Trends in Technical Communication: Web Content Accessibility (Part II)

Through the mobile web, overlapping best practices for web content accessibility are about to go prime time. (See Web Content Accessibility and Mobile Web: Making a Web Site Accessible Both for People with Disabilities and for Mobile Devices).

To prepare, I’ve been reacquainting myself with my treasured copy of Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works, by Janice (Ginny) Redish. There, you’ll find in my opinion, what’s probably one of, if not the best books available, on writing online.

Tips for Writing Accessible Web Content

Throughout her book, Redish sprinkles generous tips on web content accessibility. Here are just a few:

Let people choose their own text size (p. 148). Provide buttons on the web page to remind site visitors that they can adjust the size.

Make illustrations accessible, with meaningful alt text (p. 305). To develop helpful alt text, Redish suggests following the World Wide Web Consortium’s advice, imagining that you are reading the web page aloud, over the telephone. Ask yourself: “What would you say about the image to make your listener understand it? (From www.w3.org).

Mark headings with the proper HTML tags (p. 237). Those using screen-readers want to scan web pages, just as sighted visitors do, Redish explains. If the headings are properly tagged, your blind web users can “scan with their ears,” (p. 320), by jumping from heading to heading.

Start headings with a key word (p. 247). Those who are listening to screen-readers scan only the first few words, in each heading. Make sure to include your keywords, at the beginning.

Write meaningful links (p. 318.) Click here and More links are useless to web visitors who are listening via screen-readers. Instead, Redish suggests rewriting these links to specify what visitors will get “more” of” and to use more informative words, as the link.

Tips for Formatting Accessible Web Content

Meanwhile, the January issue of Intercom–the Magazine of the Society for Technical Communication–provides detailed tips on making your web content’s formatting more accessible.

Properly tagging web content helps blind visitors using screen-readers and other forms of assistive technology to skim your site. It also helps make your document more accessible because anyone who cannot read your document can reformat it, by importing a new template, or editing the styles in your document, until each has a format they find readable (pp. 13-14).

According to STC’s Cliff Tyllick (@clifftyll) on Twitter, here are ways to take control of your text:

  • Use heading styles.
  • Use styles—or at least automated formats—to create lists.
  • Use styles to control paragraph formatting.
  • Use styles to control special character formatting.
  • Insert tables—do not draw them.
  • Use tables to display data, never simply to position content.
  • When you use informative illustrations, position them in line with text.
  • Associate alternative text with each informative illustration.

Additional Resources

For more information on writing for the web, check out Ginny Redish’s excellent slide presentation (PDF link follows): Letting Go of the Words- Content as Conversation.

For a clearinghouse of information on web content accessibility, I also highly recommend STC’s AccessAbility SIG (@stcaccess on Twitter), by STC SIG manager Karen Mardahl (@kmdk on Twitter). In Jan.’s Intercom issue about accessibility, Karen wrote a great article on “Captioning Videos on YouTube.”

If you know of other resources, please feel free to add them to the growing list of Web Content Accessibility resources, which appeared in my last post. Thanks to folks for suggestions so far, including these resources: WebAIM: Web Accessibility in Mind, WebAxe: Podcast and Blog on Practical Web Design Accessibility Tips, and the IBM Developer Accessibility Guidelines.

I’ll make sure to add these and any other suggested resources to the final list.

Please also feel free to add your best accessibility tips, in the comments. I’m still very much learning and am grateful for your help and recommendations.

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Contacting the Author: Content for a Convergent World – Peg Mulligan’s Blog

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