Do you want to capture your entire potential target audience AND protect your business from potential lawsuits?
You need to be following web and digital accessibility best practices!
What is Digital Accessibility
Let’s take a quick step back. What is digital accessibility? Let’s define that.
Digital accessibility is designing websites and other digital media in such a way that individuals with disabilities or sensory impairments can successfully use them.
That’s it. It’s really that simple.
Accessibility in the real world is all about making an environment and product useable by everyone. The most common example many of us might think of includes wheelchair ramps as an alternative to a flight of stairs.
Digital accessibility is that same concept, just applied to the digital world. Web accessibility applies specifically to a website, but I like to talk about digital accessibility as a whole because it’s the broader, more popular term.
Digital Accessibility in Practice
I want to tell you just a quick story. I started really focusing on Digital Accessibility back in 2013. I’d just starting working for the Scottish Government publisher and my job was to, in part, take printed documents and PDFs and turn them into fully accessible HTML. It was often glorified data entry, but it taught me a ton about digital accessibility standards and made me an advocate for accessibility as a whole.
The Scottish Government wanted to ensure that these studies, publications, and documents were useable by anyone, no matter their abilities.
Before I really got to delve into my job, they had me browse the internet through a screen reader that someone with visual impairments would use. That was eye opening, because if you do have vision issues you have an entirely different experience with the internet and you tend to lose out on so many of the details that the rest of us take for granted.
While yes, we were largely taking boring government documents (things like environmental impact reports and marine life studies) and turning those into accessible HTML, it was still amazing the care the Scottish Government insisted we took to make sure everyone could access those documents.
As you can imagine, our work won awards each year for how accessible it was. But more importantly, I learned the value of being 100% inclusive with the websites and digital content I created.
Digital Accessibility Best Practices
What sort of things did I learn working for the Scottish Government? A lot! And honestly, those digital accessibility best practices haven’t really changed almost 10 years later.
Let’s break down the most important 5 that you should be following in your own business and on your website. The great thing is, most of these are super simple to follow and don’t require a web developer or advanced help to get started.
1. Meaningful Page Titles
Using a meta title, or <title> tag, with something that’s descriptive of what’s on the actual page not only gives your users a quick way to understand what tab they have open, it also tells Google really quickly what the page is about.
For accessibility though? That page title is actually read out loud by a screen reader. You want to avoid simple titles like “Home” or “Profile” and instead give something that’s actually descriptive of what’s on the page.
This will provide better information to those browsing your site with a screen reader, but it will also help Google understand what your page is actually about.
2. Plain English Image File Names and Alternative Text Tags
Before you upload an image to your website, take a look at what it’s named. If it’s autogenerated nonsense, like img-0317.jpg, it tells your visually impaired user nothing.
You see, when someone is browsing the internet using a screen reader program, they of course can’t actually see those images, so the screen reader has two options for describing the image to them. They’ll default to reading something called the ALT tag (or alternative text). If that isn’t there, it’ll read the image’s file name.
Basically, if you don’t add a proper ALT tag to your images on your website or give them descriptive file names, people with visual impairments have no way to access that content.
ALT tags or ALT attributes are super easy to add to images; most website builder programs like WordPress and SquareSpace give you a way to add those easily to any image you upload.
You need to actually describe what’s in the image in that ALT tag and your file name should also be descriptive. For instance red-ford-truck.jpg should have an ALT tag of Red Ford truck.
3. Transcripts and Captions
If you use videos with sound and talking or audio content on your website, then you need to provide a transcription of that content and/or captions to go along with it.
Not only does this help your browsers who are hearing impaired and allows them to access all of your content, but it also gives the opportunity for other users to engage with it without their sound on.
I built an online course for a Chicago-based food entrepreneur incubator. With those courses, we ensured all the videos not only had Closed Captioning on the videos, but also included transcripts that could be expanded below the video. It just gave their students a variety of ways to get the content in the way that they chose.
Transcribing Video Content
If you want a super simple way to create transcripts and time closed caption files – called SRT – just head to Rev.com.
4. Use High-Contrast, Legible Font Colors
You know how we talked about keeping people on your website longer by improving your copy? Well, they have to actually be able to read that copy.
If you’re using busy backgrounds with patterns or even a solid background color, you have to ensure that people can actually read what’s on that section.
While I’d recommend avoiding putting text directly on an image (use a background color over an image) to improve readability, you have to check those font and background colors you’re using. Luckily, Webaim has a great tool that will let you plug in your colors’ hexcodes and discover if they pass. If they don’t, you’ll want to adjust until you pass across the board.
Not passing doesn’t just open you up to legal liabilities, but it can actually prevent a huge portion of your target market from being able to read your website. We certainly don’t want that!
5. Make Your Content Readable
OK, so I definitely struggle with parts of this myself, but readability is all about making your content easy to read. Avoiding technical jargon, difficult language, and use shorter sentence structures helps to improve accessibility.
With accessibility, remember that not everyone has the same reading level. Not only that, but many people have reading challenges like dyslexia or English is their second language.
Keep content simple, short, and clear and to the point. It opens up your content so that more people can understand and access it. This in turn makes content more enjoyable and easy to read for everyone.
It’s Not About You
You’ll see a lot of people argue for you to follow good web accessibility standards to avoid lawsuits (which is a real threat), but it’s more about providing the best possible experience for your target audiences.
After all, marketing is all about the targeted user. It’s not about your brand and what you like. It’s about what they like.
Ensuring your website and all of your marketing content is accessible helps you to put your customer first.