The term accessibility has many different facets, but generally refers to making content usable by as many people as possible. The most common accessibility concern is people with visual impairments, who need the ability to use a screen reader or to magnify text. But accessibility goes beyond that:
- Graphics should have alternate text captions (which a screen reader can interpret) to accommodate people with visual impairments.
- Video should have audio that provides complete information (instead of relying on visuals on the page to convey information). For people with hearing impairments, video should also support closed captioning and transcripts.
- For people with cognitive impairments or limited language proficiency, short sentences and simple words are crucial.
- For people with physical impairments, an alternative to mouse-driven commands is needed.
Producing accessible content boils down to some simple best practices:
- Never rely on a single sense (such as vision or hearing) to convey meaning.
- Deliver well-organized content that is easy to scan.
- Create well-written content that is easy to understand.
- Include accessibility considerations in the initial content design and in the authoring process.
Content accessibility is similar to some of the considerations that are used in “universal design” by building architects. It is less inexpensive to plan for accessible content and include accessibility as a key requirement than it is to retrofit accessibility “features” onto the content later. Similarly, it’s much less expensive to design a house with wide doorways, grab bars, and the like than it is to add these components later.
In some jurisdictions, providing accessible information is a legal requirement. But whether there is a mandate or not, ensuring that content is accessible opens up your information to the widest possible audience.