By: Daniela Vitobaldi
Around one billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, experiences some form of disability. Yet, when it comes to online content, most companies and organizations do not consider the disabled community when creating their digital public relations or marketing campaign strategies.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines disability as “any condition of the body or mind that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities and interact with the world around them.” There are many different kinds of disabilities, but the majority fall into one of four categories: vision, hearing, motor or cognitive. When it comes to accessing digital content, having a disability can make it extremely difficult for someone to browse a website, scroll through social media or shop online. As someone who has lived with a cognitive disability her whole life, I know how important it is to be seen and feel like your needs are being met.
So what can companies today do to accommodate those living with disabilities? That’s where accessibility comes in. Accessibility, or accessibility marketing, is when an organization’s products, services and digital media are designed so everyone can experience them-including the disabled.
When brands fail to modify their digital content to benefit the disabled community, not only do they seem out of touch but they are missing out on a large number of potential customers, subscribers, followers and more. However, large corporations are not the only ones that can utilize accessibility marketing tools. Bloggers, vloggers, influencers and small businesses can use them as well. There are plenty of simple things anyone with an online presence can do to make their content more accessible to everyone.
Here are five ways brands (and you) can make online content more disability-friendly:
1. Utilize closed captions and audio descriptions for video
One of the most helpful tools you can use for those who are deaf or hard of hearing is closed captions. While many video platform sites such as YouTube have the option of adding auto-generated captions to almost any video, it is more effective when content creators write and add the captions themselves. This is because captions from these sites can often be inaccurate and contain errors. Closed captions are not only beneficial for people who have a hearing impairment but for those who may speak a different language from that which is being used in the video. It is also important to include captions for actions that are not being spoken or happening off-screen. For example, “footsteps approaching” or “loud bang.”
An audio transcript is another tool that can be used along with videos in addition to closed captions. Many people with cognitive or learning disabilities can have trouble keeping up with the pace of a video’s audio. By including a downloadable transcript, those viewers are able to experience the video at their own speed.
For people who are blind or have low vision, audio descriptions are a great way to make videos more accessible. These are spoken descriptions of the action taking place in the video. An example of an audio description would be, “tall man in a blue suit walking down the sidewalk” or “little girl in a dress holding a pink balloon.”
2. Include ‘alt tags’ for still images
An alt tag, or attribute as it is sometimes called, is the hidden HTML text that describes every photo. It is the text that often appears when a mouse hovers over a picture on a webpage. Normally these descriptions are very basic such as “a dog” or “girl.” But for people who use screen readers, devices that read text aloud, these vague descriptions are very unhelpful. In order to best serve those with vision impairment, it is important to be as detailed as possible when creating alt tags. This way when the screen reader comes across a picture on a site, it will be able to describe the picture for the listener more accurately. Below are two examples of alt tags:
Okay: <img src=“pancakes.png” alt=“pancakes”>
Better: <img src=“pancakes.png” alt=“Stack of pancakes with butter and maple syrup”>
Not only do descriptive alt tags have the ability to help people who are visually disabled but they can also greatly improve SEO, or search engine optimization. By adding more detailed descriptions, it makes it easier for the ‘spiders’ that crawl the web to better match your image with searches on sites like Google and Bing. These spiders are not programmed to see photos like humans do and rely mostly on descriptive text when gathering information for search rankings. Therefore, the better the description is, the higher your search ranking will be and the more visitors your site will get.
For social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, an easy way to add a photo description is to include it at the bottom of the post. Recently, it has become more common to see something like “Accessibility text:” followed by a short description of the image used. Similar to alt tags, the screen reader will scroll through each post and read the description of the photo out loud to the listener.
3. Be careful when choosing font types and text sizes
When it comes to fonts, sans serif is preferable over serif. The simplicity of sans serif makes it easier for those with cognitive or vision-related disabilities to read compared to serif fonts that tend to have varying thicknesses and more decorative details. It is also best to avoid using italics whenever possible. Text size on the other hand should be at least 12-point font or larger; anything smaller is virtually unreadable for someone with low vision. Lastly, try not to use all uppercase letters when writing. This can create challenges for readers, especially those who have dyslexia or autism.
4. Practice smart color choices
For people who experience color blindness, it can be difficult for them to differentiate between certain colors. The colors most associated with color blindness are yellow, blue, red and green. When creating digital content, it is best to avoid pairing these colors in order to prevent confusion. If you are using only colors to convey meaning or information, you should also include a text description so the user can better interpret your message.
Contrast is also important to consider. Make sure that the text color has a high enough contrast with the background color. For example, you wouldn’t want to use light blue text on a blue background. Normal text should have a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 and 3:1 for large text. If you would like to know if your content meets these standards, there are some great online contrast checkers such as this one: aka.ms/webaimcontrastchecker.
5. Remember to punctuate abbreviations
When using abbreviations or acronyms, it is important to include punctuation in between each letter. For example, CIA should be written as C.I.A. This way a screen reader will know to say each letter separately rather than reading it out as one word (i.e. cia).
Accessibility does not only make good business sense but more importantly it is the right thing to do. Everyone deserves to get what they want and need with equal opportunity, especially people living with disabilities. I believe accessibility is the future of digital public relations and marketing communications. When brands make their online content more inclusive, everybody wins.
To learn more about accessibility, check out Judy Brewer’s 2019 TEDx Talk from MIT. Brewer is the Director of the Web Accessibility Initiative for the World Wide Web Consortium, an international organization dedicated to creating standards for web accessibility. To view her video, click here.
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