Just how Accessible are you?
Recently, as I was walking to catch my morning train, I found myself reflecting back on key moments during my career where I have been involved in activities to improve diversity and inclusivity within the grant giving sector, and on conversations I have heard more recently in this space.
It struck me, that whilst there is a lot of good work being undertaken to address this issue, the topic of accessibility, in the context of inclusivity, is not one that I hear a great deal about. As a grants management professional, I am not simply referring to making a building or conference venue more accessible to individuals, but rather, the online grants management systems and other forms of software we use to attract individuals from diverse backgrounds to apply for funding programmes. Put simply, as a sector, do grant funding organisations adequately cater for individuals with disabilities in the most accessible manner? Do we do enough to be inclusive of this audience?
Experience would suggest – not really, or at least we can and should be doing a much better job.
Why is this important? According to the World Health Organisation, 15% (1.1 billion) of the world’s population has a recognised disability, and within the UK that would equate to more than 10 million individuals. That is quite a thought. More so, when you think that many of us are oblivious to the fact that many of our friends and colleagues are likely to have a disability. Users with different disabilities will access the web using different kinds of assistive software or tools to do so. For example, a blind person may use a screen reader, a partially sighted person may use a magnifier, captions are used by those whose hearing is impaired, and switch access used by those with motor disabilities.
Whilst many online grants management systems are intuitive and relatively easy to use, their design and the application forms contained within them very rarely meet best practice accessibility standards despite our best intentions. Greater emphasis would appear to be placed on ensuring that an organisation’s corporate brand and style sheet has pre-eminence and that we cater for the needs of our internal audience and stakeholders, as opposed to those that really matter.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with accessibility the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) have published Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 that defines how to make Web content more accessible to people with disabilities. Accessibility involves a wide range of disabilities, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, language, learning, and neurological disabilities.
The WCAG2.0 checklist sets out four principles and supporting guidelines under each, that should govern the design of webpages and web-based systems, such as grants management systems. The principles are detailed as follows:
Perceivable - Web content is made available to the senses - sight, hearing, and/or touch
Operable - Interface forms, controls, and navigation are operable
Understandable - Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable
Robust - Content can be used reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
Accessibility compliance should be one of the main features of your grants management system, so that its intended use caters for as diverse an audience as possible. Your system should be thought of as a ‘Public Library’ were everyone has access to the information that they need. If you do not provide the right access to it, then users cannot use it equally and to the same degree. Anyone considering acquiring a new grants management system should clearly specify compliance with WCAG 2.0 principles as a key business requirement, and those with existing systems should be compelled to review whether they meet basic accessibility standards. Through lack of awareness, accessibility issues are unfortunately introduced unintentionally to systems through user generated content such as application forms, which have not been created consistently using appropriate language and terminology to meet compliance standards.
The topic of accessibility is very broad, and I have barely scratched the surface in writing this blog. However, I wanted to highlight and raise awareness concerning the topic of accessibility from a grant funders perspective, and would encourage all grant funding organisations to prioritise the design of their systems and application forms in an accessible manner for the audience that matters most. It should be seen as a necessary step to further facilitate the move towards fostering a more inclusive sector, accepting and supporting individuals from a more diverse background.
If this piece has resonated with any grants management professionals, then at least I have contributed to raising some awareness and highlighting the fact that it is a barrier that is often neglected. As we have entered a new decade, I would strongly encourage funding organisations to consider reviewing whether their systems and application forms are accessible and inclusive of all individuals, and make it a priority in 2020 to make improvements where they can.