11 Ways To Create Great Content for People with Disabilities

by 
Christine McLean
Community
by 
Christine McLean
March 3, 2021
man reading accessible content on mobile

I recently had a conversation with Dr Samantha-Kaye Johnston, a dyslexia researcher and founder of Reading for Humanity. She shared some great insights about creating dyslexia-friendly content.

But, I realised that some of the knowledge she shared applies to a broad range of people with disabilities. So, I’ve included her insights, along with a few of my own, to create this comprehensive list.

Use a Mixture of Audiovisual and Written Content 

I believe in using a mixture of audiovisual and written content for many reasons. One of the biggest reasons is that having a wide breadth of media makes your content more inclusive and accessible.

Written content is necessary primarily because it helps search engines find your content. But, audiovisual media such as videos, podcasts, and audio clips make your content accessible to people with visual impairments or reading difficulties.

Audiovisual content is essential because...

  • It helps you better connect with your audience.
  • It creates more options for content repurposing.
  • It makes it more likely that people will engage with your content. Executives may not be your target audience, but here’s a fun fact that I believe is broadly applicable to all internet users. According to WordStream, “59% of executives agree that if both text and video are available on the same topic, they are more likely to choose video.”

So, I recommend using both written and audiovisual content.

Use Subtitles

People with hearing difficulties appreciate video subtitles. But, here’s another interesting fact. About “92% of people watch [videos] with the sound off on mobile devices”, according to Diana Briceno

Subtitles make a big difference for video content. There’s a common problem I know all too well, though. Creating accurate subtitles is a very tedious and time-consuming process. The longer the video, the duller it becomes.

I don’t know about you, but I hate seeing the subtitles automatically generated by sites like YouTube. They look like gibberish half of the time because the content creators don’t take the time to edit them. Again, accurate captioning is time-consuming.

Ironically, I was complaining about this predicament on a LinkedIn post by Chantel Soumis. She was pleading with online content creators to include subtitles on their videos so that people with hearing difficulties, like her, could better engage with the content.

Holly Stephens, the founder of Subly, saw my comment and reached out to me. She explained that she once had frustrations similar to mine. The frustrations were so great that she created her software to provide a solution.

I tried it, and I can honestly say that it is incredible! The software creates exceptionally accurate subtitles, which you can easily edit in the editor tool. I think that’s what impressed me the most - the accuracy. I highly recommend the Pro plan if you’re interested in trying it out.

Take Advantage of the Serial Position Effect

The Serial Position Effect is a technique Dr Johnston mentioned in our interview. I realised that it’s something online writers tend to naturally do without even knowing that there’s a psychological underpinning.

Saul McLeod describes the Serial Position Effect this way. “Experiments show that when participants are presented with a list of words, they tend to remember the first few and last few words and are more likely to forget those in the middle.”

So, Dr Johnston suggested that we include a summary of key takeaways at both the beginning and the end of our articles. For longer articles, she suggests including these summaries as bullet points to make reading easier.

Include Estimated Reading Time

Reading time is another critical point related to attention. It’s a great idea to include the estimated reading time for your blog posts. Your readers want to know how long you want their attention when reading your article.

Some online platforms, like Medium, incorporate this feature automatically. You’ll have to dig for some of the others to find the best way to include this feature. Do the research. It’s worth it.

Use Text to Speech Integrations

It would be great to have audiovisual components for all your blog articles on multiple platforms. But, that can become very impractical.

A good compromise is to use a text to speech (TTS) integration on your blog and website. The software makes your website accessible to those with visual impairments. All they have to do is click a button, and the software will read the text on the web page out to them.

Visakh Padmanabhan wrote a great article that compares four of the best TTS integrations. You can check it out by clicking here.

Improve Site Navigation

Site navigation was a big talking point for Dr Johnston. A website with poor navigation is difficult for everyone to use. But, this is particularly true for people with dyslexia.

Here are some of Dr Johnston’s suggestions for improving site navigation:

  • Create a logical flow for your navigation so that things are easy to find
  • Make every aspect of your website, user-friendly.
  • Always have a link to the Home page so that your website visitors can feel confident in their ability to go back to the home page if necessary.

Include Breaks in Text

About 30% of people with dyslexia also have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). But, we don’t even need to focus exclusively on people with disabilities here. We are living in a generation of skimmers. People hate having to go through large blocks of text. They are more likely to engage with blog posts that are “skimmable” because these posts are more accommodating to short attention spans.

My three top strategies for creating “skimmable” content are:

  • Make good use of white space by writing shorter sentences and paragraphs.
  • Use headers to separate key points.
  • Add gifs, infographics, sounds bites, or other types of media where possible.

Use Readability Tools 

Online writers tend to think about readability tools, like the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress, as another way to create SEO friendly content. Sure, they do help with providing you with tips to tailor your content for search engines better. They also help you simplify your content so that it’s more accessible to people with disabilities.

Some of the best readability tools are:

Avoid High Contrast Backgrounds

We love making our websites beautiful. Bright colours. Flashing headlines. Tons of artwork and design. The whole works.

But, too much going on is a big turn off for people with dyslexia. Dr Johnston explains this well in this clip.

Use ONLY Bold to Emphasise a Point

I am very guilty of this one. I often used both bold and italics to emphasise key points or words in my articles. Big mistake!

Using both types of emphasis is overwhelming to someone with dyslexia. Also, both the italics and underline formatting make it difficult for people with dyslexia to decipher words. So, stick only with bold formatting for emphasis.

Use the Right Typography

We are often told that it’s always best to use easy-to-read fonts when creating online content, which makes a lot of sense because it makes your content easier for everyone to read. Open Sans is one of the most highly recommended fonts.

But, you can also consider the Dyslexie Font created by Christian Boer. There are conflicting views on whether this font helps people with dyslexia. There’s no hard evidence that it does, but Dr Johnston mentioned that research done in Australia suggests that letter spacing in the font may be what helps people with dyslexia read better.

Final Words

Differently-abled people want to feel included in your content. Sure, it does require a bit more work and investment to make this possible. But, the reward is a broader group of readers.

Some key points to remember are:

  • About 15% of the global population has a disability. You’re missing an important sector of society by not tailoring your content to this part of your audience.
  • Inclusive content is really about making things easier and appealing to as many senses as possible. Use text-to-speech and readability tools. Also, use a mix of audiovisual and written content.
  • Your website should have a great user experience design.
  • Tailor your content to suit short attention spans.
  • Use the right fonts and emphasis formatting.

Thanks to Christine McLean for being a guest on our blog and featuring us on her blogChristine is a freelance writer and content marketer at CEM Writing Services

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