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In our digital-first society, as marketers we're creating more online content than ever. But are we doing everything we can to ensure our content is accessible for every user of every ability?

For far too many of us, the answer is no.

Most online content contains accessibility barriers for people with disabilities, preventing them from engaging with the digital experiences we create. What's more, accessibility barriers reduce the usability for all users.

Among the examples of barriers are sites that aren't structured correctly to allow navigation and logical reading order for a blind visitor who is using a screen reader; experiences that can't be successfully navigated using a keyboard instead of a mouse for users with mobility or other physical challenges; and the lack of captions, transcripts, and descriptive text for users who are deaf.

In the United States alone, 61 million adults—more than 25% of the population—self-identify as having some form of disability. That is a significant proportion of our audiences, and they have the right to equal access both to physical locations and to digital experiences.

At a time when online interaction is more important than ever, it's critical to ensure every element of your digital campaign is accessible so that you can reach your maximum possible audience.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Brands and consumers increasingly value a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Digital accessibility is a major component of DEI initiatives because it provides equal access and engagement opportunities for people with disabilities.

Moreover, disability spans every demographic, so ensuring digital experiences are accessible helps ensure engagement for a diverse group of consumers.

Legal Obligation

Accessibility is also a legal obligation. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to digital experiences, according to the consensus in case law and the Department of Justice's perspective.

From 2017 to 2021, 10,000+ ADA lawsuits were filed. In 2020 alone, an estimated 265,000 ADA demand letters were sent that pertained to digital accessibility issues.

Designing Inclusive Content: A Guide

So, where do you begin when creating an inclusive campaign?

First, consider the wide range of disabilities. Some people may be blind or have low vision; others may be deaf or have partial hearing loss. Cognitive disabilities and mobility impairments might affect the speed at which someone is able to consume content, or affect the ability to navigate content and operate a mouse.

Understanding the many types of disability and what creates a welcoming experience for all users will inform your creative design and development processes.

Campaign-Planning

Before you begin, ask yourself: Is there an opportunity to include people with disabilities in our campaign? Authentic inclusive representation in advertising positions a diverse group of people in a positive light, undermining the stigma that has often been associated with having a disability.

Take, for example, the "Share Something Real" Facebook Portal ad that captures the communication between two sisters who are deaf. The ad highlights the power of real conversations, including those in a visual rather than a spoken language.

When customers can naturally see themselves in your campaign, they're more connected to it, which is likely to make your message "stick."

Video

Multifaceted campaigns often include video elements. When you produce video content, ensure it is accessible for those who are blind or have low vision, those who are deaf or have partial hearing loss, and those who have a cognitive disability.

Consider...

  • Enabling closed captions for those who are deaf or hard of hearing
  • Including audio descriptions (describing the on-screen visuals) for those who are blind or have low vision
  • Avoiding bright flashes when possible, or adhering to the "three flashes" rule (no content that flashes more than three times in one second) to prevent inducing a seizure
  • Including a sign language interpretation for prerecorded content
  • Selecting a video player that can be controlled by audio command or without a mouse

Websites and Landing Pages

The accessibility of your website or landing page has an impact on your conversions. When users experience barriers, they may bounce off your page, rendering your marketing efforts ineffective.

Consider doing the following when designing websites and landing pages:

  • Establish a clear heading structure so someone using assistive technology, such as a screen reader, can logically navigate your page.
  • Ensure all nondecorative images have alternative text so that a screen-reader user who is unable to see featured images will be aware of their meaning (especially important on e-commerce sites).
  • Be aware of your color contrast (the difference between a color in the foreground and its background). If there isn't sufficient contrast, someone with low vision or color blindness may miss the content altogether.
  • Label all of your controls (anything a user interacts with): buttons, text boxes, checkboxes, etc. Doing so will ensure users understand the purpose of the controls and can successfully navigate them when using a screen reader.
  • If a control is an image (for example, a shopping cart icon), provide alt text so the control is discoverable and usable.
  • Ensure that controls are correctly sized and positioned to be usable by keyboard, mouse, touch, and assistive technologies. Controls that are small or those that move can be difficult to interact with when using alternative input technology.
  • Avoid any autoplay content, which is hard to control without a mouse, and which is disruptive when using a screen reader. If such content is unavoidable, provide an opportunity to stop or pause the video or audio.
  • Use words in your messaging that are jargon-free and easy to understand at all reading levels. It's best to keep sentences and paragraphs concise.

Email

An effective campaign often includes multiple email touchpoints. Are your emails accessible?

As with your website, consider doing the following when creating inclusive emails:

  • Make your subject line clear, and consider using a preheader that screen readers can recite easily (much as Siri announces a text message you receive on your phone).
  • Avoid sending emails that include only images with no supporting text, even if they seem more aesthetically pleasing. In such an instance, your image's alt text would have to describe everything on the image, making it long and complex.
  • Ensure proper color contrast, even when considering your font color on its background.
  • For longer messages, establish a proper heading structure.
  • Keep your messaging simple, and avoid using abbreviations whenever possible.
  • Use legible fonts and pay attention to text formatting if you have multiple paragraphs.
  • Ensure your hyperlinks describe where they are taking a user. For example, using "click here" or "learn more" gives no indication of the content a user will be taken to.

Accessible Experiences Are More Usable Experiences

A commitment to an accessible experience at every touchpoint of your campaign ensures your customers can fully engage with it, maximizing your marketing impact. It also means they won't hit a barrier and opt for a more accessible competitor.

As an added benefit, when you make the various elements of your campaign accessible for customers with disabilities you're improving the experience for every user. For example, video captions don't benefit only people who are deaf or hard of hearing but also viewers in a noisy airport, for example, or those who retain information better by reading.

Accessible digital experiences are more usable experiences. Accessible content is beautiful content. By taking a moment to go through some simple checks and balances when planning, you'll ensure maximum reach and effectiveness for your content, and contribute to a more inclusive Internet.

More Resources on Web Accessibility

Why You Need to Create Accessible Videos

Live Professional Captions vs. Live Auto Captions: Which Is Best For You?

Do Marketers Consider Accessibility When Crafting Email Campaigns?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

image of Ian Lowe

Ian Lowe is the CMO at eSSENTIAL Accessibility, aleading digital accessibility solution provider. He has 20+ years of growth-focused technology marketing experience.

LinkedIn: Ian Lowe