Megan Sullivan

Quick Wins to Make Your Content More Accessible

May 16th, 2024

(9-minute read)


It's Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD)! The goal of digital accessibility is to enable users with disabilities to independently engage with content and technology. Ultimately, it's about empowering disabled people to live with autonomy and dignity.

Accessibility issues prevent disabled users from accessing digital services and participating in online communities. Some accessibility problems require a developer to fix, but others can be fixed by anyone who creates online content! Here are three quick ways that you can make your digital content more accessible.

Tip #1: Use Sufficient Color Contrast

The most prevalent issue reported in the 2024 WebAIM Million was insufficient color contrast.

For online content, color contrast refers to the difference between the color of your text and the color of the background behind it. With some fancy calculations, you can calculate the contrast ratio, which tells you how different your foreground and background colors are from each other.

Side-by-side comparison of low and high color contrast combinations, followed by their corresponding foreground color, background color, and contrast ratio. Extended description below.
Expand for accessible image description
Low contrastHigh contrast
Foreground color#FFFFFF#FFFFFF
Background color#5492FF#FFFFFF
Contrast ratio3.02:115.05:1

Use a higher contrast ratio to make your site's text legible to users with visual impairments (e.g., cataracts or color blindness). The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines include the following requirements color contrast ratios:

Based on these criteria, the low color contrast example from the previous image passes 1.4.3 for large text, but fails it for small text. The high contrast example passes 1.4.3 and 1.4.6 for both large and small text. Both color combinations pass 1.4.11 for non-text elements.

There are a wide variety of online calculators you can use to determine the contrast ratio between two colors. Some examples:

  • WhoCanUse: Simulate what color combinations look like to users with different kinds of visual impairments.
  • WebAIM Contrast Calculator: Use an eyedropper color picker to select a color from anywhere on your screen. (This is helpful if you don't have access to the hex codes for the colors you want to test.)
  • Polypane Color Contrast Checker: If the color combination you tested fails one of the WCAG success criteria, it will suggest an alternative color to use instead.

Tip #2: Add Alternative Text to Images

Images are great for creating engaging websites. They can also be helpful tools for helping readers understand your content. But what happens for non-sighted users who can't see images?

Many users with visual or learning disabilities use an assistive tool called a screen reader to navigate their computers. A screen reader is a program that translates the text and elements on the screen into audio, so users can hear the page instead of (or potentially in addition to) see it.

You can provide descriptions for screen reader users by adding alternative text (also called alt text) to your images. When a screen reader user moves their focus onto an image, the software announces the image by reading out the alt text.

How do you add alt text to an image?

What should you write in your image description? As it turns out, writing great alt text is as much of an art form as it is a science. Essentially, you want to provide a text equivalent to whatever a sighted user gets out of the image. A lot of that depends on the context in which the image appears in the content.

One trick to help you get started is to imagine you're describing the image out loud to a friend.

  • What is the most important part of the image? Describe that first.
    • For example: "Three dogs running on a grassy lawn."
  • What details would you draw their attention to so that they can recreate the image in their mind? Add those next. The details you choose may depend on the context provided by the text surrounding the image.
    • Using the previous dog example: If the surrounding text is about how dog trainers should handle introducing a new dog to a play group, you might add, "The dogs have relaxed body posture. One dog is doing a play bow in front of the others."

A few other tips to get you started:

  • If there's text in the image, include that in the alt text. (Otherwise, non-sighted users won't have access to that information at all!)
  • For complex images like diagrams or charts, consider adding a text equivalent in the surrounding text. Then your alt text can be something like "A diagram"
  • Try to keep your descriptions short. Technically there's no character limit, but when screen readers are reading alt text, users don't have a way to pause or rewind the descriptions. If you have a long paragraph of description and a user misses something, they'll have to restart the alt text all the way from the beginning.

Frequently, when content writers add hyperlinks to their content, they'll write a sentence like "For more information, click here," and then add a hyperlink to the word "here." But this isn't accessible! According to WCAG Success Criterion 2.4.4 Link Purpose (In Context), linked text needs to have a descriptive name that indicates where the link will take the user.

Why is this important? Screen readers have a feature that lets users see a list of all the links on the current page. This list lets users quickly navigate to a particular link.

The VoiceOver Links menu on the WCAG Overview page. Some of the listed link names include "Accessibility Fundamentals", "Planning & Policies", "Web Content - WCAG 2".

The links in the list are labeled by their link text. So if all the links in your content just say "here", then the screen reader links menu becomes essentially useless.

What can you do instead? Try using the title of the page you're linking to. (Want an example? Check out the links sprinkled throughout this post!)

What Next?

Accessibility is important every day, but GAAD provides an opportunity to learn and discuss how we can create inclusive applications for all users.

Ready to learn more? Here are some resources to check out next:

For developers:

  • MDN Web Docs on Accessibility: A technical introduction to accessible best practices for HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.
  • A11y Coffee: A collection of tips on accessibility quick wins and testing for developers.
  • The caniuse of accessibility. Lists compatibility of various browser accessibility features for different screen reader and browser combinations.

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