Disability charity Scope aims for great UX and great accessibility across digital assets

Profile picture for user gflood By Gary Flood December 18, 2020
Scope’s use of Sitecore was key to new online outreach to achieve ‘everyday equality’

Image of a woman viewing the SCOPE website
(Image sourced via SCOPE)

Working against a mission statement of ‘Everyday Equality,' London-headquartered Scope defines itself as the disability equality charity in England and Wales. Founded in 1952, the organisation wants to drive social change so that the 14 million disabled people in the UK have equal opportunities. As Warren Kirwan, head of its Media and Social Media, notes:

We're here because life's much tougher than it needs to be for disabled people, so what we want is help people to enjoy equality, fairness and basically do all the things that everyone else gets to do. We're trying to challenge attitudes and the injustice towards disabled people and their families.

Technology is seen as central to achieving this, with Scope providing practical advice through its helpline and online community. James Longstaff, Scope's Digital Product Owner- User Experience (UX) and Optimization, has been leading a year-long transformation of the Scope website (between 2018 to 2019) as a key part of the move to more digital ways of working, in order to expand the services the charity wants to provide.

At the heart of all this has been a complete overhaul of the Scope website, concentrating on making it an exemplar in the British charity sector in terms of both accessibility and UX - or as he says:

Our aim with the project was to show that you could build a site that is accessible, usable, and attractive. There's a misconception that accessible sites have to be boring and kind of dull, but accessibility isn't in any kind of conflict with great design. We approached accessibility in the same mindset as traditional UX, rather than treating it as a separate exercise.

The highest levels of accessibility

Working with tech partner Sitecore, a provider of customer experience, web content management and multichannel marketing automation software, Longstaff and his team say they have now completed a journey that started in early 2019 that has led to not just significant technical performance, but also better user feedback.

In back-end terms, Scope had been using an older content management system that was coming to the end of its license, and would need "a decent chunk of money" to upgrade. Longstaff went to market and reviewed all the available options to see how best to re-platform and enable more digitally-focused campaigning. 

Longstaff, who sits in the digital experience team as opposed to the more operational IT support side of the organisation, says his work is all about supporting external visitors and users of Scope resources. Commenting on the choice of Sitecore, Longstaff says the tech was chosen for the potential of personalisation, but also for the way it allowed the new site to be built in a modular way.

As already stated, accessibility is a key organisational value: one of its ongoing campaigns is The Big Hack, where it works with other charities and businesses to try and flag where disabled people might be struggling using sites - so the organisation knew it had to have its own house in order on this issue.

Scope said it did that by testing with disabled users and accessibility consultants at every stage, from design to prototypes, as well as a special pre-go-live accessibility audit. It's an approach, Longstaff told us, that resulted in just one or two final fixes instead of any major revisions in terms of accessibility.

‘The use of plain English'

In performance terms, the site as a whole now loads 44% faster due to older content being removed and because of the better internal architecture, he states. Users like that, he says, but what they like more is how much easier it is to find the information they want now, reflected in the fact that bounce rates have been cut to 8% and "search refinement" activity is down by a claimed (but impressive) 39%.

Longstaff explains what he means by that term:

That's when you search and then search again from the search results page as it hasn't given you what you wanted. Say you type in ‘PIP,' a benefit people come to our site to get help on; by putting content like ‘PIP assessment' nearer the top of the results, visitors can get to what they want much quicker than having to type in twice.

So along with the technical rebuild, we also did a full site content audit and one of the big parts of accessibility we identified was use of plain English. So we did a full rethink of all of our site content and made sure it was all written that way, from titles to the page itself. We also did a lot of work on our advice menu and support page, which has definitely contributed to search results being much clearer and easier to understand.

Proof that he'd achieved what he'd set out to do came when Longstaff sat with a user using voice over on his iPhone, but who was still able to navigate through the menu and understand where he was. Longstaff said: 

I thought, we've nailed it if someone can navigate the site with a phone like this! Overall, we get feedback saying that we've made quite complex issues easy to navigate, which is really good to hear.

[Updated to correct capitalization of Scope.]