testing different fonts online
PHOTO: Markus Spiske | unsplash

Government services and businesses are going more and more digital. The local office where I used to renew my driver's license is due to close as the service is going completely online. My online banking offers convenience and immediate answers even at the weird hours I keep. Important life tasks — looking for a job, scheduling an appointment to be vaccinated, taking a college course — all online. But this digital shift assumes everyone has a computer, internet service and that they can access all the functionality in that technology.

Content management professionals must be aware of the regulatory requirements to make their content accessible and include these considerations in their technology decisions and planning. And when they make content more accessible for differently-abled people, they not only ensure their business meets legal requirements, it's also just smart business, improving customer experience and reaching a wider market.

Accessibility Isn't Just a Requirement, It Improves Content Consumption for Everyone

Over 50 million people in the United States live with disabilities according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) site. A document or application must meet certain technical requirements for it to be considered accessible. ISO / IEC 40500:2012 and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 provide standards to meet the needs of individuals, organizations and governments internationally, by making web content more accessible to people with disabilities. 'Content' refers to the information in a web page or web application, including:

  • Natural information such as text, images and sounds.
  • Code or markup that defines structure, presentation, etc.

The American Community Survey (ACS) defines six main types of disability: visual, hearing, cognitive, ambulatory (difficulty walking), self-care and independent living. While some of these disabilities mean new assistive technologies in content management systems such as speech recognition software, text-to-speech software and Braille displays, many accommodations benefit all users.

Meetings are an easy place to start: Do a check-in with the meeting group about font size. Would you like a transcript? Is the sound or terminology clear? Accessibility isn't just following a set of standards and laws, it’s being conscious of the simple ways we make consuming our content a better experience for everyone. One co-worker had surgery on her hands and used a speech recognition device to allow her to continue to work as she recovered the full use of her hands.

Related Article: Building Accessible Digital Experiences Is About Doing the Right Thing

How Content Management Teams Can Get Started With Accessibility

Other ways to make content accessible are technical, implemented by web developers and designers. They set up fonts, colors, navigation aids and keyboard usability. The software team can install special devices to enhance your content creation tools. Automatic screen reader adjustments powered by artificial intelligence (AI) can scan the content on the screen and adjust it for screen reader accessibility. Software can streamline the process to become compliant with a simple installation, providing screen readers, keyboard navigation and user interface adjustments.

Policy makers, teachers and procurement teams also look to the accessibility guidelines and testable criteria to meet requirements for their communities.

The content management team can provide guidelines to content creators for making their work accessible through basic design principles:

  • Use clear language: Clear, simple language including spelling out all acronyms will help everyone, but particularly those who depend on screen readers and  foreign language speakers.
  • Content ‘chunking’: Use shorter paragraphs grouped into sections with meaningful headers. Readers should be able to skim the document and extract the key messages just by looking at the section headers.
  • Describe where you are: Make it standard practice to give meaningful labels to site pages and files. Add text captions to video for those who can’t hear well, who do not speak the language fluently or require additional context to comprehend the activity on the video.
  • Use document formats that assistive devices can read: Unless they’re tagged for assistive devices, you might explore alternatives to PDF documents for accessibility.
  • Metadata may assist users in finding content most suitable for their needs.
  • There are different laws in different jurisdictions and may be enacted at both federal and regional (state or provincial) levels. Some accessibility laws apply to certain essential industries like doctors’ offices, and some apply to external facing websites but not internal company intranets.

For a complete checklist of accessibility guidelines — what does successful accessibility look like — the How to Meet WCAG (Quick Reference) is a great place to start. These are designed to apply to different technologies now and in the future and to be testable with both automated checkers and human evaluation.

These don’t accommodate all possible requirements. There may be exceptional degrees or types of disability. If we adhere to the spirit of accessibility guidelines, i.e., to build equity into our workplace, learning centers and community services, we can use even basic content management principles such as metadata to start to offer more people with disabilities the opportunities to engage more fully with us. They experience far higher unemployment rates and earn less than those without disabilities.

Accessible content is much more than a legal requirement, it’s good business strategy. The same design principles that make you accessible, make you more findable by SEO and retain loyal clients as they age.