Enhancing Accessibility in Digital Content

How to Improve Content Accessibility (and Why It’s Important)

By Carrie DagenhardDec 26 /2019

Accessibility is a hot topic today — as it should be.

At least 1 in 4 adults are living with some type of disability, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And thanks to growth in awareness and legal guidelines from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), many businesses are finally making an effort to consider people with disabilities when creating their products and services.

But while many organizations are familiar with the accommodations required at their brick-and-mortar locations, few recognize that accessibility guidelines extend to website content and digital marketing efforts, too.

Not only does creating accessible content help you reach larger swaths of your audience, but it’s also the law — and failing to take proper measures can lead to discrimination lawsuits that could crush your brand's reputation.

As you prepare for 2020 and begin planning new initiatives for the year ahead, it’s the perfect time to schedule a content accessibility audit.

To help, here is some helpful background info, plus a few tips and best practices based on the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Guidelines.

Ready for a website refresh in 2020?

What is Content Accessibility?

People living with mobility issues, visual impairments, hearing impairments and learning disorders, like dyslexia, can face challenges when navigating the web. In the same way that a brick-and-mortar business might remove physical barriers to ease the way for folks with mobility constraints, companies must also ensure they’ve eliminated obstacles to accessing their digital content, too.

Essentially, content accessibility boils down to user experience: creating a hierarchical, easy-to-navigate website with content that’s easy to see, easy to read, mobile responsive and can be consumed in a variety of ways. (For example, making an article available as an audio file, or adding subtitles to videos.)

Apple’s website, for example, uses clean black font on a white background, is responsive to all screen sizes, and provides optional subtitles on all videos.

How to Improve Content Accessibility (and Why It’s Important)

In addition to helping you get your message in front of an even larger audience, prioritizing these updates helps make your website and its content easier for everyone to use, and can help boost SEO, too. After all, the more easily humans can consume your content, the easier it will be for search engines to crawl.

“Case studies show that accessible websites have better search results, reduced maintenance costs, and increased audience reach, among other benefits,” says W3C.

Who Should Be Responsible for Creating Accessible Content

One of the reasons accessibility falls to the wayside when businesses are building their websites, apps and digital campaigns is because no one is quite sure whose job it is. Should HR take on this role? Or legal and compliance departments?

The truth is, content accessibility should be a joint-effort between marketers, developers, designers, product teams, QA and senior leadership. In other words, if you have any control over the content published on your website or in your app, or the experience surrounding that content, it’s up to you to ensure you’re meeting guidelines.

(Although, in many cases, businesses may have a compliance department or third-party agency review their site as well.)

Here are a few tools you can use to improve your inclusivity efforts:

  • Textoptimizer: Checks your content’s readability, clarity and vocabulary diversity.
  • accessiBe: Automatically handles site accessibility compliance, and can adapt to your design or template.
  • Accessibility Checklist: Allows you to quickly and easily review the most recent iterations of web accessibility guidelines.
  • Adobe Acrobat DC: Includes an accessibility checking tool to ensure all your documents — including PDFs — meet compliance regulations.
  • FireEyes: Tests sites for compliance infractions, and includes a reader simulation and color contrast analyzer.

5 Things to Check When Evaluating Content Accessibility

While this is in no way an exhaustive list, here are five areas to check when performing an accessibility audit:

  • Text: Font should contrast from the background and be at least 16 px large with the ability for users to resize the text without having to scroll horizontally. Lines should be at least one-and-a-half spaces apart, and text should never be aligned justified.
  • Readability: Use short sentences, short paragraphs and bulleted lists to make it easier for people with learning and cognitive difficulties to consume your content.
  • Content hierarchy: Arrange content in a logical flow with an H1 title (main heading) at the top of the page, followed by H2 titles (subheading), and, if necessary, H3 and H4 titles (sub-sub headings) under those.
  • Navigation: Make your site navigable via keyboard, as some people living with visual or motor impairments prefer to use a keyboard than a mouse. Unilever, for example, has displayed their navigation in a clear hierarchy, making it easy for those with accessibility challenges to move from page to page.
How to Improve Content Accessibility (and Why It’s Important)
  • Multimedia: Create alternate versions of all multimedia content, or enhance them to ensure people with different types of disabilities can still consume them. That is, provide transcripts of podcasts, and include captions or subtitles for videos. Additionally, be sure to add image alt text to help visually impaired users who rely on screen readers.

By focusing on making these updates, you can help provide a more inclusive experience for people living with disabilities. And, as an added bonus, these enhancements will also further optimize your content for search, and a little easier for all visitors to consume.

Digital Branding

The Author

Carrie Dagenhard

Carrie is a seasoned content strategist who worked as a department editor and music journalist before making her foray into inbound marketing as a content analyst. Carrie works hard at crafting the perfect content strategy for clients and using her hard-hitting journalism skills to tell your brand’s unique story.