Developing a new digital library with Graeae

We’ve worked with disability arts champions Graeae on a digital resources library, user tested by their network.


Graeae Theatre Company place Deaf and disabled artists centre stage. They do this by championing creative platforms for Deaf and disabled artists, children and young people through productions, training and learning projects.

We’ve been working with Graeae since we designed and built their website in 2016.

This year is their 40th anniversary. As part of their programme to mark that milestone, the Graeae team set out to develop a digital library to house resources for Deaf and disabled artists. We worked with them to design and build that library and to integrate it with their fully accessible site.

The brief

“As part of our programme ‘Beyond’ funded by Arts Council England’s Transforming Leadership programme, we wanted to develop a new online digital library, with case study films, downloadable resources and ‘how to’ guides, for Deaf and disabled artists to be inspired, grow and develop.”

Richard Matthews, Graeae's Head of Marketing and Development

During the original website build back in 2016 we focused on the different ways that a Graeae user might need to access the site. Accessibility was of course at the heart of our approach.

Leading with that same approach again, we worked on designs that would be responsive to the many ways a user might need to navigate the library.

We knew that we’d need to accommodate a wide range of different media: videos, podcasts, easy-read and screen reader documents. The digital library needed to accommodate all of these formats, across different screen sizes, in a way that was accessible to everyone. And the library needed to have a sensible set of filters, so that users could easily find the resources they were looking for as they library expands.

Three screenshots which display the Graeae Digital Library on a mobile display.

Mobile version of the new Graeae Digital Library

Filters and categories

The Graeae team are able to add multiple categories to a resource that describes to the user what it is, for example; ‘How-To Guide’ or ‘Interview’. They can also tag the resource with the format of the content as well such as ‘Video’ or ‘Podcast’.

All of these tags can be filtered on the digital library homepage – so users can easily navigate to the resource they want and access it in the most useful format for them.

Accessible for everyone

We build all of our sites to high accessibility standards.

The work we did on this project exemplifies the measures we put in place to make all of our websites accessible to everyone.

Some of the most important work we do in this area happens within the structure and labelling of the page’s code, the HTML.

HTML is the code language that tells the internet how each element of the web page should be displayed. And it dictates the hierarchy of a web page. It sorts content into categories: headings, sub-headings, paragraphs, images and so on.

Some users might not notice this hierarchy when they interact with a web page, although subconsciously it will help them make sense of the page. But for others, clear structure and labelling is vital to help them understand a web page.

For those users who use tools such as screen readers, to speak the content out loud, a clear page hierarchy determines the order and the context in which information is read out.

By correctly labelling whether a screen reader is looking at a paragraph of text, a button with a link or a menu dropdown it gives the user the necessary information to navigate from page to page across the site. And it gives a direct route for them to download, watch or listen the resources they are interested in.

A screen shot of Graeae's 'Anti Racism Touring Rider' resource page on a desktop

Graeae’s ‘anti racism touring rider’ resource page

Alt text and captions

Another accessibility feature of all of our sites is the ability to add alt text and captions to images.

Setting image alt text or ‘alternative text’ is a really simple way to ensure that if a user is not able to see an image, they are presented with a written description of it. Alt text is picked up by screen readers. It’s also displayed on the site if the image file doesn’t load successfully for a user.

Enabling alt text helps with a website’s SEO ranking too. Clear alt text helps search engines rank the site more accurately in search results.

Clear calls to action

The digital library encourages interaction and engagement. So it was important that all of the ‘calls to action’ were prominently positioned and used clear language.

We used universally recognisable icons and key branding colours to make accessing the resources as simple as possible.

A desktop screen shot of Graeae's 'challenging discrimination' resource page on a desktop

Graeae’s ‘using the law to challenge discrimination’ resource page

The testing process

The final stage of this project was testing the usability of the digital library.

We thoroughly test the accessibility of all of the work that we do. And we regularly carry out accessibility audits of sites which we’ve worked on.

The Graeae team are also very experienced in this area, so both our teams got to work testing the digital library before launch.

However we were keen for real users of the site to test the work that we had done too, so Graeae reached out to their networks.  A group of users with different accessibility needs navigated the site and its resources before the official launch. This provided us with a useful layer of feedback which helped us to ensure the library is accessible as possible.

The result

Graeae’s new digital library launched on 29th July and we are really happy with the final product.

The resources will support artists, students, directors and practitioners at all stages of their careers. We are pleased to hear that the Graeae team have already been receiving positive feedback.

You can check out the great work that Graeae Theatre Company do and the brand new digital library by heading over to their website.

“This new, fully accessible digital library, Beyond Online, was launched and went live a couple of weeks ago, and complements our main Beyond programme which cultivates and supports Deaf and disabled artists. We have been delighted to work with Cog again to develop this new area of our website, and are thrilled with the final result.”

Richard Matthews, Graeae’s Head of Marketing and Development

Add a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *