Eight easy tips for improving digital accessibility
To mark Global Accessibility Awareness Day Haley Zilberberg looks at small steps we can take to make the digital world more accessible.
May 20th is Global Accessibility Awareness Day which makes it the perfect day to take a moment and reflect on how we all can make a more accessible and inclusive digital space. Over 95 percent of websites are considered inaccessible, yet about one in every five people have some kind of disability.
It’s true that we can’t make the world, even just our digital world, accessible overnight. But taking small steps towards digital accessibility can be a great way to work towards a more equitable future for everyone.
The following tips are some simple things you can start doing today to improve the accessibility of your own website and online presence:
1. Skip the non-HTML content like PowerPoints and PDFs
Did you know that PowerPoints and PDFs are not compatible with screen readers? Because they’re non-HTML content, screen readers can’t decipher what’s in those sorts of documents. If you have PDF versions of documents on your website, you can go ahead and swap them out for your first step towards better digital accessibility.
2. Start using alt text in your images
Alt text is a piece of metadata that can describe an image. Including alt text wherever there are images on your website means someone using a screen reader can get a better understanding of the content on your site.
3. Make all your text high contrast
One of the most common inaccessible website design practices is using low contrast text. This makes website text hard or impossible to read if you have a visual impairment. If you have low contrast text on your website, all you have to do is change the font or background colour (or maybe both) to make sure it’s easier to read.
4. Make it clear where your links are
If you are linking to other websites or web pages, it’s important to make it clear. You may want to hyperlink entire sentences that are formatted along the lines of “click here to go to this page”.
5. Think about your social media posts and emails
With a better understanding of non-HTML, low contrast text, hyperlinks, and alt text, you’ll be able to create more accessible social media posts and emails as well. You can apply these same practices to your emails and social posts, too. If you ever find you’re not able to add alt text, you can pop an image description under a photo you’ve included and describe it just as you would in alt text.
6. Use a logical heading structure
Headings help us understand the hierarchy of the content on a page and can also help assistive technology to provide people with page navigation. The most common header levels are h1, h2, and h3. Make sure your h1 summarises what the page is about, the h2 summarises what the section is about, and the h3 serves as subheading as needed.
7. Make sure people can navigate your website using their keyboard
Not everyone uses a mouse when navigating websites. If your website isn’t enabled for keyboard navigation, it’s time to update that! The most common keys used for keyboard navigation are tab, space, enter, the arrow keys, and shift + tab. Not sure if your website is set up for keyboard navigation? Give those keys a try and see what happens.
8. Take a look at the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
The seven tips mentioned above are just a few quick fixes you can make to improve digital accessibility. If you’ve done one or all of them, that’s great. Your next step can be working towards making your website fully WCAG compliant.
You might not be able to change everything at once but familiarising yourself with the WCAG means you’ll be more mindful when you push website updates, change designs, or use social media. You’ll be able to start living and doing with a more accessible mindset.
Haley Zilberberg is a Townsville-based freelance writer and social worker from Florida. She’s passionate about disability advocacy and currently works as the Emerging Young Leaders Project Officer at Youth Disability Advocacy Service. She recently graduated with her Master of Marketing Communications from the University of Melbourne.