16 Mar 2021 Writing

8 tips and best practice for accessible and disability-friendly marketing content

Accessible marketing content

Before creating and publishing content, it’s essential that you get your head around these eight accessibility tips and best practices we’ve put together for you. Marketers play a huge role in maintaining inclusivity online, making the digital world a more accessible place. In turn, we can connect with a more diverse range of people, as well as find more creative and personalised ways to engage our audience. 

As marketers, we like to keep our content fresh, interesting and in tune with the cultural zeitgeist. We try many different approaches and content strategies to engage our target audience, but are we missing the mark when it comes to including everyone? If our content is not accessible, we might be excluding a significant proportion of people from our potential reach. 

During these “unprecedented times”, internet usage has skyrocketed and UK adults are spending more than four hours a day online. So,  is there a better time to talk about accessible and inclusive digital content? 

In this blog, we’ll look at why inclusive marketing is just good marketing, and offer some tips and best practices for creating and publishing more accessible content.  

What is inclusivity and accessibility?  

Digital inclusion addresses a broad range of issues that might alienate or exclude people, and aims to lower these barriers as much as possible.  

We like this definition of inclusive marketing from Microsoft: 

“Inclusive marketing considers its products, services, or experiences in ways that deeply resonate with people and make them feel seen and accurately understood.” 

Inclusive content can also elevate diverse voices and increase representation of marginalised groups.  

Accessibility is a streamlined form of inclusivity, looking specifically at how to optimise digital experiences for people with disabilities.  

According to the RNIB, most blind and partially sighted people have tools to make content more accessible, such as text-to-speech software, braille displays and magnification software. Marketers still have an important responsibility in making their content accessible, though, as small changes can make a big difference. 

Essentially, by creating content that engages a wide range of audiences, you’ll improve the online experience of all. Win-win. 

Marketers need to get to grips with accessibility best practices before creating and publishing content 

With more than one in five disabled people in the UK, we need to know how to create content that is as accessible as possible for our audience. A good place to start is looking at our websites, social media content, videos and articles from a different perspective to our own, taking into account the varied abilities people might have. For instance, how might a partially sighted person perceive, understand and engage with your content?  

There is an abundance of resources out there to help marketers with inclusive design. W3’s Web Content and Accessibility Guidelines provide a framework to make content accessible for people with disabilities such as blindness or deafness, as well as people with a temporary or situational disability. While social media hasn’t been addressed in this framework (yet), marketers should definitely apply the same standards to these channels. 

For both commercial and ethical reasons, marketers want to bring people into the conversation rather than leave them out of it. So, it’s also worth considering the leads, new customers and revenue you could gain by reaching a wider audience through more inclusive content.  

Quite simply, inclusive marketing is just good marketing. 

Here are some tips and best practices to expand your digital content beyond a one-size-fits-all approach to include your customers, clients, followers and fans in the conversation. 

1. Use alt text (alternative text) features on social media 

Most social media platforms have made recent improvements to their accessibility features. Facebook Live and Instagram IGTV have automatic captioning to convert your speech into text, with a choice of 16 languages. TikTok has developed a text-to-speech feature, which reads out text on videos to make the app more accessible for blind or partially sighted people. 

Lucy Edwards is the first blind BBC Radio 1 presenter and has shared some of her experiences as a (in her words) “blind not broken” person. On her TikTok account, @lucyedwardsblind, she has shown how to use their text-to-speech feature, demonstrating how just how easy it is to make your TikTok videos more accessible. 

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have added alt text features to their platforms to improve the accessibility for blind or partially sighted people. Here’s how you can activate them: 

Facebook – After uploading your post, you can edit and write a description in the Alternative text box. Then just click save and you’re good to go. 

Twitter – Twitter allows you to add a separate image description that won’t take up your limited characters. Firstly, go to settings and click on the Accessibility tab, then activate the Image Descriptions feature. When you want to add an image to your tweet, click Alt to add your description, and post as normal. 

Instagram – Instagram has the option to add alt text to posts on your feed but unfortunately has not extended this to Instagram Stories yet. As with Facebook, edit an uploaded post, where you will find advanced settings and a text box that allows you to write alt text (see what this looks like on image below). Then, simply add your description of the photo and click done.

Alt text example

2. Use alt text on website pages 

Alt text is essential for improving the accessibility of your website, not to mention the benefits to your Google search ranking. Alt text is added into to the HTML of your website to describe images or gifs. The description will be read aloud to someone using a screen reader.  

Short and sweet is the best technique when it comes to adding text descriptions. You want to convey what’s happening in the content, including key details and excluding unnecessary details. W3’s alt decision tree helps you to work out the correct alt text that should be added to each type of image. 

Without converting the original file names into proper alt text, you will reduce the value of your content for blind and partially sighted people. A screen reader will either skip the image, or worse, read out a jumble of numbers and letters from the original file name. 

According to John Mueller, Google’s Search Advocate, adding richer context around images can drive higher quality traffic to your site because your content will be more relevant to search results. Descriptive and accessible content, such as alt text, also improves user experience – another neat trick for boosting your site’s visibility. 

3. Be descriptive and use plain language 

As a rule of thumb, being clear and descriptive is essential when creating marketing content. Not only will this help people to digest your content quickly and easily, but high-quality content can also improve your Google search ranking.  

Descriptive content written in plain language will benefit people using assistive technology, such as screen readers, as well as people learning English as a second language. 

When writing for accessibility, avoid jargon or poorly constructed sentences. You want your content to be as clear as possible so screen readers can process the information easily. 

