It is often said that the world around us is what disables people that are differently abled - and the sad fact is that this is often true, especially when it comes to the digital world.
When a physical space opens up to the public, we think about the accessibility for wheelchair-users and parents with prams. We do the same when planning internal layouts, to make sure customers and service users can make their way around easily and independently. We’re even addressing ways to make public situations more comfortable for our neurodiverse community, for example reducing sensory stimulation for people with Autism - and that's amazing! But what about these considerations for web accessibility?
Everyone deserves to experience a sense of belonging. They deserve to be able to live independently, indifferently, and to feel understood. When building our websites and creating digital content, we often miss a crucial element - user experience mapping for people with physical, cognitive, literacy or language challenges. With our increasing expectations for consumers to interact with us online, it becomes more and more important that we make the effort to bring our digital presence up to speed.
As a digital marketer in a private business, a public service, or an independent freelancer, web accessibility is something that should be continually on your mind. So, here’s nine factors you might not have known, to help you on your journey to becoming more digitally inclusive...
As I’m sure you will agree, legal obligations aren’t the main reason we should be making an effort to improve our website accessibility, but they're something we should all be aware of. They exist to protect those with digital access needs - and since we’re rooting for equal experiences for everyone too, it makes sense that we take a keen interest. In fact, knowing what legal compliance measures are out there informs you of the standards expected - so you know how high to aim.
Examples of legislation from around the world include;
When it comes to making your website more accessible, you’re not on your own. There are guidelines which can help, and they’re known as WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines). They were published by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) to help businesses make their content accessible to every type of user. There are lots of recommendations outlined within the guidelines, and we’ve picked out a few main ones in our blog ‘WCAG for beginners’.
It’s worth noting that the guidelines are built on the principles of POUR, which outline that websites must be “Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust”. The principles essentially consider all aspects of a user journey, helping you to optimize for all audiences.
By delving into the identified guidelines, you’ll discover best practice for web accessibility - and you’ll be an expert in no time!
The more you read about web accessibility, the more you’ll hear the phrase ‘inclusive design’. This refers to web design practice that considers the needs of every type of user. Inclusive design removes barriers to digital content by considering the full user experience - from the moment someone lands on your website, through to how they navigate and understand your content, and finally their ability to reach the point of conversion.
As we continue you’ll discover more about what inclusive design entails...
As digital content creators, mobile optimisation is ingrained into our minds, but inclusive design is more than just optimizing for mobile users. Whilst our websites need to be compatible across different mobile devices and internet platforms, users of specialist devices, screen readers and those with keyboard-only input, need to be able to navigate them freely too. That means keeping up to date with technical advancements, to make sure our websites are robust. It also means considering the elements that make our websites operable by users of such devices. We'll cover some of these as you read on.
We know that when crafting content we guide our readers with a carefully constructed beginning, middle and an end. We throw in factors that help to make it more digestible, such as sub-sections and appealing imagery. So when it comes to putting our content online, we should continue with this attentive behavior. If we did, we’d be halfway there with content that’s functional for all users.
For example, making sure we use header tags throughout our content, as well as ensuring content structures are marked up properly i.e. lists, tables and input fields, are a few simple ways of improving navigation for users of assistive technologies. Additionally, providing alt tags for our images and video content, helps to make these discoverable for people with visual impairments too. We explore this more in our webinar, 'Creating accessible and inclusive digital content'.
Did you know, last year LinkedIn made it available for us to add alt tags to images in social posts? A further reminder that this inclusive action is important.
We have already touched on a few factors which affect users from being able to discover digital content and operate a website functionally, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s accessible.
Accessibility principles take into account how well content can be perceived and understood. You may already follow the principle of using ‘Plain English’ when creating content and if not, then web accessibility is another reason why you should. Keeping your language simple increases the chances that your readers will be able to successfully understand your messaging. Providing readers with the option to consume your content in different formats also helps - that means including content in text form, with visual representations and with sound files. Sarah Richards, Founder of Content Design London, explores this further.
You might have never considered web design as having health implications - but when barriers to your content are experienced, frustration levels rise, and that's not good for anyone. Taking care in the visual design of your website could make all the difference to a lot of your visitors. Providing the option to pause moving content, testing your color combinations, and simplifying your page by page content are a few simple considerations for those with literacy challenges, color sensitivity and difficulty with focusing. Beyond this, being mindful of flashing visuals could have a significant impact for people with epilepsy.
I think you’ll agree on the importance of having accessible content, but did you know that conforming to the guidelines can also do wonders for SEO?
Providing your digital visitors with a smooth user experience not only increases the chance of more conversions (and that’s exciting for business!), but it also improves your bounce rate - and this enhances your site authority in the eyes of Google. Not only that, but by providing alt tags for images and videos, you’re also making this content discoverable for search engines too (and yes, you can be savvy and provide a great alt description which also includes your keywords!). Hear more from SEO expert, Claire Brotherton.
You might use different tools to help you to produce web content, such as your content management system. So it’s worth pointing out that there are also guidelines for authoring tools that help them to help you, when it comes to creating accessible content. Keeping an eye out for software or services, like Adobe Dreamweaver, that take digital inclusion as seriously as you will help you to maintain a digitally inclusive mindset.
We’ve put together a handy guide, to offer you some easy-to-implement guidance for increasing the accessibility of your online content. Get the guide for free.