Seven simple steps to better accessibility and inclusion

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.

  1. Understand what, why, and who
  2. Mind your language
  3. Reflect your audience
  4. Write descriptive links
  5. Describe visuals with text
  6. Master some formatting basics
  7. Choose the right publication format

Avoid making your info hard to access. Image by Travis Saylor / Pexels licence

1. Understand what, why, and who

Awareness is your first step towards action.

What are accessibility and inclusion?

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?

Why are accessibility and inclusion important?

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.

Who needs accessible and inclusive content?

Everyone! Accessible content caters to people:

So yep. That’s all of us at one time or another.

Read about diverse abilities and barriers on the Web Accessibility Initiative website

2. Mind your language

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.

Download The Write Plain Language Standard

Keep these other things in mind too.

Read more about inclusive language on the website

3. Reflect your audience

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.

A man with a grey beard and a woman with grey hair both using Playstation controllers and smiling.

Older people like gaming too. Image by Mart Production / Pexels licence

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.

Don’t click here — Why nondescript links aren’t helpful

5. Describe visuals with text

Not everyone can see visual elements like photos, illustrations, diagrams, graphs, and videos. To make these accessible, use text to describe them. This includes:

Alt text makes images accessible to everyone

6. Master some formatting basics

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.

Use layout to help readers grasp your messages quickly

Format your headings like a pro

7. Choose the right publication format

Who are your readers? How are they most likely to find and access your information? How can you make it easier for them?

Provide webpages as well as downloadable formats

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.

Read ‘Avoid PDF for on-screen reading’ on the Nielsen Norman website

Provide hard copies or phone numbers if your readers need them

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.

Read ‘Digital transformation must be balanced with equality, accessibility’ on the RNZ website

Start with what you know, and keep learning

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.

Read our blog about barriers in a digital-first world

Read our blog about inclusion for a global audience

Insights, tips, and professional development opportunities.