Ten tips for creating accessible digital content

Blind person using computer with braille computer display and a computer keyboard.

There’s a lot that goes into content creation: writing, sourcing visuals, assembling graphics and videos and so much more. And all while keeping in mind best practices to ensure your blog posts make it to the top of a Google search and your social media posts are seen in users’ feeds. But even with best practices and an ever-flowing stream of content in play, if your content lacks accessibility, you could be excluding key audiences. The fact is, at least one billion people, or 14% of the world’s population, experience some form of disability.

From creating ADA-compliant content to fine-tuning elements on the back end to ensure all audiences receive your messaging, here are 10 tips to keep in mind when creating digital content.

Accessing digital copy

Screen readers and assistive technology help visually impaired audiences access online content via text to speech, which can make elements like emojis, code-based fonts, acronyms, jargon and other accessories used to create a playful tone difficult to understand. For those who speak fluent emoji and enjoy a hashtag or two, or 10, keep these tips in mind:

1. Limit emoji use and place them at the end of the copy. And before dropping them into your text, search Emojipedia to learn the meaning of the emoji and how it will be read with assistive technology.

2. Use proper case in hashtags so that screen readers can detect separate words. For example, blacklivesmatter is pronounced by screen reader software like “black live (the verb) smatter” and BlackLivesMatter is pronounced as you might expect: “black lives matter.”

3. Stick to using plain language and avoid using slang, all caps and excessive punctuation, no matter how excited you might be.

4. Use plain font. It might look cute to write with symbols and special characters, but these do not translate into audible sentences. The Tweet below from Kent Dodds is a perfect example of why this isn’t ideal.

This example and many of the tips in this article were introduced to Hodges during a recent accessible content training by Erika Boltz.

Making visuals accessible

To access images, graphics, videos and other visuals, screen readers and assistive technology rely on back-end web tools like alt-text and video captions. Social media platforms have built-in tools that make these easy to incorporate, and there are processes to make planning easier.

Image of Instagram Alt-Text set-up with a pull box showing how to edit Alt-Text on the platform.

Instagram offers the ability to edit and add an alt text to static images in a post.

5. Use alt-text and image descriptions. An alt-text is a brief description about an image. It appears when an image does not upload and is picked up by web crawlers and screen readers. Image descriptions provide explicit detail, context and more.

6. Edit auto-generated captions. Facebook, YouTube and TikTok have the option to automatically generate captions from the audio but be sure to review and make edits where needed, because these captions are rarely 100% accurate.

7. Write and provide access to a text-only script as an alternative way to access video content that users can download.

Not all visually impaired audiences rely on a screen reader – at least 2.2 billion people globally have some form of vision impairment, including colorblindness and low vision.

8. Use a color contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 in your graphics and videos.

Planning and utilizing tools

Insert accessibility best practices into you content creation processes and when in doubt, find tools, trainings and other resources to support these efforts.  

9. Include a place for image descriptions into your social media editorial calendar and blog template.

10. Use tools to test and improve accessibility. There is a WordPress plugin called WP Accessibility to test accessibility on the back end while you’re creating new web content. And wave.webaim.org will test and evaluate the accessibility of any web page address for FREE. It even has a contrast checker to ensure the colors you’re using have the minimum recommended contract ratio.

These are just a few basic tips for keeping accessibility in mind. Be sure to do your research and stay up-to-speed on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines published by Web Accessibility Initiative and World Wide Web Consortium; search for training opportunities and bring in local experts when needed.

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Amanda Colocho

Amanda joined Hodges in 2015 after earning her undergraduate degree in mass communications and public relations from VCU. Since then, she’s been flexing her media relations, content strategy and social media muscles on accounts like Virginia Distillery Company, Motorcycle Law Group, Hilldrup, Kroger, Virginia Outdoors Foundation and Swedish Match’s Umgås Magazine.

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