National Rail recently started a great conversation around content accessibility. Unfortunately, they didn’t mean to. After the passing of Prince Philip, they decided to turn their website greyscale for the day. It was supposed to be a mark of respect for the late Prince but… It left some people feeling pretty disrespected.
The greyscale website was basically unusable for users with visual impairments.
Robin Spinks, innovation lead for the Royal National Institute of Blind People told The Guardian: “As someone who is registered severely sight impaired, good colour contrast on a website is incredibly important.”
You might think it’s just one bad decision, but actually, much of the web is very inaccessible. According to AbilityNet, less than 1% of website home pages are likely to meet accessibility standards.
The most commonly found problems are:
- Links with ambiguous text like “click here”. If you’re using a screen reader, it can be very unclear what “click here” even means.
- Missing alt-text on images, especially if your image is relevant to your content.
- Low contrast websites which are difficult to read for people with visual impairments.
- Missing form labels and empty buttons so screen readers don’t have enough information to understand what is on the webpage.
In this blog, we’re going to talk you through what web accessibility is, why it’s important and how you can make content everyone can enjoy.
What are the accessible content guidelines?
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1) are international standards designed to make digital content more accessible. You can find the full WCAG 2.1 guidelines on the UK government website.
The guidelines focus on overall principles because it’s not one team’s job to make your content accessible. It’s a group effort. While your web development team can do a lot behind the scenes, it’s also up to your content and design team.
The WCAG 2.1 four main design principles are:
Perceivable: Can people recognise and use your content?
Creating perceivable content means making sure it can be used by a variety of people. This can involve providing alt-text for images, transcripts for audio content and closed captioning for videos.
Other ways to ensure your content is perceivable includes avoiding low-contrast colour schemes and using clear differentiators between content types.
Operable: Can people easily navigate your content?
A mouse and keyboard isn’t the only way people surf the web. 18% of people who use assistive technology use speech recognition software to navigate and 29% use a screen reader, according to the UK government’s Assistive 2016 Technology Survey.
Making your content operable involves properly descriptive anchor links and external links. This makes it easy for accessibility software to navigate the page.
Understandable: Can people understand your content?
Making your content understandable can involve simple acts, like avoiding unnecessarily complicated language. If you need to use jargon and acronyms that aren’t commonly used, provide a definition so we can all be in the loop. Those of us over 25 would also really appreciate the help because we can’t keep up.
On the technical side, it also means making sure your content does what you’d expect. If it looks like it should be clickable, then it should be clickable. Forms should be usable and clearly labelled.
Robust: Can your content be used by a variety of users?
Making sure your content is robust is about making sure it can be used with different technologies. This doesn’t just mean accessibility technology either. Ensure your content can be loaded on older browsers and hardware such as laptops, tablets and mobile.
You need to make sure you’re using valid HTML so assistive technologies can accurately interpret content, and make sure your code clearly communicates what every interface component is for.
How do you make your content more accessible?
The internet was designed to connect the world… But 48% of lapsed internet users in the UK identify as disabled. Only 17% of the UK population is made up of people with a disability according to the Digital Accessibility Centre, so they are disproportionately impacted by inaccessibility to the internet.
If your content isn’t accessible, you’re cutting off a lot of people. People who could benefit from your content, or have something to add.
To make sure your website is fully accessible, be sure to read the WCAG.2 guidelines. But, here are some examples of how you can easily make your content more accessible.
The Importance of Using Alt-text on Images
We’ve talked before about how important good images are to your website but it’s also important how you present them. Alt-text is used to describe an image on the page. This is helpful for screen readers, as they will read out the alt-text so no context is lost in your article.
The key to good alt-text is making sure it is descriptive and succinct.
How to Add Alt-text to Images
You can add alt-text to images directly through HTML so if you’re in the dev team, or are just a bit techy, it’s only an extra line of HTML to make your images more accessible.
WordPress and Hosting Platforms
If you use a hosting platform, like WordPress, adding alt text is often built into the page builder or you can do it directly on the image in the media library, making it even easier to do. You’ll normally find a space to add alt text in the image settings.
Increasingly, social media is where we place our content and the big sites have made it easy to add accessibility features. On Instagram, for example, you can add alt text by going to the Advanced Settings section before posting.
Instagram is actually full of nifty features, as you can find out in our blog on features and ideas you can use to market on Instagram.
Using Transcriptions and Captioning to Make Audio Content More Accessible
Video and audio content is becoming more popular. It’s exciting and engaging… Unless you have a hearing impairment and no accessibility features have been put in place.
Closed captioning is similar to subtitles but they have quite different aims. Subtitles are mostly intended for viewers who don’t understand the language being spoken.
Closed captioning is designed for people who are unable to hear the audio, and is much more thorough. Closed captioning will indicate who is speaking, indicate sound effects and other non-speech elements as well as offering subtitles.
Depending on your audio content, captioning may not be an option. A podcast, for example, won’t benefit from captioning because there are no visuals for it to follow. A good transcription will have a full transcript of the speech with time stamps and indicators of who is speaking.
You can use tools like otter.ai to automatically transcribe your audio. Although, it will probably need some tweaks before it’s ready to publish.
Boris Johnson was challenged by MP Vicky Foxcroft on why he doesn’t have sign language interpreters during his press briefings.
Live content, like streaming and webinars, are incredibly difficult to caption live. Automatic technology makes many mistakes that can actually make the content more confusing. It also relies on people being able to read very quickly, especially in interviews where there is a lot of back and forth.
Sign language interpreters will sign at a natural speed that can be followed by those with hearing impairments so they can watch content in their native language. A good sign language interpreter can also help convey tone and atmosphere. If you need proof, check out the Dutch broadcast of Eurovision’s sign language interpretation.
Using Good Design to Make Your Content Accessible
A lot of design accessibility is also just good practice. While low-contrast websites are especially difficult for those with visual impairments, they’re not especially easy for anyone to read.
People’s patience online is limited. If your website isn’t clear and easy to use, people will just move on to somewhere else.
Following basic colour theory and good design fundamentals should help. There are also online tools that can help, such as this text on background checker. You can upload images and backgrounds to test the contrast of your text colour and size. This gives you an objective view of how readable your content really is.
Accessible content is better content
The good thing about making your content accessible is, it’ll only ever improve it. Accessibility challenges you to make smart content that can be adapted to everyone’s needs. If you’re not making your content accessible, you’re choosing to limit who can enjoy what you make.
Check out our guide to creating a varied content calendar as well, to ensure your content is accessible and engaging.
Struggling with content accessibility? Of course, we’re here to help too! With our graphic design, content marketing and web development teams, we can create content that everyone can enjoy. Contact us if you’d like to learn more about Boom and what we do.