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How to create an accessible and welcoming space, online and offline

By REDC Design Advisor Laura Harper Lake

Accessibility is a key issue that affects every aspect of our lives. In the last two to three years it has been a movement that picked up speed within REDC. Our commitment goes beyond having facilities that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), with accessible parking spaces, restrooms, or braille signs, for example. We want to make sure that we’re doing everything possible to break down barriers to accessing our resources and materials.

At REDC, we think of accessibility in a broad way. Along with disabilities, visible and invisible, being accessible extends to folks for whom English is not a first language or New Americans, who may be unfamiliar with a financing or legal system different than where they come from. Or even people who don’t have access to the internet, a computer, or a smartphone. We're always looking for ways someone’s needs aren't being met, and we're open to learning more and figuring out innovative ways to be inclusive.

REDC flyer on bulletin board

As a nonprofit and alternative lender for small businesses in New Hampshire, we have to make sure that the information we’re putting out has the best chance of reaching everyone that can benefit from our services. Over the last 10 years, digital transformation has largely democratized access to resources and information, but it has also created new barriers. For example, to ensure we are not excluding people without access to the internet from our funding and advisory services, we create and distribute physical flyers in libraries, community centers, cafes, or public spaces.

Moreover, when creating digital content, there are a few things to keep in mind. The first one is making sure that visually impaired, Deaf, or hearing-impaired people can consume the information. For example, adding alternative text to images allows users to hear the description through screen readers. Another good example is captioning videos to ensure that people who cannot hear what is being said still receive the message. Additionally, in the case of social media, there are ways to make hashtags accessible to dyslexic folks, such as capitalizing each word.

When it comes to design, we not only have to consider everything mentioned above but also how colors can affect the accessibility of a document. I like to use an accessibility checker to ensure that the colors are appropriate for low vision or colorblind people. For example, a low-contrasting color combination might be readable in font size 16 but not at 12. And something we just implemented is having description tags for all the fields in PDF documents and forms, which make navigation more accessible.

Example of an accessibility color checker

Language access is also an essential part of REDC’s inclusivity efforts, and we have our website translated into the top five languages in New Hampshire besides English through a plugin. In addition, we work with translation services to ensure that our clients who don't speak English or do not feel confident with their English skills have access to a translator or interpreter present. Our goal is that our clients feel very confident and comfortable when they're moving forward with us.

And finally, we also advocate for accessibility when we advise clients who get design support. For example, whenever I'm designing a website for someone, I tell them about Wix’s accessibility checker. I strive to design all websites and logos, branding, and marketing materials through the accessibility lens. A lot of businesses could benefit from being open to hearing feedback or researching how their words matter in basic interactions like how employees talk to customers, and how copy is written on the marketing collateral and the website.

Ensuring accessibility is a work in progress and a learning journey - it is essential for nonprofit organizations to fulfill their mission and values. Nonprofit organizations exist to serve the community, and it is our ethical responsibility to ensure that everyone has equal access to our services and programs. When we help our micro or small business clients, they can support their families, their staff, and their community in a new way. Achieving accessibility requires a concerted effort and a commitment to change, but when done right it can help change even more lives.

Headshot of Laura Harper Lake, REDC Business Advisor

Laura Harper Lake

Graphic Designer & Design Advisor at REDC

Laura handles the graphic design and marketing for REDC and provides free technical assistance for REDC clients who need graphic design, website design, and marketing assistance for their small businesses.


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