This week, I will get the pleasure of speaking about digital accessibility at Accessibility Summer Camp. This completely free virtual event will be happening on Friday, June 17th. It will provide accessibility training that empowers attendees to create quality, accessible environments.
While the conference will cover a variety of accessibility topics, I’ll be talking about creating accessible experiences online. This is crucial to ensure that your content and your business are inclusive to everyone.
In today’s blog, we’re going to discover what digital accessibility is, why you should care about it in your business, and a few tweaks you can make to your content now to be more accessible.
What is Digital Accessibility
In the US, one in four adults have some sort of disability. We need to ensure that we’ve created an online world that everyone can use.
Digital accessibility is simply that. The ability for all people, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, to be able to access virtual or digital content.
Being accessible with our digital content means that we have to plan from the outset. I’ve been running accessibility audits for quite a few clients lately. After doing these, I can tell you that it’s difficult to go back and make things accessible without making huge changes.
Digital accessibility is all about taking a step back before we launch something, before we build it and before we put it out on the internet and asking ourselves, “Is this accessible for everybody?”
Why Does it Matter for Your Business?
Reach Your Entire Target Market
You may be asking yourself right now, “Why does digital accessibility matter to me and my business?”
You’re cutting off a huge piece of your target audience when you’re not designing and creating content with accessibility in mind.
If you want to make an impact in the world, it is really hard to make that positive impact for yourself or your clients if you’re not following web accessibility best practices.
Protect Your Business from Lawsuits
Want the reason that gets most people’s attention? Protect your business from lawsuits and legal issues. In the United States and many other countries, your business can be sued for not being accessible online.
Does this happen to a lot of small business owners? Not so much, but it does happen. And while most of the lawsuits are being filed in places like New York and Florida, they’re not being filed against companies that only exist in New York and Florida. They’re being filed against companies all over the United States.
Sure, a lot of these cases were brought against large corporations to make an example so that other businesses would follow suit. But the thing to remember here is without following some simple steps to improve your accessibility, you’re putting your business at risk.
You may think I will never be a target, but you don’t know that for sure. Do you really wanna take that risk and have that liability because you simply didn’t want to spend 10 more minutes when you create content to make it accessible?
Digital Accessibility Improves Your SEO
If neither of those reasons are good enough for you and to focus on and build up your digital accessibility, then I’ve got another awesome tidbit for you. Accessibility compliance actually helps your SEO.
Here’s the really cool thing about Google. One, Google cares about their user and because they care about their user, they care about accessibility. But two, Google also browses the internet much like somebody who uses a screen reader to browse the internet. They can’t visually see the images that you’re sharing online, but they can read the alt tags, the file names and all of those things that you’re doing to tell somebody who can’t visually see it what that image contains.
If you want to improve your search engine optimization, then when you follow digital accessibility best practices, you’re actually going to get a bonus and be able to improve your SEO of your website.
Simple Steps to Improve Accessibility
How can you improve your own website and social media? What steps do you need to take to be more inclusive?
While this is certainly not a comprehensive list, let’s take a look at the main things you should be changing and adding to your own content creation process to be more compliant.
One of the easiest things that will have the biggest impact is by using ALT tags or alternative tags on your images.
This applies to your website and on social media, but every image you upload to the internet should have a description of what’s in the image. You do this through the ALT tag. In WordPress and other website platforms, there’s a space for you to enter this information. You also have the option to add it in most social media sites; you may just have to dig around a bit.
What do you write for the ALT tag?
For instance, if you upload a picture of yourself, then the ALT tag could be something as simple as, “Jane Smith sitting in front of a brick wall with her hand under her chin.”
You want to provide enough information so that the context of the image can be understood. Why are ALT tags so important? Someone who is visually impaired and is using a screen reader will have that description read to them. That allows them to understand the context of the graphics that you’re using on your website.
With no ALT tag, they’ll get read the file name instead. As a back up to the ALT tag, you should always rename your image files to something that’s also descriptive of the image, with dashes between words.
A cool bonus? Not only does this improve your inclusivity, it also improves your SEO because Google only knows what’s in your images by the ALT tag and the filename.
Video Captions and Audio Transcripts
One of the other low hanging fruits when it comes to accessibility on websites and on social media are video captions and audio transcripts.
Utilizing captions on your videos for any kind of narration will make sure that everybody can access the information in that video.
