Resource Roundup: How to Make Your Content More Accessible
In the United States, one in four people live with a disability. That means you’ve likely got disabled people in your target audience. But if those folks can’t access your content, your message won’t come through – which means you don’t have a shot at making them customers.
That hurts your company’s bottom line – and your commitment to DEI.
The road to digital accessibility starts with the gold standard: the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2. WCAG 2 suggests boosting your content’s accessibility with fast-loading pages, high-contrast design, easy-to-read language, and more.
The goal: remove common barriers to comprehension so that your content is easy to see, read, hear, and understand regardless of ability level.
As a non-disabled person, I’m far from an accessibility expert. That’s why I’m sharing five expert resources to help you make your content more accessible.
Resource 1: The Accessibility Basics
WCAG 2 has detailed entries on each accessibility guideline. But if you want a more bite-sized intro to accessible content, Mailchimp’s got you. Its Writing for Accessibility page strips things down to the basics.
Some major building blocks: use…
- Headers. These help readers extract the big details.
- Hierarchical section structures. Put the most important info up front to boost readability.
- Plain language. Keep things direct and conversational so readers don’t get confused.
- Alt text. This tool relays image content to people with low vision.
- Closed captions or transcripts. For people with hearing and vision loss, these tools make it easier to understand your video and podcast content.
Not sure how to use these things well? More helpful guides below.
Resource 2: An Inclusive Language Style Guide
Marketing content and plain language dovetail pretty nicely. But make sure you’re careful with idioms. A lot of them make disabled people the punchline – see “the blind leading the blind” or “that fell on deaf ears.”
Ableist language alienates disabled folks in your audience. It’s extra important to use sensitive language when writing about a disability or disabled people.
When it comes to using more disability-inclusive language, the Disability Language Style Guide is your best friend. A couple of guiding principles:
- Only mention a disability when necessary. That likely means avoiding disability-focused idioms.
- Aim for judgment-free language. When describing a disability, consider avoiding terms like “impairment” or “disorder,” which can imply a lesser-than status.
With more inclusive language, you avoid unintentionally alienating disabled readers, viewers, and listeners.
Resource 3: Tips for Writing Alt Text
If you use images in your content (which you should!), alt text helps you make them more accessible.
People with low vision often use screen readers to understand web pages. Alt text feeds into that tech to communicate image content.
Alt text isn’t quite the same as an image caption, though. Nail the nuance with WebAIM’s alt text guide. The highlights:
- Accurately describe what’s in the image.
- Make your description brief – just a few words will do.
- Avoid restating info surrounding the image.
- Don’t use phrases like “picture of…” or “image of…” – screen readers announce that by default.
You should be using alt text in your social media posts, too. Twitter breaks down how to add it to tweets step by step.
Resource 4: A Guide to Making Accessible Videos
To make accessible videos and podcasts, you need closed captions and transcripts.
A quick refresher: closed captions pull transcribed audio from a separate text file uploaded to your video player. That’s how you get Netflix subtitles – and those oh-so-ubiquitous memes (see Figure 1).
Transcripts work with both videos and podcasts. Folks typically access them separately or alongside your media.
Figure 1: Those subtitled memes I was talking about.
Closed captions and transcripts are invaluable for people with hearing loss. Closed captions help folks with low vision, too. If a video features a fast talker, closed captions in large text make it easier to follow along.
Adobe’s video accessibility guide has some tips for creating quality closed captions and transcripts:
- Use professional video editing software. Compared to free alternatives, pro software offers more closed captioning and transcription functionality.
- Transcribe all auditory info. Alongside dialog, make sure to relay background noises like the start of a song, meeting chatter, or a car rolling by.
- Manually edit for clarity. Auto-generated closed captions and transcripts don’t accurately capture everything. And depending on your audience, you might want verbatim or heavily edited transcripts.
Next time you watch a video, turn on closed captions and transcripts to see these tools in practice.
Resource 5: A Tool For Checking Color Contrast
For people with visual disabilities (e.g., color blindness), color contrast makes your content more readable (see Figure 2).
WCAG 2 defines how much contrast there should be between your site’s text and background. The minimum: a ratio of 4.5:1.
Figure 2: The Propllr blog uses high-contrast text for max readability.
Note that these guidelines apply to all web content, but not everything is in a content marketer’s wheelhouse. Some adjustments might be better suited for designers and front-end developers.
To assess your website’s contrast ratio, use WebAIM’s color contrast checker. How it works:
- You enter in the hex codes for your content’s foreground and background colors.
- WebAIM cross-checks your contrast ratio with the WCAG 2 standard.
If your site passes the color contrast checker, you’re in the clear. But what should you do if your ratio’s off?
The fix could be as simple as tweaking the color properties in your site’s CSS. (Hubspot has a great guide for this.)
But it’s usually not a great idea to change a website on the fly. My recommendation: document your finding and flag it for the head of brand, development, and / or DE&I at your organization.
Keep Disabled People Front and Center
If you’ve never given content accessibility a thought before, don’t assume your content is accessible. Instead, take the time to educate yourself, check your site, and adjust as needed. (For example: we weren’t using alt text for our GIFs!)
It’s on all of us to learn accessibility best practices, stay up to date on changing guidelines, and consistently apply them.
Want to go a step further? Get educated about the disability justice movement to understand what’s at stake. To get your feet wet, try following a few activists online – we’ve highlighted some here.
When you make your content accessible, you’ll boost your brand’s inclusivity and reach people of all ability levels.