What is accessible content? Why is it important?
Any form of content that can be read, heard, or interacted with by anyone, regardless of impairments or disabilities is accessible content. The primary objective of creating accessible content is to ensure that people with visual, auditory, cognitive, physical, or learning disabilities are able to access content, and their experience is equitable to that of someone without said disabilities. One of the earliest forms of accessible content dates back to 1821, when the French educator and inventor, Louis Braille, developed the Braille language. Over a century later, audiobooks were developed, and large-print books gained much popularity as well. These developments vastly improved the accessibility of books.
In the digital age, the focus has shifted towards web content accessibility. The number of internet users in 2020 was more than 4.5 billion people globally. The internet has left an indelible imprint on all our lives; it has transformed various sectors such as education, banking, healthcare, commerce, and entertainment. With a projected 463 billion GB of data to be created every day in 2025, web content accessibility has never been more relevant and necessary.
According to the World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C, web accessibility refers to websites and technologies designed to allow people with disabilities to use them. Web accessibility allows people to interact with, use, navigate and contribute to the internet. Assistive Technologies (AT) such as screen readers and screen magnifiers enable accessible products. A screen reader is an AT software designed for people with visual impairments or learning disabilities. The screen reader expresses text and images as speech or braille output.
It is crucial to address the needs of people with disabilities and make content accessible to all. Web content accessibility creates opportunities for people with disabilities to participate and engage with the worldwide web.
The inventor of the World Wide Web and Director of W3C, Tim Berners-Lee, said, “The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.” It is this notion of universal reach that drives accessible web content.
Accessible content allows publishers to expand their reach to a large market of people with disabilities or impairments. Such content pieces improve every customer’s user experience. If a product is accessible to those with disabilities, it gives a cleaner presentation and functionality that ultimately benefits every user. Furthermore, the processes involved in creating accessible content enhance Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
Who can benefit from accessible content?
Making a piece of content accessible opens it up to a much wider audience, including people with physical, auditory, cognitive, neurological, visual, learning, or speech disabilities. However, the scope of accessible content is even wider because students, people learning a second language, and older citizens can also benefit from it. This is because when a piece of content is compliant with accessibility guidelines, it can be easily consumed by people, regardless of whether they are specially-abled. According to W3C, web accessibility is also beneficial for small-screen device users, people with temporary injuries, and users with poor internet connectivity.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
The WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) is a set of guiding principles that acts as a standard for web content accessibility. Text, images, sounds, and code in a web page or application are included in the ambit of “content” under these guidelines.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are classified under four principles: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. Each guideline has “success criteria” at three levels (A, AA, and AAA), designed to test the accessibility of a web page or application. In January 2021, WCAG 3.0, having a broader scope than its predecessors (WCAG 2.0 and 2.1), was released.
A few tips to make web content accessible
- Ensure proper heading and graphics structure. The heading structure helps users navigate through text with ease. Maintain the correct hierarchy of headings, starting with H1, flowing down to H2 and H3.
- Convey all elements of forms such as links, checkboxes, and functionality status to the screen reader. This enables the user to visualize their position on the web page at all times.
- Provide ALT text for images. ALT text not only enhances accessibility by conveying information about an image to the screen reader, but it also helps with Search Engine Optimization (SEO). You can provide ALT text for images in HTML with the alt attribute.
- Use XML or HTML to create structured documents with appropriate tags. Tags can significantly improve content accessibility.
- Enable TTS or Text to Speech capability for your content as this is a crucial tool for web content accessibility.
- A user can access a web page or application through devices of varying screen sizes such as smartphones, smartwatches, laptops, tablets, etc. Flexible font sizes ensure that your content is comfortably visible on screens of varying sizes.
Rather than treating accessibility as an afterthought, we must incorporate it into the content creation process. The ideal way to achieve this is through a joint effort by writers, publishers, and platform developers to incorporate accessibility into online content. Content accessibility is the key to making the world wide web truly universal.
- Accessible Publishing. Why is it important and how to incorporate accessibility into your workflows?
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