How to create accessible content: 10 useful tips
Creating accessible content is vital for a successful website. It will help you include people with impairments into your audience, make your website more user-friendly for everyone, boost customer satisfaction, improve SEO, and meet web accessibility standards. Let’s learn more about these standards and ways to create accessible content on your website.
A note on content accessibility standards
The content accessibility latest standard is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1. It is also known as WCAG 2.1. The standard was created by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Its aim is to make the World Wide Web an accessible place for everyone.
Some aspects of web accessibility are of a technical nature, so they are entrusted to web developers and designers. They take care of fonts and colors, contrast ratios, creating form labels, providing keyboard accessibility, and so on.
Still, people who create content can (and should!) make it accessible directly on the content management level. Here a few tips on doing this.
How to create accessible content
1. Provide meaningful link texts
Link texts like “click here” or “read more” are not good in terms of accessibility — they should clearly describe what the URL is about. This is especially helpful to people who rely on screen readers. Assistive software is able to jump between links by generating a list of them.
Here are some recommendations as to the links:
- avoid raw URLs (like https://website.com/page), because screen readers will read it out to users, no matter how long it is
- use meaningful keywords
- avoid many extra words and stay concise
- integrate link text naturally into the content
- make sure it reads well independently of the rest of the text
- if it leads to downloading a file, specify its type and size (“Document sample (PDF, 5MB).”
- avoid extra links leading to the same destination
2. Provide ALT text for images
The alternate, or ALT text, describes what the image is about. It will be read by screen reader software. The ALT description should be clear, concise, and helpful. If an image is used as a link, the link destination should be stated in the ALT. If there is some text on the image, consider duplicating it.
In addition to being a rule of thumb for making your images accessible, alternate descriptions are also incredibly useful in terms of SEO.
It is possible to make the ALT attribute obligatory so it is never omitted by a content editor or a user with publishing rights. For example, the ALT is required out-of-box on websites built with Drupal 8. You can also automate ALT creation on large websites, and all this can be done with the help of our development team.
3. Use clear and simple language
To create accessible content, use clear and simple sentences. Acronyms (like WCAG) should be expanded (like to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines). Technical terms should be either avoided or explained. However, it depends on the professional level of the content’s target audience.
Using simple and clear language is important in a wide variety of cases:
- some users may have cognitive impairments
- some may speak English as a second language
- some have to rely on screen readers and need it to be simpler
- some just want to quickly grasp your idea and have no extra time
4. Structure your content well
Here goes an accessibility tip that continues the previous one. To make the content easily understandable to anyone, you can rely on:
- shorter paragraphs
- bullet lists
and so on.
This allows users to quickly focus their attention on your key points. The screen readers will also easily navigate through your content, move from section to section etc.
And, like all other accessibility guidelines, good content structuring raises usability for your average customer as well, because everyone appreciates and quickly grasps the well-structured content.
5. Use real headings
Authors often structure their content by making some phrases bigger, bolder, or with a different color. For average users, this is an attention grabber.
But this does not work with people relying on screen readers. The accessible text will be read out from top to bottom with no structure and with no chance to navigate between meaningful sections.
So you should use real headings that are structural elements of the document and define its hierarchy. The most important heading on a page is H1, which is followed by H2, H3, and so on. When a screen reader sees a heading, it will read it out “Heading level one.”
This tip is not only applicable to accessibility. Every decent website needs a proper heading structure that should preferably be organized by a good SEO manager.
6. Make your page titles meaningful and unique
One of the tips to create accessible content is to take care of page titles. They are situated within the element of the page's HTML structure. Page titles should provide the most relevant information about the page, be concise and unique.
7. Provide videos and audios with transcripts or captions
Transcripts and captions both present the spoken content as written text. Captions appear on the screen as chunks of text simultaneously with the spoken content. Transcripts are textual versions of the content in a separate document.
Transcripts and captions for video and audio content can be very important in various scenarios. They may help people who:
- can’t hear
- can’t hear well
- use English as a second language
- want to grasp the content more quickly and efficiently
- have to avoid loud sounds in the room due to some reasons
There are free and paid services that convert speech to text. For example, YouTube offers automatic captioning by using speech recognition technology. It is also often important to say what is going in the video or audio, not only what is said.
If you cannot provide all your video or audio content with transcripts or captions, you could also consider providing on a by-request basis.
8. Make documents accessible
It is easy to forget about attached documents that are downloaded from your website. Most of the commonly encountered documents of this kind are in Portable Document Format (PDF). PDF needs to be tagged so its structure can be read by assistive technologies. PDF authoring tools can be very helpful here.
In many cases, however, it is better to consider providing a text alternative to the PDF document.
9. Use the social media capabilities
Social media have different accessibility options, so you need to make sure you are using them. Examples include:
- on Twitter, you can enable alternate description for images
- Instagram allows unlimited captions for images
- Facebook uses face recognition
- as already mentioned, YouTube automatically captions videos
and so on.
10. Make website instructions clear and unambiguous
All instructions, error messages, and required data formats that users must enter should be understandable and concise in order to be accessible.
Remember to be careful with directions like “to the right,” “to the left,” or ones using colors (e.g. “click on the red button”). Screen readers absorb the content as linear — they read it from top to bottom, so there is no “left” or “right” in their case.
By the way, the same applies to the hottest design technique — responsive web design. Layout elements in responsive design can be reordered to achieve perfect display on mobile devices, which is another reason to write instructions carefully.
Let us help you with your website accessibility
That said, the accessible content creation rules look like the golden rules of today’s web in general. They make your website better in so many ways.
And the golden rules of life is putting yourself in other people’s shoes — so always imagine how different audiences will perceive your content.
Our web agency is ready to help you make your website accessible in all technical aspects. When it comes to content, we can provide a technical background for you to create accessible content in your everyday workflows. Let’s discuss the details!