Web for Everyone: Making Accessible Online Content
By Lauren McMullen
From scrolling through social media to attending online events, we may find ourselves navigating through dozens of websites daily. But for some individuals, using the internet is not a seamless experience. More than 6 million Canadians are living with a disability, and inaccessible online content is inconvenient and a major barrier to an individual’s ability to access important information. Keep reading for 5 tips on how you can make your online content more accessible.
If you enjoy posting (or just browsing) on social media, you are probably no stranger to hashtags. They’re how apps categorize your content and sort it within their algorithms. But, did you know that there are some best practices for using hashtags to make them more accessible for users who are visually impaired or use screen readers?
Reading a long string of text with no punctuation or spacing can be very difficult. To make your hashtags more accessible, try capitalizing each word (this is called “title case”). For example, instead of #weloveedmonton, try #WeLoveEdmonton. See the difference?
When you are writing longer pieces of online content like website copy or a blog, you might find yourself wanting to link to external pages like this:
To check out my favourite brownie recipe, click here!
The “click here” call to action can sound exciting, and it locates your link neatly at the end of the sentence. However, linking in this way can make it difficult for users with visual impairments to make sense of what you’re trying to link.
Because some screen readers have a feature that scans exclusively for links, the user may end up with five links read back to them that all appear as “click here.” The user will have no idea where any of the links actually go.
Instead, add your hyperlinks to the descriptive part of your text so that the screen reader relays the entire context of the link:
My favourite brownie recipe is as easy as it is delicious!
Paragraph and Sentence Length
Keeping your paragraphs short on social media not only increases users’ engagement with your content, but it’s also a great way to make your content more accessible to users that have cognitive disabilities such as dyslexia or ADHD.
Short sentences are also a helpful way to make your content more accessible. A study done by the Press Institute of India found sentences that are 19 words or less are the easiest to read. Anything longer than 33 words is considered difficult.
Microsoft Word has a built-in readability tool that will tell you how easy your content is to read. If you don’t use Microsoft products, you can also use this free document readability checker.
Have you ever tried to read a graphic that had yellow text splayed across a white background? It’s frustrating. Users with visual impairments may struggle to read text and graphics if it does not have a high enough contrast. Make the colours you are using accessible by ensuring they meet the minimum recommended contrast level of 3:1. W3Docs’s online colour contrast analyzer is a free and easy-to-use tool to help you evaluate your colours.
Alt Text and Media Descriptions
A good deal of the content that we interact with online is image-based, which creates barriers for individuals with visual impairments. You can make your videos and pictures more accessible by using alt text and media descriptions. But what is the difference between the two?
Alt text is the text alternative for the image you are using. Simply put, it’s an HTML tag that exists alongside your image that can be read by screen readers. Alt text usually appears in a format similar to this: “picture of a grey cat sitting in a sunbeam licking his paw.”
Media descriptions are similar to alt text, but they appear directly on-screen for users to read. These descriptions provide a detailed overview of the elements in an image or graphic. If you are dealing with video content, a media description may include a transcript.
Media descriptions usually appear in a format similar to this: “[Media Description: A photograph of a young girl playing on a swing set. She is wearing a polka-dot dress and a yellow bucket hat. Her face is scrunched up in a laugh, and her mom stands behind her, pushing the swing. The sun casts a bright glow over the scene].”
If you want to learn more about how you can make online content more accessible for individuals with disabilities, check out the current Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
Disclaimer: These tips are just a small selection of the considerations to be made when producing accessible online content. Every individual has a unique experience with disability, whether it be through personal experience or through someone they know. The best practice for creating accessible content is to consult with others in the community and listen to any feedback you receive.