Note: This blog was originally published for Tenon, a premier integrated accessibility testing company, that was acquired by Level Access in November 2021. Read more about Tenon and the Level Access acquisition.
By: Karl Groves, Chief Innovation Officer
Content creators have an overarching objective: Coming up with eye-grabbing, attention-stealing content that entices and informs their website visitors.
Something that tends to be overlooked is making sure that their published content is fully accessible according to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). From the readability of written content to the formatting of images, tables, and other multimedia components, achieving accessibility can seem daunting to creators who are far removed from web development or HTML coding.
Luckily, content accessibility is easier to understand and achieve than most are led to believe. Here are a few key components content staff should be mindful of when creating accessible content for their website.
Readability is essential for a successful user experience. As a content creator, it’s tempting to flex your creative muscle with flowery language, unconventional formatting, and stylistic layouts. Choices like these walk a fine line between demonstrating creativity and causing accessibility complications.
It’s possible to create captivating content without violating website compliance guidelines. Sticking to a few ground rules will help you achieve the best of both worlds.
Plain language, also called plain writing, refers to the use of simple communication that your audience will be able to understand the first time it is read or heard. Keeping your writing clear, concise, and well-organized helps to convey your message efficiently to all users.
Language that is deemed plain by one reader may not be the same to another. As a copywriter, it’s important to prioritize several key goals, no matter what your writing level is:
- Your reader must be able to find what they need in your content
- Your reader must be able to understand what they find the first time they read or hear it
- Your content must be easy to use to help meet the needs of your reader
Plainlanguage.gov recommends the following techniques to help make your content as comprehensive as possible:
- Use an active writing voice
- Write short sentences and paragraphs
- Use common, everyday language
- Include design features that are easy to follow, including lists and tables
- Headings should be visually distinct from other text
- Headings should be descriptive, helpful, and relevant to the content that follows
- Headings should be selected based on their place in the hierarchy, not on their appearance
- Headings should not be overused
- Heading rankings should not be skipped. For example, you should not jump from an <h2> to an <h5>
Headings serve a valuable purpose that we often take for granted. Breaking your copy into labeled, categorized sections makes your content much easier to navigate and absorb. Headings provide a visual hierarchy to the layout of your page, helping guide your reader to the information they’re after.
In terms of accessibility, headings are read by assistive technologies and provide the user a way to quickly navigate to the section they’re after. This works best when your headings follow the proper hierarchical structure. Headings are classified by rankings: <h1> is used for your main title, where sub-topics and categories are identified by using <h2> through <h6>.
Here are some important things to remember about using headings:
The Inverted Pyramid
The inverted pyramid structure in journalism lends itself nicely to clear, comprehensive content. This metaphor is used to indicate a flow of information that begins with the fundamentals of a story, followed by information of less importance. This works well to compose captivating copy, and can be applied to create accessible copy, too.
In journalism, the inverted pyramid is laid out like so:
- Lead with your most newsworthy information. Who, what, when, where, why, and how?
- Follow with important details and crucial information. Story elements, background info, and quotes are some examples.
- Conclude with extra information, such as related items or extra content.
Readers with poor vision or dyslexia need to know that your content is important and relevant to them as easily as possible. By following an inverted pyramid style, you’ll guarantee this ease of understanding by leading with your most valuable information. This allows the user the ability to get the content they’re interested in quickly without hunting. Alternatively, it will also give the user the ability to leave quickly if the content isn’t what they were looking for.
You’ve heard it before: A picture is worth a thousand words. There’s a lot of truth to this phrase, especially when you’re trying to simplify complex information for your website visitors.
In terms of accessibility, images are a good thing! While screen readers present images as text (via an appropriate alternative text), users with cognitive and learning disabilities can benefit greatly from images. For such users, illustrations, maps, charts, and graphs can be an aid in comprehension and retention.
The golden rule is to always include alternative text (alt text) with your images. Whenever you include an image, you must pair an accurate description of the information conveyed by the image or the function represented by it. This ensures that your images can be rendered to people using screen readers or Braille output devices.
Images come in a variety of formats, so be sure to check with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines whenever you’re in doubt about how to structure your alt text.
Tables and Lists
Organized content is king. When it’s time to use a table or list to simplify the information you’re looking to convey, there are right and wrong ways to format them. Understanding the difference between ordered and unordered lists, as well as the appropriate circumstances under which each is used, is crucial to achieving accessibility compliance.
Tables are a little more complicated, as they require the appropriate HTML markup in order to indicate header cells, data cells, and the relationship between the two. For assistive technology to accurately comprehend table data, the structural markup must be accurate relative to your visual table. WCAG table concepts can be reviewed here.
Achieving Web Content Accessibility
It’s a matter of fact that content can be compelling and creative without compromising its accessibility. As you strive to maintain ADA compliance and web content accessibility, keep in mind the aforementioned advice when it comes to formatting text, images, and tables.
Of course, there are plenty of other components to be mindful of that were not covered in this piece. If you have any questions about best practices for ensuring the accessibility of your web content, our team is available and eager to help you. Tenon offers a full suite of accessibility services, from automated testing to consultations and training programs.
To learn more, engage with our team today.
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