Ali combines her personal experience within the disability industry and her skills as an SEO content writer, to create digital strategies for organisations within the NDIS. For more, please visit https://alistrachan.com or find her at https://www.linkedin.com/in/alison-strachan/.
Guidelines for preparing accessible content
For an in-depth report on how to make your web content accessible, you can read the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1. However, if you’re overwhelmed by all of that information, these actionable steps will help you configure your website to make it more accessible.
A lot of what’s required comes down to basic usability that should be taken into account to make your site more SEO-friendly, or just easier to use for everybody. And if you’re doing these things then don’t worry, you’re probably already doing 70% of what’s required to make your content accessible and the other 30% can be taken care of with a few handy tools and additional changes. If you’re still learning (or have no idea) about SEO, then it’s wise to consider these steps, and talk to someone who can help you with your website.
Check why you should be thinking about the accessibility of your content.
1 – Consider your audience and ensure your text easy to read
The number one rule for writing content for the web is to use simple, jargon-free language and avoid using unexplained acronyms so your reader doesn’t get confused.
Presentation is also a big factor in readability, particularly on smaller, mobile versions of your site. Black text, in a plain font on a white (or neutral) background provides the contrast needed to help people with low vision. Grey fonts seem to be on trend, but they’re difficult to read – even for people with great eyesight.
Include a generous amount of line spacing, bold important sections of text and ensure there are spaces between paragraphs to make your text easy on the eyes. A font size widget (like these below), will give your readers the opportunity to make your text larger if they need to do so.
Oh, and please, pleeeeaaaase reconsider centre-aligning all your text.
2 – Front load your content so important information is at the top of the page
Listing key points at the top of web-pages, online documents and lists helps people access critical information without having to search for it. Just like Google, people scan information online from the top down, and no one likes to have to scroll to find the information they need.
- Front-load your critical content so it’s accessible at the very top of the page
- Avoid large banners/images that take up lots of space ‘above the fold’ (at the top) on your website
People using assistive technology, like screen readers or magnifiers, or those using an accessible mouse or keyboard to navigate, should understand what your site is about (and what action you require them to take) as soon as they land on it.
3 – Ensure your navigation is user-friendly and easy to understand
Another big tick for any website is to ensure it’s easy to use. Headings should use plain English descriptions (not cute names) and the structure should be consistent across the site.
Best practices are to set your main heading as H1, the main sub-header as H2, then further content headings as H3 or so on. Not only does this help Google to index your site, but it also ensures that your information is easy to navigate and makes sense to the reader.
Most smaller websites will only require a simple navigational menu with some common elements. While larger websites can use bread crumb trails also assist people to navigate back from pages if they get lost.
4 – Include alternative (alt) tags or additional on-screen image descriptions for images
Not only is it SEO best practice to include alt tags on all your images to help Google index and rank them, but writing good alt tags and descriptions for your images will enable screen readers to describe the image to the user. Ensure your text accurately describes the image in context with what the page is about. If you are using an image that is purely decorative, you can use a ‘null alt attribute’ (the code looks like this: alt=“”) and the screen reader will skip over it and keep reading the text on the page.
In the same way, you should describe the meaning of graphs and diagrams with accompanying text and avoid using images in place of text to save space.
5 – Add transcripts beneath videos and use captions during playback
Captions benefit people with hearing loss but also people for whom English is their second language. These days, social media platforms like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter all include ready-made captions for your videos.
When you embed content from YouTube into your site, you get the benefit of cross-promotion which is great for SEO, but if you choose to embed your video into your site directly you’re responsible for making sure it has those captions. A quality transcript of your audiovisual content in text beneath the video can be created easily by using one a transcription service like Rev.
6 – Check everything is both keyboard and mouse accessible
Have you tried to navigate your website just using your keyboard? How successful were you? Keyboard accessibility is important to people who don’t have fine muscle control, suffer from tremors or have missing limbs and need to use specialised technology to navigate around your website. If the important content is at the bottom of your page, chances are it won’t even get seen. To find out if your site is keyboard accessible you can try this test.
7 – Take special care with colour, design and interactive elements
Using colour alone to indicate important site elements can present problems for people who are colour-blind or have low vision. Elements like hyperlinks should be underlined and use a bright colour that contrasts well with a neutral background. If your website doesn’t do this automatically – you can add underlines using your text editor if it’s within the body of the content.
Drop down lists within forms is also preferred because of ease of navigation using a keyboard. Menus, chat windows and collaboration tools should be designed with accessibility in mind. If you’re unsure if an element is accessible, setting up user testing is the best way to find out.
“The most efficient way of knowing if your website offers an inclusive experience is to test it on users of all abilities, ages, cultures, and walks of life. Doing this will help you reach out effectively to all of the people who would be interested in your product, service or group.” — Sarah Christopher, Digital Accessibility Analyst at Media Access Australia
8 – Be careful of long download times
User experience can also help you determine if your site speed presents any problems (outside general frustration). Long load times, large file downloads and uncompressed images can be impossible for some people to download, so ensure that your images are compressed and get rid of excess code bloating your website’s load times.
You know how frustrating it is to land on a website that is confusing, slow and hard to read. And hey, I’ve got some work to do on my website too – but these small changes can make the world of difference to someone who relies on assistive technology to access digital content. It’s time it became part of our online strategies.
Over to you
Have you given much thought to how accessible your digital website content is? What steps will you take to make things easier to access? Let me know in the comments. If you liked this article, please share.
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