Accessibility Best Practices for Content Writers

Design and development accessibility best practices make your site ADA compliant. Accessibility best practices for content writers keep it that way.
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When you think about accessibility best practices, you might start with things like user experience design, keyboard navigation, size of text, color contrast, etc. Those are super important, and many additional factors determine accessibility and ADA compliance. 

Assuming that you’ve done everything right from a standpoint of UX, content strategy, design and development best practices—does that mean you are always and forever accessible from that day forward? Maybe. You’re going to be publishing new content, though. It takes discipline to structure and write content that meets the standard of accessibility, but it’s well worth doing. 

Make sure you know and follow these accessibility best practices for content writers. That way, whatever you publish can be easily accessed by all users, promoting understanding, and therefore, conversion.

Title Pages Descriptively

Screen readers announce the page title when they load a web page. Writing a descriptive title helps users make informed page selections.

It will be tempting to write a clever title, but make sure you’re conveying meaning first.

All users should be able to distinguish one page from another on your site, easily.   It’s especially important for users with:

  • low vision
  • cognitive disabilities
  • limited short-term memory
  • reading disabilities

Structure Content Hierarchically

For screen readers, as well as everyone else, put the most important information first.  The secondary information should come second, and so on. Remember the inverted pyramid concept used by journalists.

This is an organization process that helps readers self-orient through the material. Separate different topics with subheadings, and group similar content together.

Try to use lists over tables. Tables can be difficult for screen reader users to navigate.

Think about how you read this webpage. Did you scan it first, before investing a few minutes to read the whole thing?  Maybe you were only looking for coverage of one subtopic within the piece. Were you able to recognize the topic somewhere in the heading structure?  If you didn’t find it in your initial scan, does it mean it’s not there? Site visitors don’t spend much time looking, on average, so make it plain.

Use WAVE to check the structure of your content the way a screen reader will consume it.

Provide Descriptive Alt Text

Alt text (alternate text) provides a brief text description within the HTML tag for an image on a web page. Screen readers and other assistive technology use alt text to interpret the meaning of an image to users who cannot see the images.

Asian young blind woman with headphone using computer with refreshable braille display or braille terminal a technology device for persons with visual disabilities.

Accessibility Best Practices for Alt Text

  • Be descriptive and accurate.
  • Some images, like charts, diagrams, or infographics, convey important contextual information.  Make sure that users who don’t see the image understand its full meaning.
  • Be concise:  most screen readers cut off alt text at around 125 character.  You don’t need to preface alt text with “image of” language, unless you are specifically describing a work of art.
  • Don’t use it for stuffing keywords. Although alt text does matter for SEO, its primary purpose should be for providing contextual information. Find the right balance.

Make Sure Your Link Text is Meaningful

Link text should make each link’s purpose clear. It should foretell what will happen when you click on that link.

Accessibility Best Practices for Link Text:

  • ‘Click here’ is not a meaningful text link. A better example would be ‘Read full article in our blog’.
  • Contextual information should precede links, not come after them.
  • Avoid using urls as link text. URLs are frequently not human-readable or screen-reader friendly.
  • Avoid writing long paragraphs with many links. A better approach would be to write an intro paragraph followed by a list of bulleted links.

Readability: A Fundamental Best Practice for Accessibility

Writing and revising your content for clarity ensures you are better understood, so just do it. People read the web fast and furious. You only have one shot to make a first impression, and in that one shot, make yourself understood!

Users with screen readers will have a much easier time processing information with active verbs and clear wording. Users with cognitive disabilities, dyslexia, or other disabilities will also benefit.

If you’re worried that your target audience will object to simpler phrasing and vocabulary, think again. Consider that 14% of Americans read at a below-basic literacy level, 34% at a basic literacy level, and 36% at an intermediate literacy level. Knowing your audience means realizing that they don’t all read at the same level. Be sure that all levels can read your content with ease.

To target a reading level equivalent of a 10th grader, or below, follow these guidelines:

  • Short sentences are better than long sentences
  • Choose simple vocabulary, most of the time.  Step away from the thesaurus.
  • Use active verbs. Avoid use of passive voice.
  • Avoid technical jargon, abbreviations, idioms, and nonliteral words. If you need to explain something technical, translate it into plain English, as much as possible.

Even advanced readers have no time or patience for tedious, overcooked writing.  Of course, you’ll find plenty of bad examples on the internet, but writing that follows accessibility best practices is like a breath of fresh air.

Again, this best practice is NOT that your writing should be boring.  Rather, it should be both interesting AND easy to read.

Important SEO Benefits of Accessibility Best Practices for Content Writers

Remember that accessibility best practices for content writers are essentially SEO best practices.  In many ways, the work is the same.

In each case below, the accessibility best practice mirrors an SEO best practice.  

  • Writing descriptive page titles. Most of the time, including your focus keyword in the page title works naturally to portray the topic of the article.
  • Structuring Content in a hierarchy. This helps search engines scanning the site for topic relevancy. 
  • Providing alt text for users who can’t view images. Missing alt text on a web page hurts your SEO. You can put your focus keyword in the keyword, too, but don’t abuse that tactic.
  • Providing descriptive link text. Algorithms use your link text choices to determine your trustworthiness. This also helps them understand the topics you are linking to in your copy.
  • Creating readable content. The easier to read your content is, the longer time someone will spend actually reading it. Dwell time—the amount of time that a searcher spends on a page from the search results before returning back to the search results—is considered an important Google ranking signal.

Accessibility Best Practices Benefit All of Us

You should care about and prepare for people who may have any number of long term or short term challenges using your website.  Following web accessibility standards helps those of us with low vision, blindness, deafness, limited dexterity, and so on. But keep in mind that disabilities come in other forms, too. Temporary and/or situational disabilities also affect your users’ experience with your site.

When you follow inclusive accessibility best practices, you’re ensuring that your site works well for all people, including any of us who may be facing circumstances such as:

  • recovering from an injury
  • being limited by slow wifi connection
  • being unable to play audio at high volume in their current environment

Just as following design and development accessibility best practices will make your site ADA compliant, following accessibility best practices for content writers can keep it that way.

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