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The Importance of Digital Accessibility

Over the past decade, arguments for the accessibility of public spaces have become more widely discussed and gained considerable momentum. Now, with an increased awareness of the need for inclusivity in catering to those with disabilities, many aspects of our daily lives are being adapted to ensure that spaces are as accessible as possible. 

But physical space isn’t the only arena in which accessibility is being considered. Actions are being taken to effect meaningful change… 

As the digital world continues to grow and people become more reliant on the internet in their day-to-day lives, important conversations are taking place about how accessible the online sphere really is to those living with disabilities and other health conditions. 

Accessibility within the digital world is more important now than ever before, especially considering how much of our lives have moved online in the past year due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

With much of the world’s population reliant on the technology sitting in the palm of their hand to work, live, play and stay up to date with the rest of the world, it’s vital that brands and businesses begin actively considering the inclusivity of their content and put digital accessibility at the forefront of their minds.

So, what do we mean by digital accessibility?

Digital accessibility is the degree to which virtual spaces and platforms can be interacted with by all people, irrespective of health conditions or disabilities. In practice, this means ensuring that the content we produce is intelligible and user-friendly, and this is a particular issue on social media. 

As creatives and marketers, our role in creating content which is accessible to everyone is vital, and inclusive thinking should be prioritised when ideas are being formed. 

When creating and designing content, creatives need to ensure that everyone can equally perceive, navigate, interact and communicate with it online or through digital tools. If the content that you create isn’t accessible, you risk excluding a large segment of the population who would potentially be part of your audience. 

Brands and businesses have a duty to create accessible content because not doing so will inevitably exclude important and influential audiences and may even impact on the calibre of the work produced. Accessibility and creativity are not mutually exclusive: they work in parallel to one another and we must rise to this creative challenge. 

The social dilemma

4.3 billion people across the world use social media every day, and many of them will have different needs and requirements when interacting with content. Creatives and marketers, therefore, should be regularly assessing how accessible their content is. 

But why is this important? Well, social media content that is accessible can be more effective as it can reach the widest possible audience, regardless of ability. Social content that is inaccessible to users runs the risk of permanently alienating that audience and reducing the impact of the content in the long term. 

So, what are some of the key ways in which social content is made inaccessible? 

Use of non-standard typefaces

Quirky social media typefaces look cool, right? But did you know that they’re not accessible for everyone to read? 

Most social networks use sans-serif fonts by default because they’re easier for people to read when compared with other fonts. Social media users wanting to use non-standard typefaces on platforms need to use a text converter – but in doing so, their content becomes hard for people with learning disabilities like dyslexia to read and does not translate properly to automated screen readers. 

When a screen reader encounters non-standard fonts on social media, rather than reading out the sentence, it interprets the fonts as mathematical characters and reads out code instead of words. 

When these kinds of fonts are used on social platforms, the content becomes very quickly inaccessible to a number of different audiences.

Images without alt text

When attaching images to social media posts, it’s important to consider those who are visually impaired. You can make your visual content accessible by writing out a description of the image, which can then be read out to the user by a screen reader. 

On each platform there are slightly different ways of doing this, but it is important to do so if you want to make sure your content can reach your desired audience and be interacted with. 

Facebook allows users to upload an image and then select edit photo, where an image description can be written in the box labelled alternative text. 

After uploading an image to post to Twitter, an image description can be attributed to the image by clicking add description. 

When uploading a grid post to Instagram, you’ll be taken to the caption page. Once your caption has been written, scroll down to the bottom of the page, select advanced settings and click on write alt text to add a description of your image. 

It’s also important to be as detailed as possible when writing alt text for images. Remember, this description may be read out to someone who cannot see the original image – so it needs to be a specific and accurate representation of what the image portrays.

Emojis in lieu of text 

We live in a world where emojis are used every day on millions of social posts, comments and direct messages. But some screen readers struggle to translate them if they are used in a sentence to replace words, rather than to support the existing text. 

When a screen reader comes across an emoji, it will either read the emoji as code or simply skip over it. This means that the post will likely make no sense to a visually impaired person, and in turn, your message will not be communicated to them effectively. 

Sure, you can still use emojis – who doesn’t love an emoji? But it’s important to consider where and how you use them, especially when considering replacing words – can they instead be used alongside words to enhance or break up the post? 

Single-case hashtags 

Another firm favourite among social media users, hashtags are useful tools for sharing content widely, feeding into existing conversations and trends, and maximising your reach and engagement. But, the way in which hashtags are written can have a considerable impact on how they are perceived by disabled users.

Writing out a hashtag like this (#DIGITALACCESSIBILITY) is very difficult for a screen reader to understand. Rather than reading it out as two separate words (digital and accessibility), it will perceive it all as one word, which, when read out, will make little sense to the user. 

But it’s very simple to get around this problem. Instead, hashtags in posts should be written in Camel Case, like this (#DigitalAccessibility). Not only is writing in Camel Case easier for all users to differentiate words, but it also allows screen-readers to read out the words individually to those with visual impairments or learning disabilities.

So, what happens now?

As the different needs and requirements of audiences are becoming better understood, creatives and marketers have an opportunity to overhaul their content strategies to ensure that they are doing everything they can to make their work accessible. 

Accessibility isn’t a buzzword to be reeled off or a box that can be adequately checked without meaningful actions being taken to get there. It’s worth reiterating that accessibility is not achieved at the expense of creativity. Both can, and should, form important parts of our thinking when concepts are being devised and target audiences are being decided upon. 

The ideas and tools we’ve discussed are just one small part of a larger landscape in the creative world. The more we can reflect on and learn, the better we can cater for all audiences.

With much of the world’s population reliant on the technology sitting in the palm of their hand to work, live, play and stay up to date with the rest of the world, its vital that brands and businesses begin actively considering the inclusivity of their content and put digital accessibility at the forefront of their minds.