When visiting your website, everyone should be able to access and understand the content you’re providing. Healthcare especially should focus on making content accessible for those with any type of disability.
People with health conditions look to your content for answers. Tailoring your content to support those with disabilities will not only keep them healthy and informed, it will also help spread your message to a broader audience.
What is website accessibility?
An accessible website fulfills standards outlined in the Website Compliance Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Accessibility helps make sure everyone has a fair chance of understanding and using your content. Accessible content addresses the needs of people with impairments that include:
For example, someone who is blind may use a screen reader to read a page aloud. A person with a broken hand could need keystrokes to navigate a page instead of a mouse or trackpad.
Accessible content isn’t only beneficial to people with disabilities. It can also help someone who lost their glasses, who has a headache or those for whom English is their second language.
A common misconception is that website accessibility should only be considered on the backend when building a website, but accessibility should start at the beginning of your website content creation. (If you’re looking for more technical information, this guide on website accessibility software can help.) In the end, everyone working on the website — web developers, creators, marketers, managers and writers — has a role to play in accessibility.
Tips and tricks for accessible content
What you say in your content is just tip of the iceberg. How you compose and present it is what can differentiate your website between making content accessible and inaccessible.
We’ve brought together some tips that can help make your healthcare website content accessible to everyone.
Write using plain language
Writing in plain language gives people a clear idea of your topic. Easy-to-read content is also more accessible for people using assistive technology, like a screen reader.
At WriterGirl, we love plain language. We also check our content using these plain language tools and techniques.
When writing in plain language, make sure you:
- Use simple, clear words.
- Expand on acronyms (spell them out the first time).
- Keep sentences short.
- Calculate the grade level score using Flesch-Kincaid or another tool.
For example, try writing, “See a doctor if you have any bruising.” Instead of, “If you have any health issues, like a hematoma, you need to see a physician to diagnose you so that you can be treated for your condition.”
See how you can easily understand the same content without unnecessary words?
Follow formatting and headings
Headings and formatting break up large chunks of content and group it logically. These breaks can make content easier to read and navigate. Without them, it can be harder to follow the message and find what you’re looking for.
When we see a web page with headings, we typically scan it before reading to make sure it piques our interest. For those who use screen readers, headings with a logical content flow help the person determine what the page is about. They can also use the headings to jump from section to section.
The recommended heading structure uses a hierarchy with H1, H2, H3 and so on. Headings show the structure and level of importance of each section. For example, within this blog post:
- H1: How to make your website content accessible to everyone (the title of the blog)
- H2: What is website accessibility?
- H2: Tips and tricks for accessible content
- H3: Write using plain language
- H3: Follow formatting and headings
A screen reader would go through the document and state each heading with the related level.
To create the headings, you can use the built-in tool provided by your writing platform or content management system (CMS). Screen readers identify these headings as separate from the body copy. Tools like Microsoft Word and PowerPoint give different style and formatting options.
Aside from accessibility, headings and formatting can also help with search engine optimization (SEO).
Use your words
Be aware that style formatting — such as colors, fonts, bold, italics or underline — doesn’t translate in screen readers and may be missed by those who are colorblind or have difficulty focusing. You can still use them — but be sure that the reader doesn’t need the formatting to understand the content.
For example, if you have a word that’s in red to stress the urgency, make sure you’re also using strong wording, like “be aware” or “attention.”
Describe alternative text for images
Adding image descriptions, known as alternative text or alt text, helps those who can’t see an image or have trouble interpreting it. Screen readers use alt text to describe the image to a person. This descriptive text helps the person understand the context of the image and you should apply it to GIFs and memes as well.
Here are some tips for writing image descriptions or alt text:
- The description should clearly explain what the image is about.
- Use the fewest number of words possible without losing the meaning. Keep it to a maximum of 125 characters.
- Screen readers can’t pick up on text overlayed on images. Add that text in the description.
- If the image is not significant to the content and is for decorative purposes only, do not write a description.
- Don’t state that it is an “image of” or “picture of.” The screen reader will convey that.
For example, the alt text for the image below would be, “Smiling doctor reassuring a patient by touching their shoulder.”
Infographics also need alt text. If your infographic has text on it, screen readers can’t pick up the text within an image. To make your infographic accessible, make sure you include the infographic text separately on the web page in addition to adding alt text.
Watch out for tables, charts and lists
Tables, charts and lists can be hard to understand when the info is complicated. If you include tables or charts within your content, try following the same rules used for plain language — keep them simple and easy-to-read. Apply headlines and titles and have a clear structure.
Try to avoid using tables and charts for design purposes only. Also, be sure to use the chart and table functions provided by your writing platform or CMS. As with headings, the table, chart and list functions help screen readers easily translate the information.
Since screen readers can’t pick up on text within images, add your chart directly into the document or provide an accessible PDF. The PDF must have selectable text to be read by a screen reader.
Add descriptive links
Stay away from ambiguous text in your links, like “read more” or “click here.” They give the reader zero context of where that link will lead. You should also avoid spelling out the full URL on the page.
For example, instead of saying “click here for more info,” you could say “additional information for healthcare content services” and hyperlink that phrase. Descriptive links with keywords help with scan-ability for those with screen readers. They can jump from link to link to learn where each would lead and the info available on the linked page.
Caption and transcribe audio
Video and audio files are a great way to add some extra flair to your content, but remember to consider accessibility when posting them.
With all audio files, including podcasts, include transcripts for those who are hearing impaired.
For video files, closed captioning is essential for accessibility. Most platforms, including YouTube, provide closed captioning tools. If you use the auto-generated captions on these platforms, make sure to double-check the captions — there are often mistakes, especially if the audio isn’t clear. You can also create a caption file for your video and upload it separately.
The video below of WriterGirl CEO Christy Pretzinger includes closed captions. Try muting the video and following along with the closed captioning. Do you still understand everything that she said?
Keep your CTA clear
Do you want the reader to fill out a form at the bottom of your blog? Would you like them to subscribe to your newsletter? Leave a comment? Make sure your call to action (CTA) is clear.
Avoid instructions that rely on senses. For example, avoid saying phrases like “leave a comment below.” Someone who cannot see where “below” is might not understand. If you want them to fill out a form, provide labels so they know where to put their info.
For example, try saying, “to find a doctor in your area, fill out the form with your name and zip code.” Then, place the form in the next section on the screen. If there’s an error in completing the form, don’t rely only on red font to point it out, include an instruction like, “please provide your last name.”
Add accessibility to your website workflow
Take the initiative by making content accessible. Review your website pages and formatting so you can make sure that everyone has access to your information. You’ll have peace of mind knowing those who visit your website are getting the support they need.
You may also want to try adding a space for accessibility to your editing checklist. Once you get in the practice of checking for accessibility, the easier it will be for you to recognize it.