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Creating Accessible Content Basics

HTML code with red box around empty alt attribute

Many companies are now understanding that accessible web content is important so that all of their users can experience their site, buy their products and other important tasks. At the same time, busy content management groups are regularly churning out fresh batches of blogs, web pages, and social media posts. With so much new content being created every day, companies fear they need specialized knowledge to prevent complicated workflows from inadvertently creating accessibility issues on their digital properties. But the good news is, following some simple steps, much of your content can be made accessible.

These items include:

  • Image Descriptions: Although the task of creating image descriptions may seem daunting, the truth is alternative text can be created by any person who can see the images. Most Content Management Systems include the ability to add descriptions to your images. These descriptions get included in the HTML via your templates so that a screen reader can present them to the user. Some tips:
    • Avoid the use of the word “image,” “graphic,” or “icon” inside your alt attributes, as screen reader users are already told that they are hearing about an image.
    • Rather than trying to answer the question, “What is the description of this image?,” your alt attributes will likely be more valuable if you try to answer the question, “What information is conveyed by this image?”
    • If an image is used to illicit emotion or convey a feeling, be sure the alt attribute attempts to do the same.
    • Avoid conveying any meaning already described by the semantic meaning of the HTML. For example, if a linked image has the alt attribute “click here to read directions,” the HTML link inherently has the meaning “click here,” so the alt attribute can simply be “read directions.”
    • Be comprehensive, but concise!
    • Solely decorative images do not need a description. Ask yourself, “Is this image even important?” or “Does it convey meaning?” If not, then this may be a case where you want to have screen readers skip this image text. To do this, you generally leave the description blank in your CMS and your HTML templates include a blank alt attribute (alt=””). Note that it is important that the alt attribute is present, or else the screen reader will read the entire image URL.
    • Keep in mind that alternative text is a very subjective topic. Many images might be considered decorative or useless by one user, but another person might feel the same image has some value. When in doubt, add a description.
  • Copy Editing Tools: When using a copy editor (WYSIWYG), make sure that you use native style formats instead of creating your own. Examples include:
    • Use real headings instead of styling a block of text with bold and a larger font.
    • For lists of items, do not simply use paragraphs, but use a native list element often available in your editor (ordered lists for numbering and unordered lists for bullet-style items).
  • Captions: Often times, producing captions for videos can seem like a daunting process. But it can be relatively easy in many situations. If the videos are hosted on a service that does automatic captioning (such as YouTube), the process becomes relatively easy. Go to YouTube, and generate the auto captions. Edit the auto captions, adding punctuation marks and ensuring that the words match what is being spoken.
  • Audio Descriptions: Although there are professional services that specialize in creating audio descriptions, you can do them yourselves. It is quite possible to generate a script, and record it in house. Go through the video, and look for things that are going on visually that are not conveyed in the audio track. Then describe them. Generate an audio track (for example, using a site like youdescribe.org), and superimpose it onto an alternate version of your video.

In short, understanding the importance of accessibility for users is the first step in your process. While generating accessible content can seem like a daunting task, much of it can turn out to be quite straightforward. These few tactics can help ensure the daily creation of digital content will continue to support your company’s ability to offer equal access to ALL of your customers.

For more specific information about Accessible360’s services for creating accessible processes, auditing, training, testing, and monitoring your site, please contact us!

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