Chances are that you’ve heard about accessibility but aren’t sure what that means beyond using alt text for images. If you find yourself in the daunting position of introducing accessibility into your company’s content strategy, don’t panic. Guy van der Kolk, Product Manager at Typefi, shares three ways to introduce accessibility into your digital content strategy, and your organisation.
Accessible content is inclusive and ensures all people can consume it
Accessibility, or sometimes abbreviated to A11y (as in “a” then 11 characters (“ccessibilit”) then “y”) is the idea that all people can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with digital information.
By ‘all people,’ I mean folks with perfect eyesight to those requiring strong reading glasses, people with colour blindness to partial/full blindness, and those with cognitive challenges or physical barriers like tremors or paralysis. Accessibility is all about inclusivity.
It’s important to note that this concept is not limited to the human body either, as barriers to accessibility also exist geographically. In parts of the world where broadband internet is not easily available, slow, ’heavy’ websites and/or downloading large files can impede information accessibility. This is an issue, especially if your content is meant to cater to an audience there.
Now, I need to ask your forgiveness early as I can’t go into great detail in this post, so if I mention ‘artifacting’ without explaining further, a Google search on “How to mark as artifact in InDesign” or “How to mark an artifact in HTML or EPUB” will give you the information needed, when you’re ready to work on it. And trust me, you’ll be doing a lot of Googling on this journey!
So, how can you ensure your content is accessible to all? My advice is to start small. This is the beginning of a constant learning process—I am still learning every day, and with every project. Small steps now will make a big difference in the future.
1: Choose a portion of content to focus on when optimising for accessibility
Your company probably produces content in multiple formats across many channels, including social media posts, videos, digital PDFs, and printed and online content. Odds are that you’ll quickly feel overwhelmed and demotivated if you try to make all this accessible at once. My advice? Focus on the low-hanging fruit.
Your website, social media posts, and digital content in general is a great area to focus on—starting with alt text (more on this in #2).
Leave the bigger accessibility projects, like redeveloping your website, for later when you’ve got more A11y knowledge under your belt and have time to plan for it.
2: Start optimising for accessibility by adding descriptions, structure, and provide output options
When optimising your content for accessibility, focus on these three areas:
- Alt text (descriptions): how does something look? Why is it there?
- Structure: <what> is something?
- Provide print and digital versions of your content
Add alt text to describe how something looks and the purpose of the image/graphic
Images are great—but only if you can see them. To ensure your images and graphics can be used by all people, you need to decide whether to write alternative (alt) text for it, or to mark it as an artifact (so it won’t appear to assistive technologies).
At the risk of generalising, most pictures should have a description. If in doubt, add some alt text! The description you include will depend on the purpose of the image. To learn more about the purpose of images, check out the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) on Image Concepts.
There are, however, situations when alt text is not required. For example, the same company logo in the footer of every page in your digital PDF can probably be “artifacted” so it won’t appear to Assistive Technology. Learn more on hiding decorative images in this W3C Working Group Note.
Use headings to give your content structure and provide clear navigation through your digital content
Compared to printed content, digital content—like websites and PDFs—often lacks structure. Structure is essential if your ability to consume content is impaired. The most important structure to focus on early are the HTML elements of heading levels. Your audience should be able to use headings to get an overview of the digital information provided. Read The A11y Project’s guide on accessible heading structure to learn more.
Provide both print and digital versions of your content
Providing multiple ways to consume your content is great and falls entirely within the spirit of making content accessible. For example, if your flagship content is a printed physical asset, turn it into a website so that people can also read it via screen reader. A smaller-sized, low-bandwidth version of the asset will also increase content accessibility in areas with a slow internet connection. However, these options are only helpful if you’re also adding alt text and structure to your content.
3: Share your accessibility knowledge with your peers to gain project support
People are naturally resistant to change, so expect pushback during the scoping and implementation phases of your accessibility project. The argument that this is a lot of effort to go to for the benefit of ‘a relatively small group of people’ is all too common. However, according to World Health Organization (WHO), “2.2 billion people have a near or distance vision impairment.” Not such a small group, if you ask me.
Ultimately, accessibility benefits everyone, so share your learnings as you go, and raise the awareness and importance of content accessibility for all.
Want your content to be accessible? Write and design with all people in mind.
Improving content accessibility will take time. Just remember that some accessibility is better than no accessibility at all. Start small and help bring your digital content to life for everyone.
Have you recently added accessibility into your content strategy goals? What were your first steps? Tell us in the comments!
To learn more about accessibility, visit the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) for an Introduction on Web Accessibility, or check out the Chax Chat accessibility podcast for in-depth (but easy to understand) knowledge from industry experts—Chad Chelius, and Dax Castro. LinkedIn’s course, “Creating Accessible PDFs,” also discusses the best way to prep your Word or InDesign files for accessibility, and finally, to hear how accessibility adds business value, read BookMachine’s blog post “The business of accessibility: content that is more usable is more valuable.”
Guy van der Kolk is fluent in three languages and has a multicultural background that has served him well in his career in the technology sector. As Product Manager at Typefi, Guy’s passion for accessibility influences Typefi’s product offerings, and he’s always sharing his learnings with colleagues.
Related articles on the BookMachine blog:
- Overcoming the challenges of accessible publishing, by Guy van der Kolk (May 2018)
- The business of accessibility: content that is more usable is more valuable, by Abbie Headon (February 2019)
- Alice’s Adventures in Alt-Text Land, by Huw Alexander (May 2020)
- Accessibility: requirement or opportunity? by Mark McCallum (February 2021)