Writing for accessibility goes beyond making everything on the page available as text. It also affects the way you organize content and guide readers through a page.
At minimum, an accessible version of all pages should be available. Accessibility includes users of all mental and physical capacities.
- HHS.gov making PDF files accessibile (https://www.hhs.gov/web/section-508/making-files-accessible/create-accessible-pdfs/index.html)
- UIUC Document Accessibility (https://www.disability.illinois.edu/academic-support/accessible-it-group/doc_access)
- WebAIM resources and tools (https://webaim.org/resources/)
- Microsoft Word best practices (https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/topic/make-your-word-documents-accessible-to-people-with-disabilities-d9bf3683-87ac-47ea-b91a-78dcacb3c66d)
- Adobe Acrobat create and verify PDF accessibility (https://helpx.adobe.com/acrobat/using/create-verify-pdf-accessibility.html)
We write for a diverse audience of readers who all interact with our content in different ways. We aim to make our content accessible to anyone using a screen reader, keyboard navigation, or Braille interface, and to users of all cognitive capabilities.
As you create content, consider the following:
- Would this language make sense to someone who doesn’t work or study here, or who is unfamiliar with your field?
- Could a user quickly scan this content and understand the material?
- If someone can’t see the colors, images or video, is the message still clear?
Avoid directional language
Avoid directional instructions and any language that requires the reader to see the layout or design of the page. This is helpful for many reasons, including layout changes on mobile.
Yes: “Select from these options” (with options immediately following)
No: “Select from the options in the right sidebar.”
Headings should always be nested and consecutive. Never skip a heading level for styling reasons. To help group sections, be sure the page title is Heading 1, top-level sections are Heading 2, and subsequent inside those are Heading 3 and so on. Avoid excessive nesting.
Employ a hierarchy
Put the most important information first. Place similar topics in the same paragraph, and clearly separate different topics with headings.
Starting with a simple outline that includes key messages can help you create a hierarchy and organize your ideas in a logical way. This improves scannability and encourages better understanding.
Make true lists instead of using paragraph or line breaks.
Use descriptive links
Links should provide information on the associated action or destination. Avoid using the language “click here” or “read more” to present your link.
Use plain language
Write short sentences and use familiar words. Avoid jargon and slang. If you need to use an abbreviation or acronym that people may not understand, explain what it means on first reference.
Use alt text
The alt tag is the most basic form of image description, and it should be included for all images. The language will depend on the purpose of the image:
- If it’s a creative photo or supports a story, describe the image’s visual elements in a brief caption.
- If the image is serving a specific function, describe what’s happening in the image in detail. People who don’t see the image should come away with the same information as if they had.
- If you’re sharing a chart or graph, include the data in the alt text so people have all the important information.
Each browser handles alt tags differently. Supplement images with standard captions when possible.
Make sure closed captioning is available
Closed captioning or transcripts should be available for all videos. The information presented in videos should also be available in other formats.
Be mindful of visual elements
Images should not be the only method of communication, because images may not load or may not be seen. Images meant to communicate should always be accompanied by descriptive text.