Are Your Communications Accessible?

May 9, 2013 is Global Accessibility Awareness Day, so it seems like the perfect time to talk about designing your communications for accessibility. First of all, what does accessibility mean in terms of digital communication?

Accessibility is the degree to which digital information is available to all people, including those with a wide range of disabilities and those who use assistive technology. 

Not everyone is conditioned to think of accessibility when developing communications. But you’re probably missing out on a considerable segment of your target audience if you don’t keep accessibility in mind. There may be little point in a hearing impaired user watching your video if you don’t provide either captions or a transcript. Blind and low vision users who can’t navigate a website with a screen reader because of poor design are likely to move on to a site they can easily navigate.

This short video is an example of what a web page sounds like when it is read with a screen reader. You can imagine the challenge if you rely on a screen reader and the website or document is not truly accessible.

But you don’t have to be a software developer or web designer for accessibility to matter. Even Word documents and PDF files should be accessible.

Here is a list of simple considerations when developing digital communications:

  • Format with Styles: Avoid “in-line” formatting. Use standard styles to format text, especially headings. This allows screen reader users to “scan” to understand the organization of a page and skip to specific content.
  • Describe Images: Always add “alternative text” to all your images and animations. Alternative text is a hidden description that is read by screen reader software. Describe images in context with the rest of the content.
  • Provide Captions & Transcripts: Include captions and descriptions of video, as well as transcripts of audio.
  • Make Descriptive Hyperlinks: When screen reader software reads a list of links, the user needs to understand where those links will take them.  Avoid links that simply say “click here.”
  • Use Readable Fonts:  This may seem obvious, but not only are fancy fonts sometimes difficult to read, they may be impossible for low vision users.  Use them in graphics instead and add alternative text.  Also, avoid small fonts when possible.
  • Check Your Work:  Use tools to analyze your content (such as Microsoft’s Accessibility Checker).
  • Stay Current:  When in doubt, find the current Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) at www.W3.org.

If you’ve ever observed someone using assistive technology to process and interact with technology, you can understand why some prefer the term “differently abled” to the limitations of the word “disabled.”  

If you’re curious about assistive technology, this is a wonderful video that describes several technologies and how people use them.

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