August 19, 2014 4:28 pm

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This post is sponsored and written by Formstack, an easy-to-use online form building solution.

In higher education, maintaining a Section 508 compliant web presence is essential. However, many people assume that a website’s accessibility is the programmer’s responsibility. You might be surprised to learn that content can also impact accessibility. People with visual, hearing, motor, or cognitive disabilities need to navigate your website. Also, they need to understand your content. With attention to a few key areas, you create marketing content that is both high quality and accessible.

1. Write clearly and simply.

Readers with cognitive disabilities may need additional explanation or clarity, and all readers like well-organized content. Write with a single main point to each paragraph. Include an introduction, support, and a conclusion. Your content should have a logical flow. You’ll also want to describe anything that is not text. This includes images, charts, videos, and audio presentations. For pictures, add captions that explain the image and its context. Doing so is helpful to all users, not just those with disabilities.

2. Provide text versions of infographics or images that include text.

Infographics are popular marketing tools. Unfortunately, they can render information inaccessible for users with disabilities. Screen readers and other assistive technology cannot “read” images. Include or link to a text-only version so screen readers or other devices can translate it to users with disabilities. Designers can abide by some simple guidelines when creating visual content, as well. Use high-contrast colors and avoid communicating meaning through color alone. If you’re unsure whether your visual content is accessible, there are online tools that will scan your page and determine compliance.

3. Include accessible online forms.

Many colleges and universities are rightfully concerned about their Section 508 compliance. Online forms are a place where inaccessibility is a significant problem. If users with disabilities cannot navigate online forms, there is a barrier. When creating online forms, include clear instructions. Use understandable field labels so that all users can navigate them. Even the submit button should be clear. For example, a scholarship application’s submit button could read, “Submit application” rather than just “Submit.”

4. Use logical hyperlink text.

Your link text can help users with disabilities navigate your website. Phrases like “click here” or “more” do not communicate the function of the link. Some screen reader users jump from link to link on a webpage as a way to skim the text. If your hyperlinks all say “click here,” you are not giving them the information they need to navigate. Try to be as descriptive as possible when creating your link and tell users where your link will take them.

5. Supplement multimedia.

Can customers get all the important information from your videos and audio, even if they can’t see or hear? Include real-time captions for videos. If that’s not yet possible, provide transcripts. Transcripts don’t have to be word-for-word scripts; they can include information and descriptions that would be helpful to a viewer with disabilities. Transcripts are also searchable, which can help your web users find your content.

6. Use headings well.

Headings help users understand how a page is organized. When used correctly, their structure can also let users with disabilities better scan a page. If users have cognitive disabilities that affect reading or retention of information, headings also assist their ability to follow the organization of your content.

Content producers can do their part to be sure information is available to any user. Even subtle changes can have a positive impact on users with disabilities. The technical components of web accessibility are still essential, of course; good content must be part of a usable website. But content either supports or detracts from a website’s accessibility. As a result, content and technical teams must work together to create an accessible web experience.

For more information on accessibility, watch our most recent Marketing Live show “Digital Accessibility.”

About the Author

Laura Thrasher is a writer at Formstack, an online form building platform that makes it easy to capture and manage data. Based in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, she taught English at the University of Alabama and enjoys sharing what she knows through speaking and writing. She is originally from the Midwest and enjoys good restaurants, cheesy jokes, and running the occasional half marathon. Follow her on Twitter (@lauranav) or Google+.

 
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