Five tips for improving the accessibility of online content
Whether you’re getting ready to add content to a website or planning to post on social media, there’s a question you need to ask yourself: Am I creating this with everyone in mind?
Even if you think you’ve made the most beautiful website, produced an amazing video or chosen the perfect photo for your social media post, if it’s not accessible, it’s not ready to be shared.
As communications professionals, much of what we do is carefully planned in advance. As you’re planning your content, you should also be thinking about accessibility. Before I outline some basic best practices, here are few reasons why you should be working to improve in this area:
It’s the right thing to do to be considerate of others
The CDC reports one in four adults in the U.S. has some type of disability. Of that population, nearly 6% experience deafness or serious difficulty hearing and 4.6% experience blindness or serious difficulty seeing. Making your content more accessible can improve the experience of individuals using assistive technology and accessibility features to understand your content.
It can benefit all users
Creating inclusive and accessible content online is crucial for successfully communicating with people of all abilities. Ensuring a broad, diverse audience can understand your content also has the benefit of being more user-friendly and streamlined. Techniques that make a site or post accessible to people with disabilities may also attract others. Think about how a majority of social media users, 85% in fact, watch social media videos without volume. Featuring captions to narrate what’s on screen makes videos both more watchable and accessible.
It can expand your reach
Making your content accessible can also make it easier for search engines to understand. This can improve your website’s search engine optimization, meaning better quality and quantity of traffic to your website.
It’s legally required
At the end of the day, it’s critical we all meet web accessibility standards for legal reasons. Companies have been sued for websites lacking appropriate accommodations.
That said, here are five tips on how you can help people of all abilities better understand and enjoy your content:
1. Use plain language
One of the first things you can do to improve accessibility is use clear, simple sentences in your writing. You want to write with your audience in mind, but in general, it’s best to be concise and keep things conversational. Depending on your target audience, consider writing out acronyms and avoiding technical terms.
2. Organize information
Consider ways you can make your content easier to follow and understand. This may include breaking up text into smaller paragraphs, using bullet points and including headings. For multi-word hashtags and social-media handles, use camel case. This means capitalizing the first letter of each word to help screen readers say the phrase as it’s intended. For example: #UseCamelCase versus #usecamelcase.
3. Be careful with emojis
Did you know each emoji has its own description? Screen readers will read out the descriptions for users, so excessive use is not advised. You can visit Emojipedia.org to double check descriptions before using them to avoid any mishaps. When choosing a placement, it’s recommended to put emojis at the end of your message. This helps to avoid interrupting the flow of your content and improve clarity.
4. Add image descriptions
Image descriptions, also known as alternative text or alt-text, help make photos more accessible for the low-vision community. Individuals who are visually impaired or blind often browse the internet with assistive technology like screen readers that use alt-text to audibly narrate visuals.
Many platforms have automated image descriptions, but you’ll quickly notice these are not good to rely on. It’s better to write out image descriptions yourself whenever you can. When it’s not possible to add alt-text, you can include descriptive captions as part of the post.
5. Use captions and transcripts
Offering transcripts and captions for video and audio content can be helpful for people who have difficulty hearing or cannot hear at all, among other situations.
- There are two types of captions: Closed captions are written transcripts that can be opened or closed by the viewer. Open captions are permanently on-screen. Many social media platforms can auto-generate captions for you. You can start with those and edit them to save on time. Some captioning apps that do the work for you include: AutoCap, Clipomatic, Clips, Kapwing and MixCaptions.
- Transcripts are offered as a separate document. There are free and paid services that convert speech to text to make creating a transcript to include with the video quicker. Some examples include: Google Gboard, Just Press Record, Speechnotes, Temi and Transcribe.
- For virtual events, consider using video services with live captioning capabilities and/or hiring an on-camera interpreter. If these are not possible, provide a full video transcript soon after the event ends.
More to learn
Please note: This is not an exhaustive list, but good foundational practices for making your content more inclusive for all. There are many ways you can improve accessibility in how you write, add images and create designs. I am still learning and working to improve in this area, and I hope you’ll join me in that effort!
If you’re looking for more tips, I highly recommend learning from Alexa Heinrich. She is an award-winning social media strategist from Chicago now living in Central Florida. One of her passions is teaching other digital marketers how they can create content that’s both engaging and inclusive through basic digital accessibility best practices. I had the pleasure of listening to her present recently, which helped me polish this blog post. You can visit her website, TheRealAlexa.com, or follow her on Twitter (@HashtagHeyAlexa), for more tips and resources.