Accessibility Strategies for Your Content Team

Oct 25, 2019


BEST PRACTICES SERIES

Article ImageAccessibility discussions tend to be geared towards website designers and developers. But content creators play an equally big role. Given the pace of content changes, if your content creators aren’t well educated on the basics, even a well-designed site can quickly slide backwards from an accessibility perspective. Research has shown that even among accessible sites, gradual regression of accessibility over time is a huge challenge.

There are hundreds of digital accessibility best practices, but we’ll focus on a few of the most basic ones that even the most non-technical content creators in your organization can make part of their daily work.

Descriptive Links:

Screen readers, for example, audibly playback content on screen for people with vision impairments. In order to be compatible with screen readers, all live links should contain text that uniquely describes the link content. Popular terms like “click here” or “learn more” are useless to a blind person using a screen reader; something like “click here to buy navy blue crewneck sweater” is much better. Any time text is used in a live link, the question must always be asked: If someone were to hear just the link text, would they know precisely what those links are for?

Images: 

All images should be either purely decorative (not used to convey information or not necessarily needed for someone to understand site content) or include meaningful alternative (or “alt”) text. Decorative images should be marked with null (empty) alt text (alt="") to be ignored by screen readers.  Many content management systems include an alt text field in the image placement or editor tool.  In cases where an image is used to convey information, alt text must go beyond explaining what an image is, to helping individuals to understand its content. 

Let’s say, for example, you show a graphic of unemployment numbers year over year.  Your alt text shouldn’t just say, “graphic of unemployment numbers year over year,” but instead: “graphic showing five percent decline in unemployment from 2017 to 2018.” In this way, a blind person using a screen reader can understand the information being conveyed, even though he/she can’t actually see the image. If you don’t provide meaningful alt text, screen readers will simply provide a description of what a visual element is (without describing its actual information content) or read out an image file name such as image347.png. Both would be highly frustrating to individuals who cannot see.

Headings:

Headings help break down websites into clear, manageable sections. They also help show how various sections of page content relate to one another. For example, a second heading or H2 on a page is a child in the parent-child relationship it has underneath an H1. Subsequent headings contain similarly relevant information. Headings are readable by screen readers, which serves two important purposes. First, headings make it faster and easier for the visually impaired and blind to find what they’re seeking on a page (versus encountering a wall of text they have no choice but to muddle through). Second, headings enable screen reader users to get a quick outline or synopsis of site content, so they can decide if they want to read through in more detail.  

When used correctly, headings are great way for the blind and visually impaired to find the information they’re looking for, or get a basic outline of your content. However, one word of caution with headings – it is not uncommon for people to use heading styles as a way to change font, color, etc. for words they wish to emphasize in a passage.  You should never use headings as a way to arbitrarily style text. When you do this, you will inadvertently add a heading tag to that text, and when a screen reader decides to navigate the page by jumping from heading to heading, the stylized text will be read out as a heading and the site visitor won’t know why.

Video: 

Here we suggest the ABC rule: Always be captioning. People are much more likely to stop and watch video content on Facebook and other social media feeds if there are captions. It’s also a good idea to provide full transcripts of your video and audio content. Most captioning services will include a transcript file as well as the captions, so it won’t cost extra. Not only are transcripts helpful to people who can’t consume the video/audio content for whatever reason, but this content is crawlable for search-bots.  So apart from being a good accessibility practice, providing transcripts is a good SEO/marketing practice.

The digital accessibility techniques we’ve touched upon here represent a fraction of those available. Other high-impact action items to consider include, ensuring text color exceeds a 4.5:1 contrast ratio over the backdrop, running free accessibility checkers against documents and PDFs, and inquiring about the accessibility of the third-party services incorporated into your site (video players, chatbots, forums, etc).

This shouldn’t daunt your content creators, as starting with the basics we’ve outlined is a solid first step. They may be novice technologists, but they are an important part of making sure sites originally designed and developed to be accessible stay that way. When simple steps like those described above become engrained in content creators’ daily lives, websites are much better positioned to stay accessible over the long-term.


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