What is Digital Accessibility?
The short definition: Digital accessibility means that digital resources (websites, videos, documents, etc.) can be used by people with disabilities. Accessible resources will provide the necessary information to screen readers and allow users to navigate without using a mouse (e.g. with a keyboard), among many other things.
The internet has amazing potential to improve access for people with disabilities, yet all too often this potential remains unrealized. From this point of view, inaccessible resources are essentially disabling people who would otherwise be able to use them.
Many accessibility guidelines help people without disabilities. For example, someone using a mobile device will appreciate content that resizes and adjusts itself without forcing the user to scroll horizontally, and someone watching a video in a noisy environment will appreciate captions or transcripts.
Accessibility and You: Things to Keep in Mind
- You do not have to be an expert to create accessible content. While this guide may seem overwhelming, the goal is to provide you all the information you might want to reference. In other words, you do not have to know everything.
- Some accessibility is better than no accessibility. If you have inaccessible content, remember that even fixing one or two issues can make a big difference. You don't have to do everything at once.
- Accessible does not mean boring. You can have accessible tables, charts, image galleries, sidebars, and so much more. Some of these may require additional consideration or work, but there are resources to help you.
- Plan for accessibility from the beginning. It is much easier to make content accessible to start with than to go back and try to fix inaccessible content. (Bonus: This also helps prevent expensive lawsuits.)
- Except for very specific circumstances, do not try to create "separate but equal" accessible alternatives. These are rarely truly equal (i.e. rarely provide a truly equivalent experience), typically require users to start on an inaccessible site in order to access the alternative, and are a lot more work, since you have to keep up with two versions of your content. It is entirely possible to build accessibility features into your normal content.
- Avoid accessibility overlays. These may sound appealing, but they are not accessible.
- You may not always know that someone who is using or needs to use your website or content has a disability. There are many reasons this may be the case, but the primary takeaway here should be to assume that people with disabilities will want to access your content and to make it accessible from the start.
- There isn't one simple checklist you can use to ensure accessibility. Part of this is because technology, knowledge, and standards change. Some standards may not include everything they should. Some accessibility features can make content less accessible if used incorrectly. And many aspects of accessibility, like alternative text, are highly context-dependent.
- It is not the end of the world if you do what you can and still (unknowingly) end up with content that is inaccessible. Make sure that it is easy for users to let you know if they run into any accessibility issues (and that you fix these issues when they are brought to your attention). The vast majority of people with disabilities will deeply appreciate your efforts.
How to Use This Guide
This guide is meant to provide general instructions for creating accessible content. If you are interested in digging deeper, the Accessibility Reference guide contains more detailed notes, references, and resources.
If you have unanswered questions or see something that should be added, changed, or removed, please do not hesitate to reach out. Email Theo Acker with any comments, suggestions, or concerns at firstname.lastname@example.org.