In the marketing industry, we always try to reach as many people as possible and encourage anyone who might benefit from our products and services to engage with our content. However, users with disabilities – or other accessibility issues, such as relying on a slow internet connection, or only having access to a mobile device – often face challenges when interacting with content online. According to Scope – one of the UK’s leading disability charities – 1 in 4 people in the UK are disabled. They also report that 7 in 10 disabled customers will leave a website that isn’t accessible to them. If your content isn’t accessible, you’re missing out on a large and valuable audience. Consider it from their perspective: if a person with chronic fatigue has to make the choice between navigating through your website and having the energy to wash that day, they’re not going to continue using a site that’s tiring to navigate. A user who is blind and needs to use a screen reader will likely click away if your images aren’t described in ALT text, or your descriptions aren’t useful. Creating content that is as accessible as possible is a challenge, but the principles and resources in this article will help you to design in an accessible way.
How can you make your content more accessible? Discover our top tips and hints for making your content accessible and inclusive to your entire audience.
Design with accessibility in mind from the start
Making content accessible from the beginning – or as early as possible – is often easier than introducing accessibility features after the fact.
If you involve disabled people – and people who use a variety of input devices, browsers, etc. – from the beginning of your design process, their perspectives will help you to build in accessibility at every stage.
Pay attention to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), and consider them as you go along. Consider what this means for your organization: could you hire accessibility consultants to tell you about their needs and test your content? Can you conduct user research to get various perspectives on each stage of your development process? Do you have disabled people on your team who could notice issues others might miss? If not, how could you change that?
Remember POUR: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust
To be widely accessible, your content must be:
Perceivable: Users must be able to perceive the content you’re providing with the devices and senses they have access to. For example, if you’re communicating information through colour, you also need to provide that information through another modality (such as shape or written description) so those with colour vision deficiencies can perceive it. If you provide audio content, you need to also provide a transcript or captions so that users who are deaf or hard of hearing can access the information.
Operable: Users must be able to use the content as intended. For example, make sure any interactable buttons or form fields are large so that users with fine motor control difficulties don’t have to be too precise. A user with chronic fatigue may not be able to scroll all the way down the page and back; make sure to provide shortcut links to all the important sections on the page, and a ‘scroll to top’ button that travels with the user.
Understandable: Users must be able to understand the information you’re trying to communicate. Keep your sentences short and your language clear. Make sure alt text describes the content of the relevant image, not its file name or subjective commentary on the image.
Robust: Content must be accessible via a variety of devices including desktops, mobile devices, screen readers, and multiple browsers. Are your images and text still visible and understandable in dark mode? If not, you could be locking users with migraines out of your content. If your form fields, buttons, and so on aren’t marked up correctly using HTML, the screen readers that users with visual impairments rely on can’t identify them.
Use resources and tools to work smarter, not harder
The WCAG are quite detailed, and it can be a lot of information to take in all at once. However, these resources are here to help:
The Learning Content Accessibility Spotlights series is a great bite-sized introduction to the WCAG. Each fortnightly spotlight focuses on one criterion from the guidelines, with a simple outline of what it means, a list of relevant resources, and discussion questions.
If you’d rather have a list to work through methodically, the University of Washington has put together this IT Accessibility Checklist, as well as more detailed articles on each criterion.
Automated checkers such as WebAIM’s colour contrast checker can make specific accessibility checks much easier. But they should only be used as a first check; they can catch simple errors, but miss the nuance, and sometimes a change that makes content more accessible to the machine will make it less accessible to a real human. Remember that tools with AI integration may have privacy issues you’ll need to research before uploading any sensitive or copyrighted data. You can use the W3C’s guidance on selecting tools to help you find one that’s right for you.
No piece of content can be perfectly accessible, but with these tips in mind, you’re well on your way to breaking down the barriers between you and your disabled customers.
Ensuring your content is accessible to your audience is vital, but knowing where to start with improving accessibility in your marketing can be challenging. Check out our handy video on how you can incorporate inclusion into your communications strategy.