Making content accessible

Paul Boag

Isn’t it funny how so many people who claim to be committed to website accessibility (myself included) tend to ignore the more subjective criteria of the WAI guidelines?

Take for example this humble guideline included in the most basic level of accessibility:

14.1 Use the clearest and simplest language appropriate for a site’s content.

I don’t know about you but I always gloss over this one! I guess that most of the time I am not responsible for content so it’s not my problem. Of course, accessibility is my problem yet I very rarely challenge my clients over whether their content could be clearer or simpler.

So what makes content more accessible?

Well actually, the W3C who wrote the accessibility guidelines also make suggestions about how to comply with checkpoint above. These include:

  • Ensure your headings and link text are as clear as possible even when read out of context
  • “Front load” both the whole page and individual paragraphs so that the most important content and summaries appear first. This will aid skim reading of pages.
  • Limit each paragraph to one main concept or idea.
  • Avoid slang, jargon, and specialized meanings of familiar words, unless defined within your document.
  • Favor words that are commonly used. For example, use “begin” rather than “commence” or use “try” rather than “endeavor.”
  • Use active rather than passive verbs.
  • Avoid complex sentence structures.

I work a lot with Higher Education institutions and other government bodies who are largely passionately committed to ensuring accessibility sites. However, they often fail horribly on this very basic checkpoint in the accessibility guidelines.

The phrase “content is king” is truer than ever before and we need to focus on ensuring that content is accessible as possible.

Further reading

If you would like more advance on writing for the web then take a look at my article on “effective web site copy

Visit the W3C site for much more detail on improving comprehension.

Check out this excellent article on website readability and its associated automated readability checker that rates the reading age of your site.