The Importance of Accessible Web Content

Website accessibility is a hot topic right now, and it isn’t going to go away anytime soon. Unless you plan to become one of the companies that are used as an example of what NOT to do, you need to make sure that your website follows web accessibility standards. One surefire way to do that is to conduct an ADA compliance audit. Of course, if you want to take matters into your own hands and perform your own web accessibility audit, it’s important that you understand what accessible web content is and how you can achieve it.

What is accessible web content?

Accessible web content is founded on the idea that everyone should have equal access to the same information. While everyone experiences web content differently from each other, it is important that everyone, including those with disabilities, can understand the content as it’s intended. For example, some individuals will interpret text and images based on what they see while others will use assistive technology to understand the same content (e.g. listening to the content using a screen reader).

Another example of accessible web content includes multimedia content such as videos. Most people will use their ears to listen to what is being said on screen while others use captions to understand the video content. In short, accessible web content is all about removing barriers that would otherwise prevent someone from comprehending content.

Email and PDF accessibility

When we refer to accessible web content, we’re not just talking about content on websites. Digital content also includes emails and documents shared digitally such as PDFs. Email accessibility means that your emails are designed in such a way that everyone can receive and understand the content sent in an email.

One example of something that will make an email inaccessible is color. Around 5% to 10% of the population is color blind. To help ensure that everyone will see the colors in your email, it’s important to remember not to rely solely on color to convey information. Additionally, be sure to use colors that have sufficient color contrast between the text and the background.

Improving the readability of your content also impacts email accessibility. Include a good heading structure and descriptive link text. Using relative font sizes and real text that is not included in graphic images will allow recipients to resize the email text without losing quality. Using relative sizes for line height is also beneficial when resizing text.

In addition to email accessibility, PDF accessibility is an important aspect of accessible web content that we often see overlooked. An accessible PDF is a PDF document that complies with the accessibility guidelines found in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and PDF/UA (Universal Access, or ISO 14289).

Accessible PDFs include an organized tagging structure. PDF tags enable assistive technology such as screen readers to interpret the structure of the document and relay the content to the user. Tags that are used in a PDF include headings (e.g. <H1>, <H2>), tables (<Table>), and images (<FIGURE>). Similar to an accessible website, accessible PDFs include images that have alternative text to describe the content of an image. The alternative text is present to assistive technology such as a screen reader.

WCAG 2 Documents

To help everyone understand how to apply accessibility to digital content such as websites, emails, and PDF documents, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) provides the WCAG 2 Documents. The WCAG 2 Documents are technical documents that provide web accessibility guidelines for different purposes. For example, “How to Meet WCAG 2.0” serves as a customizable quick reference. “Techniques for WCAG 2.0” contains instructions for developers and “Understanding WCAG 2.0” serves as a detailed reference which includes the intent of the WCAG, how it benefits people with disabilities, and example scenarios.

What types of web content can be inaccessible?

Some types of web content are more inaccessible compared to others. Below are some examples of types of content that can prevent users from understanding the information being conveyed when it is not created with accessibility in mind and made compatible to work with assistive technology.

Images

Obviously, images are not going to be accessible to individuals with visual impairments without the correct formatting. In order for users with low or no vision to understand what an image is trying to convey, you need to provide meaningful alternative text that a screen reader can use to present it to the user. When a user zooms text-only, the size of an image is not increased so be sure not to include text within images as this would prevent the text from increasing in size. Poor quality images may appear blurry on a high-resolution screen. If the visual content of the image presents important information, the blurry image may affect the accessibility of the image content.

Tables

Screen readers cannot “read” tables in the same way that sighted users can. This assistive technology relies on how the table is coded with HTML tags. For example, a sighted user can easily comprehend the information provided in a given cell by glancing at the column and row headers associated with them. The header cells are often a different color or included bolded or larger text. A screen reader, on the other hand, requires table header information that is included within the correct HTML table header tags in order to properly “read” the table to its users.

Videos and Audio Files

Video and audio files need to be accessible to users who are unable to see or hear the multimedia content. To ensure video and audit content is accessible to everyone, you need to include transcripts or captions. Remember to include descriptions of images included in video content. Captions will help users with hearing impairments to understand the content of a video. Transcripts can be read by a screen reader for those with visual impairments.

Links

Links need to have descriptive, explanatory text to help individuals who use screen readers to be able to distinguish between one link and another. This makes it easy for users to navigate content as well as reduce the need to depend on context in order to determine where a link will lead them. One way to test your links is to read only the links on a page. Be sure each link describes its purpose without reading the content surrounding it. In addition to using unique and descriptive link text, the alternative text on linked images should include the purpose of the link. Including information stating if your link will open in a new tab or window will increase the accessibility of your web content.

Web accessibility means accessible web content

Web accessibility means that all websites, digital tools, and technologies must be accessible and usable to everyone, including people with disabilities. It is based on the idea of universal design – designing for all. Part of web accessibility is ensuring that online content can be consumed by all, regardless of their ability or capabilities.

Content accessibility guidelines

As mentioned above, when creating digital content, there are several things you can do to ensure your content is accessible. To get started, following the guidelines listed below:

  • Do not rely on color alone to convey information.
  • Use sufficient color contrast between your text and background colors.
  • Provide alternative text for all images.
  • Include unique, descriptive link text.
  • Create transcripts for podcasts.
  • Include captions on videos.
  • Don’t use images to display text.
  • Allow users to resize the text.
  • Specify what language the text is presented in by using a language attribute on web pages.

For more information on the latest Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), View the WCAG 2.1.

Conclusion

Content accessibility is the right thing to do. By making sure that your content is presented to all, you are providing equal access to information which empowers your customers to achieve more. As an added bonus, accessible web contents will help boost your business as it improves user experience, connects you with more customers, and builds trust as well as credibility.

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