More than 14 million people in the UK – 19% of working age adults and 44% of pension age adults – are disabled, whether that means living with impaired mobility or visual, auditory, and cognitive impairments.
That number doesn’t include people with temporary or intermittent conditions. Yet digital content designers can unintentionally create barriers that prevent these people from engaging with the online world.
The great thing about building accessible content is that it’s essential for some people and useful for everyone. Think about the variety of situations where you might need video captions, for example, such as someone watching in a loud place, or a non-native language speaker who can process written words better than spoken.
For charities, inclusive service design and addressing the issue of the digital divide has never been more important. COVID-19 exposed areas where service users have been left out because they struggle with technology, connectivity, or the right equipment. So it’s surprising that a lot of charities are still not doing the basics for their websites to meet online accessibility standards.
The globally-recognised Web Accessibility Guidelines are there for anyone to read. Accessibility covers such a broad remit that it’s perhaps hard to know where to start, and easy to feel overwhelmed. However, having the basics in place isn’t difficult and doesn’t have to cost a thing.
Here are the three key things to focus on when launching a new website or piece of online content, with easy digital accessibility tweaks anyone can make.
Most information online is conveyed via text, but much of it doesn’t meet the right accessibility standards to be read by text-to-speech software, presenting a huge barrier to those with visual impairments.
- Use headings: Your website should make it obvious what each page contains via a short, informative title, so that navigation is clear and easy. Make the main heading of each page descriptive, with the most relevant and unique information first. Make the structure and content of each page clear by using subheadings which provide an outline of each content section, and make sure any links describe what they are linking to
- Be clear and brief: Keep written content clear, simply concise. Write in short sentences and paragraphs, and consider providing a glossary for any terms or acronyms the reader might not know. This is really important not only for screen reading software, but for people with a cognitive processing disorder like dyslexia or a learning difficulty, or for whom English is a second language
- Check your font: Good colour contrast and readable font size is one the easiest things to fix that can help people with visual or cognitive impairments more easily discern text
Images are inherently inaccessible for those who are visually impaired, but how you go about fixing this depends on the complexity of your image and how much information it conveys.
- Alt Text: Images that convey simple information need to have alternative text or ’alt text’. This means a concise description of the image that can be read by screen readers and is only visible when hovering over with a mouse. Most word processing apps and image editors include the ability to add alt text to an image, so look for the field in image properties. You can also add alt text in most website content management systems, or using HTML
- Describe graphs in HTML: When designing more complex images such as graphs, charts or diagrams, make sure to include a longer description with HTML, either on the same page or a separate one via a link
- Point past your logo: If your image is purely decorative, such as a logo, there are ways to make sure that screen readers ignore them instead of trying to read the information
- Use patterns: It’s good practice make sure that visual information, such as in graphs or diagrams, is conveyed through more than just colours, by using tones or patterns, for example. This helps the one in 12 men and one in 200 women who are colour blind
Audio and video
Multimedia can be a great way to engage your audience and tell a story. But some planning is needed to ensure it’s accessible, particularly to people with sensory impairments.
- Captions: Those who are deaf or have difficulty processing auditory information will need live text captions for any videos, whether added manually or generated via AI
- Audio description: Audio descriptions of visual information are essential for people with visual impairments
- Look at your in-platform options: Check that the video platforms you use has as many options as possible built in, and be aware that some people may need to access multiple disability features simultaneously. For example, they might want captions, a description of visual information as text, and audio descriptions
- Transcripts: When presenting audio content such as podcasts, provide a transcript for people to read
- Avoid the mouse trap: Be aware that some people may be mobility or visually impaired and use speech recognition software to operate their computer. Ensure that your platform includes the ability to play a video without using a mouse