Championing accessibility at Texthelp: Driving change in our own organisation and in others
Accessibility is at the heart of our whole organisation and all our products. It has been since Texthelp began over 26 years ago. Our core purpose is to help people understand and be understood. It’s something we are fully committed to, however we know that there is always room for improvement. We know we can do more both for ourselves, our customers and for other organisations around the world.
Flip back to the start of 2020. Our website working group (made up of members from development, design/UX and driven by marketing) decided that it was time to build a new website. Why? The one we had in place at that time had grown massively over the last five years, along with our business.
We had outgrown our site structure. Some of our best content had become hard to find. We also had a lot of redundant pages - from a mixture of old content and some technical problems. It’s not an uncommon problem for lots of businesses across the globe. But it was far from ideal.
As a technology leader, it’s important for us to make information we share easily accessible for both our current and prospective customers.
Traffic to our site had increased by over 120% year on year since the COVID pandemic started, so we had to be sure we were meeting the needs of all our users.
Our goal was to create a more efficient website, giving useful information to our audiences with a better experience. How could we tackle this mammoth task?
We knew that our first step was to identify any big problems, areas for improvement and critical accessibility issues. Starting off on our accessibility audit journey, we quickly realised that there wasn’t one product on the market that could do everything we needed it to do. We weren’t just looking to resolve WCAG compliance problems alone. We wanted to be able to identify broken links and review how easy the information was to understand.
We know that the average reading age in the UK is 9 and best practice guidelines suggest that you write for no more than age 15-16. We wanted to measure the reading age of our own site too. Plus find out if there was more we could do to make our content more understandable and the user experience better.
Creation of ReachDeck
We’re lucky to have an amazing team of developers in-house. We have expertise in creating accessibility software, so it was only natural to us to set about building an accessibility auditor ourselves which would help us identify problems and areas for improvement.
And so ReachDeck was born!
ReachDeck helps marketers and web managers to improve the accessibility, readability and reach of online content. It was developed as our newest product alongside the creation of our new website.
The ReachDeck Auditor
We carried out a first early test of the ReachDeck Auditor through an audit of our old website in May 2020 - recording WCAG errors, jargon words, readability and reading age.
We included the results from this scan, trends from Google Analytics and our vision for a new website to create a plan for an even better, more usable and accessible website.
Early ReachDeck test on old website - compliance problems, Jargon, readability & reading age.
Vision and platform for new website agreed - cross sector team established.
September - October 2020
Website wireframes, design & prototyping, backend dev & frontend dev plus usability tests.
ReachDeck capability expanded to include sentence length.
December 2020 - March 2021
Beta testing the ReachDeck Auditor and fixing problems throughout the project.
Content creation for the new website.
Fixing web accessibility errors found through beta testing the ReachDeck Auditor.
February 2021 - March 2021
Graphical assets created for the website.
ReachDeck and New Website Launch!
We continued to work on the product May ’20 through Mar ’21 adding in more and more capability.
Throughout the build phase of our new site, from Dec ’20 to Mar ’21, we used the ReachDeck Auditor to scan our prototype site on a weekly basis. This allowed us to find and fix any errors as part of the development process, rather than having to wait until just before launch.
Comparing ten of our key website pages like for like / old site to new site, we were able to remove over 120 A, AA and AAA errors using the ReachDeck Auditor.
It was important to us to establish good accessibility and SEO foundations into our new website from the start. Too often, these are ‘sprinkled on at the end’. This can impact the website's performance and the experience for the user. Using the ReachDeck Auditor allowed the team to run frequent scans throughout the build. That way we could find errors quickly and stop small problems from turning into big ones.
The ReachDeck Editor
Web Accessibility is not just about technical or compliance fixes. We know that website content is written once and read thousands of times. It’s important to us that we get our website content right too if we want our website to be successful.
Over the last couple of months, our content writers have been hard at work. They've been making sure that the information on our website is consistent and easy to understand.
During the development process of our new site, we realised that it is easy to find the readability problems using the auditor. It wasn’t so easy to fix them consistently, especially if you have a lot of different content contributors.
Evolution of ReachDeck
So as part of the evolution of ReachDeck, we created a readability checker - the ReachDeck Editor.
It has been helping us to write better in real time. It’s like having a Plain English teacher sitting on your shoulder as you write. It helps to keep a careful watch over the copy you produce.
