What does it mean to make your content accessible? And, why does it matter?
At its most basic level, accessibility refers to how easy it is for people to see, read, and use your content.
The easier it is for people to do those things, the more opportunity you’ll have to grow your audience and the more people you’ll help.
But, a lot of things can affect accessibility… and many of them are easy to overlook when they don’t affect your ability to access the content.
For example, if you aren’t visually impaired, you probably don’t think much about how someone who is reads your content.
It’s likely they’re using screen-reading software to assist them. Do you know how affects what you’ve written? What about images you’ve included? If an image in your post is important for understanding what you’ve written, how is that communicated to a person using a screen reader?
Accessibility is something more and more companies are trying to adopt. And there’s pressure from government bodies, industry organizations, and search engines for companies to take reasonable steps to make their content accessible.
So, let’s look at some of the key factors that affect accessibility… specifically the ones you, as a writer, can help your clients with.
Use Simple, Straightforward Writing
Clear writing is good writing.
Following this accessibility guideline will make you a better writer overall. And, that means everyone will get more out of your content. That’s a good thing!
You want your content to be engaging, easy to read, and impactful.
When your reader gets to the end of what you’ve written, you want them to be able to act on what they’ve learned, to feel inspired, or to think further about the points you’ve made.
Simple writing will help make that happen for more of your readers.
The rules of simple writing are rules you’ve heard before, I’m sure. But, let’s review….
- If you’re choosing between a long word and a short word, go for the short word… unless the long word better conveys your meaning.
- Write in short sentences and short paragraphs.
- Use concrete nouns and active verbs.
- If you’re writing instructions or about complex concepts, try to use everyday language whenever possible… and give some serious thought to how you might make that possible.
- Avoid insider language or industry jargon, unless you’re using it as a light touch to let your audience know you understand their world.
- Write in the active voice.
Follow these rules of writing, and you’ll get your point across better while reaching to the broadest audience possible. And, isn’t that really the goal?
Write Your Links So They Have Meaning
Part of writing for the web — one of the really beautiful parts — is that you can hyperlink to other content to support what you’re saying and help your reader learn more about a topic.
It matters how you write your anchor text — the text you turn into a link.
Screen readers use a Links List Tool. It will gather the active links on the page and list them. The links don’t have the benefit of the surrounding text to provide context. So, if you have a link that simply says Click Here, to someone using a screen reader, that’s pretty meaningless. They won’t know where it will take them or why it’s important.
Instead, write link text that’s descriptive: “View examples of great emails” or “Read this article to learn more about writing great headlines.” Those kinds of links help your reader know what to expect, so they can decide if they want to click through.
Use Descriptive Headings in a Logical Hierarchy
Screen readers rely on hierarchal headings to organize information on the page. These headings also help users move quickly between sections, should they wish to.
Headings within your work should be organized like a traditional outline. The main heading — the headline of the article or page — is an H1 heading.
Give each key section within your article or page an H2 heading. And, use an H3 heading for supporting points within each section.
Write headings that are descriptive and set up an expectation for your reader about what information they’ll find within that section.
Take this article you’re reading now, as an example. The heading for this section is “Use Descriptive Headings in a Logical Hierarchy.” That’s a little meta, in terms of an example. But, the heading is indeed an H2, and the wording lets you know this section will be about writing and structuring headings.
When you organize your writing in this way, you’ll help all your readers. You’ll make your work easier to navigate on mobile. You’ll make it easier to scan on any device. And, you’ll also ensure your work is organized in a logical way.
Write Forms So They’re Clear and Accessible
Another beautiful thing about writing for the web is its interactive nature.
Sometimes you’ll ask your reader to do something. To take a survey, perhaps. Or, to fill out a form.
When you use interactive elements like forms, there are steps you can take to help with accessibility.
First, give the form a heading, one that clearly conveys what’s to come.
Make sure each field in the form is clearly labeled. Also, only include fields you really need.
If a field has special instructions, give those before the field, not after it. This may seem out of order, but for people using a screen reader, they’ll encounter the field before they hear the instructions for filling it out. That creates a frustrating experience.
To make sure your form is accessible, try reading it from top to bottom. Is there anything in the form that relies on information that comes later in the form? If so, move it up to where it will be most helpful.
Design Multimedia That Serves Your Readers
Using audio, video, images, and other types of multimedia can add richness and usefulness to your writing.
But, consider how different readers will use your multimedia elements and what you can do to make them as accessible as possible.
If you’re using audio, for example, also provide a transcript or a summary of what’s in the audio file.
For video content, be sure to provide captioning.
If you use an image, photo, or graphic that either adds information to your post or is essential to understanding the surrounding content, be certain you include alt tags and captions that relay enough information to be of use to anyone using a screen reader.
Screen readers can’t read images, obviously. But, they can read alt tags. If understanding the content of an image enhances the experience of an article, then make sure your alt tags provide a useful description of the image. Use the caption field to provide additional information for all your readers, if the image is complex, or if there’s key information in the image you want your reader to take note of.
If the image is purely decorative, leave the alt tag and the caption blank to provide a better screen reader experience.
When using infographics, offer a summary of the important points, so your visually impaired visitors can also benefit.
Good Practices Create a Better Experience for Everyone
Eventually, it’s very likely accessibility will be a requirement, not an option.
By making accessibility part of your approach now, you’ll help your clients be ready for the future, and you’ll be creating a better experience for all your visitors. Really, it’s the right… and smart… thing to do.