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7 Tips for Creating Accessible Content

According to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which set international standards and recommendations to make web content more accessible to all users, there are four major principles that all creators should adhere to:

  1. Making web content perceivable - i.e., web content should be accurately seen and read by all users
  2. Making web content operable - i.e., web content should be responsive and feature an interface that is easy to navigate by all users
  3. Making web content understandable - i.e., web content should feature language that is clear, easily interpretable and understood by all users
  4. Making web content robust - i.e., web content should be compatible with all assistive technology tools

Creating accessible content means creating with accessibility in mind. But what does that mean in practical terms?

Here, we’re going to talk about a variety of techniques for creating content that is easy to understand and accessible to diverse audiences.

Create captions and transcripts for video and audio content

If you’re creating video and/or audio content, make sure to include captions for pre-recorded and live content and transcripts for pre-recorded content.

Captions provide a synchronized text version of the audio, while transcripts provide a non-synchronized text version of the audio that can usually be found either on the same page as the video (e.g., in the video description field) or on another linked page. Audio-only content, like a podcast, requires only the creation of a transcript.

Captions and transcripts should also include information that is necessary to understand the content, such as speaker names, music, sound effects, and non-verbal sounds (e.g., “audience boos”). Transcripts should also include some important visual content (e.g., “David falls down”).

Captions and transcripts are important not only to people who are deaf or hard of hearing but also to those who can’t listen to or hear the audio due to being in loud or quiet environments, as well as those with cognitive disabilities who may process text information better, or simply prefer it over audio information.

Captions and transcripts are also automatically indexed by search engines including Google,

which helps improve its SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and helps users find the content easier. Therefore, creating captions and transcripts has numerous advantages, providing a better user experience for everyone, regardless of ability.

Provide alternative text for images

Write alternative text (aka ALT text) to describe relevant images in context and explain what they are about. The purpose of alternative text is to be read by assistive technology tools like screen reader software, which allow people who are blind or visually impaired to understand important information.

The alternative text should be specific and concise - usually around 140 characters or less (although there may be exceptions). It’s not necessarily about what the image contains but what it communicates. Alternative text should not only provide information but also the function and context of the image. If there is a link in the image, alternative text should clearly state that. However, you should not use alternative text for purely decorative images.

Similarly to captions and transcripts, alternative text is also hugely helpful in SEO and can help you reach more users and potential customers.

Apply sufficient colour contrasts

There must be a sufficient colour contrast between the text and its background. For example, red text against a green background can become entirely illegible for users with low vision, colour blindness, or those who are viewing text in grayscale on an e-ink screen. Remember that only brightness (rather than hue or saturation) is visible to all users.

According to WCAG guidelines, there must be a colour contrast ratio of 4.5:1 for text under 18 pt, and 3:1 for text larger than 18 pt or bold text of 14 pt and more.

Additionally, do not rely on colour alone to communicate meaning or important information. Users should be able to understand your content even if all colours were removed.

Use clear and simple language

In order to create accessible content, write in clear, simple, and short sentences. This is important for users with cognitive impairments, who speak English as a second language, and who rely on assistive technology tools such as screen readers.

Write in simple and plain language so all users can immediately understand it upon the first read. Avoid unnecessarily complex words and phrases, jargon, and sentences over 21 words. Acronyms such as “WCAG” should be expanded on first use to “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.” List formatting should be used if appropriate. If you need to use technical terms, explain them clearly and succinctly. You can also provide a glossary of terms if needed.

Clear and simple language is particularly important when writing any kind of instructions, guidance materials, and error messages on the page, as they need to be unambiguous and easy to understand without unnecessarily technical language.

Structure content well

Shorter paragraphs, real headings and subheadings, bullet lists, table headings, and summaries all help users easily navigate through content and focus on critical points. Good content structure is useful to all users, regardless of ability, as it contributes to quicker and easier comprehension.

Use real headings by marking them with headings tags such as H1 for the most important heading on the page, followed by H2, H3, etc. for subheadings. A screen reader will read those out as “Heading level one,” “Heading level two” and so on, which helps individuals using assistive technology tools. Also, using real headings will help you create a clear nesting page structure, provide an outline of the content and maintain its hierarchy within the page.

Make your page titles informative and unique

Page titles are located within the HTML structure of the page, and they are meant to succinctly describe the content and purpose of the page to users and search engines. They are also commonly referred to as SEO titles, as they can be the first thing that a user sees in search results.

For each page on your website, create a short and concise title that describes its content, that is unique and that distinguishes it from other pages. Titles should provide the most important information about the page, and they can be the same as the main heading (H1) of the page. For example, the simplest page title on this page would be: “Creating Accessible Content.”

Ensure link text is meaningful

Using ambiguous link text such as “click here to learn more” or “visit this web page” doesn’t clearly describe what the URL is about. That makes it unhelpful in terms of accessibility, especially for individuals using assistive technology tools. Instead, you should write link text that clearly and uniquely describes the content of the link target.

That means using meaningful keywords, keeping link text concise and to the point, avoiding raw URLs and extra links leading to the same destination, integrating it naturally into the content, and ensuring it can stand on its own. If a link leads to a file download, make sure to specify its type and size - for example, “Accessible Video Content (TXT, 1MB).”

Ideally, you should avoid linking to PDF documents as they aren’t always accessible to people with disabilities. However, if a PDF document is required, you should tag it so that assistive technology tools can read it. But if it can be avoided, providing a text alternative is a better option.

Creating accessible content will help you increase your audience by including people with disabilities, meet web accessibility standards and thus lower the risk of lawsuits, improve your SEO, and create a better user experience for everyone.

Subly can help you create accessible content with highly accurate subtitles or captions, transcripts, audio descriptions, and improved colour contrasts that boost the accessibility of your video files.

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