How to Follow Accessibility Guidelines for Your Web Content

Claiborne Linvill Claiborne Linvill

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) help ensure that website content can be read and understood by people of all abilities, using a variety of tools. The general goal is to ensure a person with visual impairment can understand a website while using a screen reader. The larger goal is that your content be accessible to people of all abilities (think ADA compliance). The WCAG were developed with the goal of being “a single shared standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of individuals, organizations, and governments internationally” (per W3C).

ALINE’s clients who enter their own content into Plugged In (and anyone who enters website content or sends e-newsletters) should follow WCAG at all times. This not only ensures that your content can be accessed by all people, but it can also keep you safe from potential lawsuits, especially if your industry has government clients.

The Four Principles of Writing Accessible Content

In general, there are four key principles of WCAG. They advise writing content that is perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.

Perceivable: Anyone can see and read the content

  • Provide text descriptions for all images (the back-end description of the image). You can do this by always completing the “alternative text” section when uploading photos. Be thorough and descriptive (ex: “4 potted herbs grow on a sunny back porch” instead of “potted plants”). Another tip: add a period at the end of alternative text so a screen reader knows to stop briefly before continuing on the page.
  • Provide captions for multimedia (or offer alternative ways to access the information that aren’t visual).
  • Ensure all content is easy to see and hear. Avoid colorful backgrounds or low-contrast font colors. Allow volume increase or muting.
  • Do not embed text in images (i.e., don’t write text on an image and save the file as an image file). Instead, upload images and add the headlines, captions or information separately so that it can be read and indexed.

Operable: Anyone can use the website

  • Keep navigation clear and simple and provide several ways to find content.
  • Do not require scrolling or touchscreens for functionality. Some users can only use keyboards.
  • Similarly, don’t require keyboard use for your website to work. Some users will need other devices, like touchscreens or eye-control devices.
  • Give users plenty of time to read content. Do not have content flash up and then disappear, and do not use scrolling text.
  • Do not employ flashing or pulsating lights or any other designs that may induce seizures.

Understandable: Anyone can understand the content

  • Write content that is simple to read and understand for most audiences. Avoid difficult jargon, but also avoid slang, strange punctuation, or no punctuation.
  • Keep a high contrast level (a stark difference between text color and background color) and make the text able to be selected (which can help make it easier to read).
  • Have content appear and operate in predictable ways – no moving headlines, text pop-ups, or disappearing content.
  • Use headers often when writing web copy. The style for your page's leading header is called H1, and this header is very important for SEO. You should only have one H1. The next level of header should be an H2. These titles should be used often to break up new ideas in text. Finally, H3 works for subheadings that introduce more detailed information. Adding these three kinds of headers and remaining consistent in their use is especially important for screen readers.

Robust: Anyone can access the content, now and in the future

  • Ensure your website can be accessed now by all variety of devices but isn’t limited to any one type. Can someone with an eye-controlled mouse read your site as easily as someone with a screen-reading tablet?

The best way to follow WCAG is to use the WCAG 2.0 Checklist. Find a copy of the checklist here, or print a copy of the checklist to post near where content-writers work (printable copy here).

ALINE has built Plugged In to seamlessly allow many of these practices, such as the text box for alternative text when adding an image. Other practices will have to become embedded in how your content team writes and uploads content.

Should you have any questions about implementing these guidelines, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

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