Eleanor Meecham | August 17, 2022
I know what you’re thinking. Accessibility and inclusion together make for a very big topic. You can’t possibly cover it all in seven steps. And you’re right.
But it’s better to begin with a few simple steps than to never start at all. And once you’ve mastered the basics, you can build on what you know. Society and technology are changing fast. We all need to keep up.
Awareness is your first step towards action.
Let’s define them very simply.
When we’re writing, we need to think about both these things. Who’s your audience? What do they need? What can you do to make your information both easy to access and easy to relate to?
Everyone should be able to use and connect with information that’s for them or about them. It’s really that simple.
Accessibility and inclusion are also important for you — the person providing information. Removing barriers reduces the likelihood that readers will switch off, get stuck, complain, or call you for explanations. You’ll leave them with a better view of you and help them trust you more. Win–win.
Everyone! Accessible content caters to people:
So yep. That’s all of us at one time or another.
As a writer, using plain language is one of the best things you can do to improve accessibility. Plain language includes making key points prominent, keeping paragraphs and sentences short, choosing familiar words, and explaining technical terms.
Keep these other things in mind too.
Choose images, examples, and case studies that reflect people in your audience. For example, if providing content for all New Zealanders, use a range of ethnicities, ages, and genders.
Avoid reinforcing negative stereotypes. Instead, help people feel empowered by reflecting the diverse activities of people like them. For example, you might choose images of older people jogging or playing video games rather than using a walking frame or knitting.
Write link text that clearly describes what the reader will get if they follow the link. Avoid nondescript phrases like ‘Click here’ or ‘Read more’. And never use the same link text for different links on a page — it will confuse people using screen readers (software that reads out what’s onscreen).
Align links at the left margin if possible, and separate them from paragraphs, as in this post. Doing this makes links easy to spot when scanning a page and easier to select on small screens.
Not everyone can see visual elements like photos, illustrations, diagrams, graphs, and videos. To make these accessible, use text to describe them. This includes:
It’s okay, you don’t have to be a designer to learn a few formatting details. The following things are all easy to do.
Who are your readers? How are they most likely to find and access your information? How can you make it easier for them?
Webpages are generally more accessible than PDFs and Word documents for people using screen readers. Yes, it’s possible to make downloadable formats easier to access, with special know-how and the right tools. But a simpler solution is to publish as a webpage (or set of webpages). You can include the downloadable file as an added extra for anyone who wants it.
Not everyone is online. Many people lack access to computers, lack the confidence to be online, or have low digital literacy. New Zealand’s Ministry of Education discovered that 60,000 to 80,000 households with schoolchildren in 2020 were not connected to the internet.
If you think your readers might not be online, publish print copies. Put them in places your audience is most likely to be. Include a phone number to call for more information.
We all have a lot to learn to make the world more accessible and inclusive. But you don’t have to be an expert to begin. Start with the seven things above and build on them. Everything you do counts.