Being descriptive when designing your web layout will also improve the accessibility of your content. Here are a few tips to think about before you publish content on your website: 

  • Use headings to structure your content. This enables screen readers to jump to certain parts of the content. The numbers in the heading layout will help organise and break down the content, for instance, the heading of the first section would be H1, the second would be H2, and so on… 
  • Write descriptive headings and page titles. This will make your website easier to navigate when someone is using a screen reader 
  • Avoid generic, non-descriptive links, such as “click here” or “read more” and instead hyperlink a word or sentence that contextualises where you are sending someone. This is such a simple change but can add value to your links for those using assistive technology 

4. Avoid relying solely on colour or fonts to define the meaning of something 

Content that relies on colour to make a point or deliver a visual cue is not good for inclusivity. 

Firstly, this can exclude people with colour-blindness.  

Secondly, colours have different cross-cultural connotations, so their meanings might not be interpreted as intended.  

Let’s take red for example. 

In Western cultures and traditions, this colour is usually associated with passion, aggression or warning. Whereas, red tends to carry more positive meanings in China, and is often associated with happiness, fortune and success.  

If you use red to emphasise caution or as an alert, people with colour-blindness, using greyscale and screen readers, would miss this particular visual cue.  

Instead, us a range of visual cues, such as exclamation marks or highly contrasting colour shades to express meaning. 

Here are some tips to communicate clearly without relying too much on colours: 

  • With graphs or infographics, use labels, symbols and colours  
  • Combine contrasting colours of different shades 
  • Avoid using red and green together 
  • Take advantage of all the accessibility tools out there 

There are loads of tools that will make designing for accessibility a lot easier.  

Contrast Checker was built in compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and allows you to test the accessibility of colours in seconds. 

We’ve demonstrated how easy this tool is to use, using two examples of contrasting colours. 

Simply attach an image you want to use as digital content, or two contrasting colours (you want to find out their codes, which might look something like #FFDDCC). This tool automatically runs a test on those two colours together and produces a report that states whether the colours pass all the criteria.  

If your website has a background colour and a call-to-action button in the foreground that doesn’t pass the Contrast Checker test, it will not be accessible for everyone that might visit your site. 

Website accessibility comparison

Now, let’s run contrast checks on each of these websites using Contrast Checker.  

Website accessibility comparison

As you can see, Website A did not pass the test and would not be accessible. Whereas Website B was much better and passed all the criteria with flying colours (pardon the pun). 

It’s also good to remember that screen readers do not identify content that includes the following: 

  • Colour 
  • Bold 
  • Italics 
  • Underline 
  • Strikethrough 

5. Use emojis wisely 

Adding relevant emojis to your social media posts is a good way to spice up your content, but try not to overdo it. Audio descriptions are assigned to each emoji, which will be read aloud on a screen reader– these can be found on emojipedia.org. Think about what the audio description will sound like, as well as what the emoji looks like. 

This chick emoji looks cute, right? 

🐥 

For someone using a screen reader, they will hear ‘front-facing baby chick’.  

So, unless you’re posting about Easter or spring, the description of this emoji would be completely irrelevant thrown into your content. 

The dos and don’ts of using emojis: 

DO: 

  • Use emojis sparingly to convey tone of voice or humour 
  • Insert emojis after text, the more important information should come first 
  • Limit yourself to no more than three emojis per message 

DON’T: 

  • Repeat emojis several times. A joke just won’t be as funny after you’ve heard ‘face with tears of joy’ read out eight times 
  • Insert emojis all over the place 
  • Use emojis in your Twitter handle, as it will be read aloud on screen readers every time your tweet is read out 

6. Use camel case to denote different words when writing hashtags 

Camel case (sometimes called #PascalCase) refers to the use of capital letters for hashtags and Twitter handles that have more than one word. If all the letters are written in lower case rather than uppercase, it can make a difference in how the words are read aloud.  

Here’s how screen readers will process these hashtags: 

#EqualityMatters– read out as two separate words  

#equalitymatters– this could be taken as one word  

Text-to-speech technology usually relies on capital letters or spaces to differentiate words, so someone could hear gobbledegook if you forget to use camel case. 

7. Be thorough with your captions  

If you’re thinking about how your video can be communicated without sound, consider adding captions.  

Captions convert speech or audio into text and is used for a variety of reasons, alongside increasing accessibility of content for people who are deaf, have a hearing impairment or otherwise process written information better than audio. If you forget your earphones on the bus, are in a noisy environment or don’t want to disturb your family while watching TV, open captioning can be a lifesaver. 

Captions can either be open or closed.  

This simply determines whether they can be switched on or off. Open captions will be seen by everyone on the screen, whereas the user can choose to add closed captions to the video.  

Which is better for accessibility? There’s some debate about this. According to @savvysign, closed captions are better because errors can be amended after the video has been posted whereas they cannot be on closed captions.  

Captions not only improve accessibility but also provide an alternative way for people to consume information in a video without sound. They are generally more user-friendly, as research on Facebook user behaviour found that a staggering 85% of videos are watched without sound.  

9. Listen to your audience’s experiences of accessible content 

As we have seen, social media is great for raising awareness of accessibility. By tapping into these conversations, you might discover new tips or tools, or learn about how to improve accessibility from people with a disability themselves.  

We all make mistakes and human error happens but, hopefully, by following these tips and keeping up to date with accessibility guidance and tools, we can create more equal experiences online.  

Take a breather note

We’ve looked at why inclusive marketing is good marketing on an ethical level and touched on the benefits that come with it, from improving SEO and enhancing user experience, to reaching a greater variety of audiences and finding more creative ways to convey the value of your content.  

While this list of accessibility best practices is by no means exhaustive and technology is constantly evolving or updating, getting to grips with the basics is a good place to start. With these tips in mind, inclusivity can become part of the first step of creating content, instead of than being an afterthought. 

We practice what we preach at LikeMind Media and ensure we think like your audience to create engaging content. Get in touch to find out how we can help you with your marketing. 


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