Desiree Livermon, Genesys
November 15, 2019
What do you think of when you hear the word “accessibility”? For many people, it evokes images of wheelchair ramps, automatic doors, and maybe some braille in the elevator. For content developers, it mostly makes us think of screen readers. But there is more to accessibility than a robotic voice parroting the words you have written.
Accessibility includes color contrast, language complexity, content structure and placement, and much more. In short, accessibility is usability. If not everyone can use your product, including the documentation, is it really usable? Web accessibility means that a user is able to perceive, understand, navigate, interact with, and contribute to web content. It is a standard we should all strive for in our content.
But making all of these changes can be overwhelming and often expensive. Why should we take on this challenge? Well, what if I told you accessible content helps everyone? Making content accessible to people with visual, auditory, cognitive, and motor disabilities can also help:
- people using a device with a small screen, like a phone or smartwatch
- people with a temporary disability, like a broken arm
- people with a situational limitation, like being in an environment where they cannot listen to audio
- people with limited bandwidth or a slow internet connection
Creating accessible content means remembering that not all disabilities are visible or permanent.
So, now you’re on board. You want to create accessible content, but you have to convince other stakeholders — your boss, your boss’s boss, etc. If customers are using the website and not experiencing too much trouble, what could convince management to update your website to be accessible? Here are a few strong business cases for web accessibility:
- Accessibility overlaps with other best practices in areas such as web design, usability, and search engine optimization.
- All electronic and information technology (EIT) products purchased/used by the government must meet accessibility requirements.
- Accessible websites can reach a wider audience.
- Accessible content demonstrates corporate social responsibility.
After you explain the benefits, everyone agrees that accessible content is the way to go! Great! But how do you even get started? Here are 5 areas where you can implement simple changes for accessibility.
Text, language, and presentation
- Be sure that text should be easy to read and has a 4.5:1 contrast ratio with the background.
- Be sure that users can enlarge the text up to 200% without any distortion.
- Write in clear, concise language, and avoid verbal complexity, like slang and idioms.
- Present content in a logical way and avoid a long wall of text that requires a lot of scrolling.
- Be sure that the navigation system can be operated with only a keyboard.
- Be sure that the flow from one area of the screen to another makes sense.
- Provide navigation breadcrumbs.
- Be sure the user can interact with and dismiss any modal dialog boxes with the keyboard.
- Provide a description of the information the table represents.
- Use column and row headers so that any screen reader can make the correct associations between the cells of the table.
Images and videos
- Use alt text for images and describe the image in detail if it is not described in the written content.
- Avoid images that are decorative only.
- For videos, add synchronized captioning and/or a separate transcript.
Semantic tagging, using HTML5 or DITA, for example, gives context to the content. This context is helpful for people that use screen readers. For example, instead of using a bold tag, use a heading tag. The user will then know the text is the heading of a section, instead of, perhaps, a UI label.
Getting started with accessibility can seem overwhelming at first. There are so many parts! But you don’t have to do every piece at once and it is easy to get started using the tools you already have. People of all abilities need to be able to consume the content we create and we should make it as easy as possible for them to do that, if we can.