The editor highlights spelling and grammar mistakes. It gives you an overall reading age as well as showing you any jargon words or long sentences that you might have. Things that you might want to edit before publishing. The editor helps our content writers to make sure that the copy they write is suitable for their target audience.
The ReachDeck Toolbar
Most organisations have experienced a huge increase in digital communications as a result of the global pandemic. At Texthelp, traffic to our website has risen by 120% year on year and usage of our digital inclusion toolbar has risen by 400%.
It's such an advantage being able to identify technical errors, WCAG, and make our content more readable. However, we’re also conscious that web users have other needs when they come to our website. Barriers to digital access still exist especially for people who have dyslexia, are visually impaired. We don’t want to leave some of the population behind. That’s where the ReachDeck Toolbar comes in.
The ReachDeck Toolbar supports many different types of users.
Some may have Assistive Tech in place, and some may not.
In fact, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), only one in 10 people in need have access to assistive technology. Many people rely on built in functions within apps etc. So providing an assistive technology toolbar can support those who are living without the help that they need.
It helps everyone to read and translate content on our site. And helps users to change the format of our information to suit their needs. Going beyond users of assistive technology, it also supports people who are non-native speakers, and those who could benefit from reducing visual stress too.
Since the launch of our website, the toolbar has been used over over 1,000,000 times. We’ve also helped users to translate content into over 100 different languages - Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, Italian and Dutch, to name but a few.
There are a number of ways that ReachDeck is providing new benefits to our business:
- Compliance with regulations - we’re AA compliant
- It’s streamlining the editing process for content on our new website
- Our content is easily consumed by EVERYONE - no matter age or ability. This helps increase audience engagement and participation.
Rolling out the ReachDeck editor outside of our website team and across our organisation will allow us to drive a huge cultural change. It will allow us to make sure that all our company communications fit with our vision and purpose and our belief that everyone has the right to understand and be understood.
To prepare for our organisation-wide roll out, we conducted a pilot with all departments at Texthelp, from HR, to Tech Support, to Finance, Sales and Marketing. The initial results are very promising.
Department - Before/After
No. of Jargon Words
No. of Long Sentences
HR - Before using ReachDeck Editor
HR - After using ReachDeck Editor
Marketing - Before using ReachDeck Editor
Marketing - After using ReachDeck Editor
Quality - Before using ReachDeck Editor
Quality - After using ReachDeck Editor
Sales - Before using ReachDeck Editor
Sales - After using ReachDeck Editor
Tech Support - Before using ReachDeck Editor
Tech Support - After using ReachDeck Editor
Please note: This table displays the average results found from a selection of samples across each department
As a Content Specialist, it’s my goal to reach others with the written word. A big part of that is writing in a way that's easy and quick to read. But, I've always overused commas. Short sentences don't come as naturally to me as I'd like. The ReachDeck Editor gives me the nudge I need to keep things simple, short and clear.
This is just the start
As our business has grown and evolved, more and more content is being created by employees outside of marketing - this makes it harder to control what is being pushed out into the marketplace.
We’ve always known how important accessibility and readability are, especially when it comes to our website and marketing communications. However, we may not always have brought the whole organisation along with us. Accessibility and Readability are not just contained to our website - they transcend everything that we produce.
Knowing that our website is only one channel through which we communicate with our customers. It’s just as important that our emails, our training materials, tech support, PR, videos and every other piece of communication follows best practice guidelines too.
Accessibility is an ongoing journey...
Here's what we're doing to maintain our high standards going forward.
We’ve rolled out the ReachDeck editor across the whole Texthelp Group. We’ve also been going back over all of our web content and running it through the ReachDeck editor to check for readability, jargon and long sentences. We’ve been making changes where we need to based on what ReachDeck tells us.
We started a big cultural shift across the organisation by encouraging everyone to use ReachDeck. One that will bring great benefits to everyone.
As a business, we’ve also formally announced our commitment to accessibility and inclusion. We have a roadmap of standards and improvements that we’re committed to as the whole Texthelp Group grows and evolves into the future.
The product itself will continue to evolve as we get more feedback from our users.
And we’ve built in regular monthly audits of our own site, record any problems and fix them as we go.
Our vision for the future
Confident, compliant, inclusive and safe communications being delivered across our whole organisation.