Understandably, much of the focus of web accessibility is on design. Being able to seamlessly navigate a website is a cornerstone of making the internet accessible for all. That means the right contrast, font size, aspect ratio, and more.
As such, it seems to many writers that web accessibility is largely the responsibility of the designers and developers.
As writers, however, there’s plenty we can also do to contribute because readability is also essential to accessibility. Here are some best practices for writers to help in that mission.
Put headers in logical order
Your headers should descend from most to least relevant, like the inverted pyramid structure of news writing, making it easier for screen readers to parse your content and convey its meaning. It also makes it easier for readers to locate relevant information and determine the structure of a page.
Keyword research your headers
Using relevant keywords in your headers (H2 text) will help screen readers navigate and determine the structure of the page more easily. Screen readers will also read out headers to convey the page’s main ideas, so you want to make sure your headers are descriptive and include relevant keywords.
That said, do not keyword stuff your headers (or, frankly, any of your writing). Not only is it an example of bad SEO practice, keyword stuffing will confuse your readers, especially those reliant on screen readers. For example, imagine a screen reader dictating a long string of related terms, such as “accessibility blogging, blogging for accessibility, a11y blog, accessible blog tactics” and so on. Not only is keyword stuffing unnecessary if your goal is to boost rankings, it makes your content completely inaccessible.
Use subheads to break up the text
Subheads also help readers determine the general structure and content of your writing. Further, they can help people navigate to specific information on the page.
Make sure your writing style is accessible
Generally speaking, how you write is just as important as what you write. But that rule is especially true when it comes to accessibility.
Use simple language, and keep the reading comprehension level to approximately an 8th grade reading level. That means no overly complicated sentence structure, and keep the advanced vocabulary words and jargon to a minimum.
When linking, use descriptive language
It may be tempting to write “click here” when linking to something. The commanding language seems clickable, a call to action. But it’s not accessible.
Instead, when linking, use descriptive language. For example, if you’re going to link to a website that breaks down examples of ableist language and words you can use instead, use a description like, “click here for a glossary of ableist terms and their alternatives.” That way screen readers will be able to tell their users what they’re actually clicking on. (Plus it has the added bonus of being more SEO-friendly.)
You could also have your developer apply a label in the HTML so when a reader hovers over your link, it gives a description.
Keep default font size/color standards
Whatever you do, don’t change font sizes, colors, or typeface. Websites designed for accessibility must adhere to certain standards set by the Web Accessibility Content Guidelines (WCAG), and if you change anything, you might be making your content difficult to read.
Always use alt-text for images
Alt-text is an HTML attribute that describes the related image. In other words: it’s the text description of an image. You should always use it to make your writing accessible.
Say you have a photo of a frowning, rain-soaked Queen Elizabeth II on your blog. You’d fill out the alt-text, “Queen Elizabeth II of England, frowning and wearing a rain jacket with the hood on.” That not only helps people who are visually impaired who rely on screen readers, but if someone’s internet is running slowly and the images on your page aren’t loading, they’ll get an idea of what is on your site.
All said and done, writing for accessibility is not only easy—it’ll make you a better writer.
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