For it's not just the developer's job to code it or the designer's task to design it. It's your responsibility as well, as a content editor, to... write a website's accessibility. Creating accessible content is how you can contribute, directly, to ensuring its accessibility.
Since it's a shared responsibility: a website's accessibility is not just coded and designed, it's written, as well.
Your own accessibility checklist, as a content editor, would include tasks like:
- adding alternative texts to every non-text element of the content
- writing relevant, descriptive text links
- putting together an easily scannable headings structure
- writing clear copy
In one word: your self-assigned “mission” when it comes to making a website accessible for everyone is to create/further optimize every aspect of the website's content with accessibility in mind.
But What Is Accessible Content?
First of all, we should make one thing clear:
“Web content that's accessible to everyone” doesn't mean just “web content that's also accessible to people with various disabilities".
It also refers to content that can be easily accessed and understood by:
- smartphone users
- elderly users with no broadband
- users with low literacy
- users with English as their second language
- perceivable: content should be presented so that the website users can perceive it effortlessly and instantly
- operable: the way it's structured should be easily operable
- understandable: a content's understandable once it's simple and concise and its structural elements meaningful
- robust: content should be easily scanned through and correctly interpreted by assistive technologies
#1 Tip: Add Alternative Text to Non-Text Content Elements
Here's a quick empathy test for you:
Imagine that you're a visually impaired user. You access a website displaying lots of visually-striking imagery that you cannot or can hardly see.
Or maybe there's a button there, on the homepage, that you need to click in order to listen to a podcast, but you just can't spot it.
See my point?
Creating accessible content means adding alternative text to every non-text content element — image, design element, chart/table, button — on the website. Screen readers can read text only: they cannot interpret images for their assisted users...
A few best practices for using ALT text:
- keep your text under 125 characters
- there's no need to start your alternative text with “image for...”
- when possible, restrain yourself from using images with text (e.g. diagrams or graphs)
# 2 Tip: Write Clear Copy
For clear copy is... accessible copy.
Keep your writing simple, your core ideas clear and always use plain language. This way, you'll make the message on the website accessible to everyone:
- visitors with cognitive disabilities
- non-native English speakers
- users accessing the website from their mobile devices
Best practices for writing clear copy:
- use active voice
- put the key ideas up front
- always “bet on” short sentences
- stay away from jargon
- avoid idioms
# 3 Tip: Writing Accessible Headings Means Creating Accessible Content
Writing for accessibility means, among other things:
Structuring and styling your content so it's scannable.
And relevant, properly formatted headlines will allow assistive technologies (and their assisted users, implicitly) to scan through your content, jumping from heading to heading.
This way, they can easily find what they're particularly interested in, instead of forcing them to go through the entire chunk of content.
A few best practices for writing accessible headings:
- go for clear and relevant headlines rather than “cute” or “smart” ones
- don't just bold your headlines, but use the proper hierarchy (H1, H2, H3...) and formatting — <h> tag — instead
Note: if you overlook to format your headlines using the <h> tag, the assistive technologies won't recognize them as... headlines.
# 4 Tip: Accompany Links with Good, Descriptive Link Texts
And creating accessible content does mean tackling "the links issue”:
Whenever you're creating a link, make sure to add a descriptive link text, too. This way, it will be crystal clear, to all users, what kind of page that link would take them to, once/if clicked...
Some best practices for writing link texts:
- make sure to signal if the link leads to a download; just insert the word “Download” in the link text or “PDF” in parentheses or “new window”
- keep it concise, so that the screen reader can read it fast enough
- avoid using “ALL CAPS” in your link text, they're harder to read
- avoid relying on color, only, to indicate linked text, as that's not at all writing for accessibility if you consider the color blind visitors on the website
#5 Tip: Use The Right HTML Tags to Create Bulleted Lists
Can't have a clean, scannable text without some bulleted or numbered lists strategically “sprinkled” here and there, right?
Just remember to format them properly:
- use the <ul> tag for bulleted lists
- … and the <ol> tag for numbered lists
# 6 Tip: Add Captions & Transcripts to Your Audio/Video Content
Now, just try to step into the shoes of a non-native English speaker, of a hard of hearing/deaf visitor or of a user unfamiliar with the speaker's accent. How accurately would you be able to understand a video or audio piece of content?
Creating accessible content means, also, adding text versions — captions — to the videos and the audio content displayed on the website.
Best practices for creating captions:
- write your own captions, don't rely on automated ones (or rely on a service that transcribes the audio content for you, like Rev)
- make sure your captions are synchronized
- … exhaustive: remember to caption sound effects and background music/noise, as well
- and equivalent: avoid paraphrasing
Note: also, keep in mind to add a static transcript, too, useful for any user who won't/can't access your video or audio content and depends on the equivalent text
Wrap Up: Make Accessibility Part of Your Content Creation Process
Making your content (more) accessible should be an integral part of your editorial workflow, not a last-minute checklist to handle.
Therefore, grow a habit of:
- adding alt text while you're editing your copy
- adding a caption as you're editing that new video that you're about to upload
- structuring and formatting your headings as you're working on your new blog post
- and so on...
In short: adopt an accessibility-first approach to your content!
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