes websites can get carried away content wise and create several more pages and links than there theoretically should be.

After a brief break for lunch, we were introduced to Adam, who has both a learning and visual impairment. He uses a zoom function to navigate round the website. Adam gave us a hugely informative tour of  Broxtrowe Borough Council’s website, including giving me some tips on how to make the content of our site more accessible. Adam told me that I should always explain abbreviations and acronyms at the first instance of them being used. Despite this being common practice among many content personnel, there have been numerous occasions where I have read copy on a website and had to Google the acronym. He also let me know that from a visual perspective, I shouldn’t include GIFs on websites, videos that auto play and otherwise distracting images as these can induce seizures among some people.

Finally we were introduced to Kevin who had use of only one of his hands, this means he had to navigate using the keyboard. Most issues he experienced were technical and not content related, but it was a valuable chat nonetheless.

I came out of Shaw Trust with my eyes well and truly opened. For far too long, content writers and web developers have been unintentionally making websites inaccessible for disabled people. This experience has completely changed the way I write and lay out a blog or write any part of a website, as I now understand the importance of making a website accessible for everyone.