Social media took a while to catch up to this, but you’re finally able to add captions on almost any social media platform. If you’re uploading videos to say Vimeo or YouTube, you’re able to utilize captions there, too.
If you want to create captions that are a little bit more accurate, but are still inexpensive, I personally use rev.com for their automated transcription.
For just audio on your website, make sure that you have a transcription option available, too. This allows you to reach those who can’t interact with your podcast in the traditional sense but still get the value from it.
Our third one here is probably the one you have to think about the most ahead of doing something – color contrast. What the font color is on top of a background color matters a lot to someone who has low vision or color blindness.
While you’re designing you think that a certain color on this other color is going to look really nice. Run that through an accessibility tool first. I use WebAim’s contrast checker. The one color combination that we want initially always seems to come back as a fail.
What does that mean? It means your font color and background color do not have a high enough contrast so that everybody can read it. Do you want to prevent people from being able to read your copy on your website? Uh, I don’t think so.
Use WebAim’s tool before you start designing anything. Before you ever go into Canva and create a graphic for social media, check the hexcodes of the font color you plan to use on the background color you plan to use and make sure it’s legible.
What’s happening for a lot of people that I see, especially on social media, you’re uploading what you think are these great graphics, but nobody can actually read them.
Make PDFs Text Searchable
Another one that I see a lot of people making accessibility mistakes with are PDFs. You want to have a simple lead capture, so you create a PDF guide. But if you don’t take the extra steps to make that PDF accessible, you’re giving someone a document they may not actually be able to use.
If you’re creating PDFs, I highly recommend that you have Adobe Acrobat installed on your computer. Acrobat comes with accessibility tools that allow you to add alt tags to images, add tags, jump links, and make the document text searchable.
Being text searchable means that somebody can come in and not only search the document to find what they want, but they’re able to utilize a screen reader to read the document back to them. It’s the simplest thing that you can do to make a PDF more accessible.
Avoid Special Social Media Fonts
Those “special fonts” you see (and may have used) on social media? Stop using them!
You know what I mean. Those fonts in Instagram captions that look italicized or help it stand out. I get why people do it because it catches the eye.
Here’s the dirty secret about those. A phone, a screen reader does not read those fonts like a font. Those are actually coming across like emojis. They are not accessible at all.
In fact, those specialty “fonts” may not actually appear the same way depending on the device. For example, I have a Garmin watch that receives my messages. Sometimes I’ll get a text from AT&T where they actually use these specialty fonts in their text. My watch, however, doesn’t have the ability to understand this is text, so it comes across as weird broken characters.
That’s literally what a screen reader is seeing when you’re using these specialty fonts on social media. It’s not text anymore. Now it’s an image. Stop using them! If the platform does not let you change the font you’re using, the size, the boldness, anything like that; if you cannot do that within the app, you should not be doing it at all.
Keep Things Easy and Consistent
Our last accessibility tip actually will make your life easier as you create content. Be consistent and keep things simple!
Especially on a website, when you’re keeping things really simple, really easy to understand, and they’re consistent, nobody has to relearn how to interact with your website as they go. If a website is inconsistent, you’ll confuse people and they’re going to get lost.
When you make your online process really simple, you’re making it a whole lot easier for people to make decisions, but you’re also making things more accessible.
You have to remember that not everybody has the same abilities that you do. Whether they’re dyslexic and it takes them longer to read something, they have a visual impairment and they’re using a screen reader, if they have to tab through things on a keyboard, or just not as tech savvy, you need to design with them in mind.
Every time that you’re designing a new page on your website, it needs to stay consistent with every other page on your website. I’m not saying you copy the design exactly, but the layout should be the similar, the buttons and the links should be the same to make it really simple for people to move through your website and to keep it accessible.
Check Your Digital Accessibility
Now you might be wondering how do you know what you’re specifically doing wrong with your own digital accessibility?
Personally, I love WebAim’s Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool – or WAVE – to check where you might be missing accessible options on your website.
However, if you want a deeper dive, not only into your accessibility, but your SEO and your conversions, we do offer accessibility audits at Captain Coder. We’ll check your accessibility and tell you what to fix, as well as checking your SEO and conversions. With our audit, we’ll outline what’s your highest priority and what you can stagger and work on. Just start with a quick discovery call and we can get your accessibility audit rolling.
If you are not prioritizing digital accessibility in 2022, I can tell you by the way things are (finally) moving, that you’re going to get left behind very quickly. Don’t miss out and exclude your audience.