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Why Is It Important to Structure Your Visual Content for Web Accessibility?

More than a quarter of the U.S. adult population has some form of disability, although individuals and impairments vary greatly. These can include vision impairment of some form, difficulty hearing, cognitive and learning disabilities, and physical or motor limitations.

When you develop a website, you need to ensure these groups can access and use your content to avoid being considered guilty of discrimination. Building accessible websites may seem complicated, but if you adhere to a few guidelines, you can make sure the broadest range of people can use your site.

Key takeaways:

  • There are various ways to structure your content for accessibility, including using H2 and H3 headings, short sentences and paragraphs, and more.
  • To make the site visually appealing, avoid using color for informational purposes, identify interactive elements, and take additional steps.
  • Several websites and tools can help you improve your site’s accessibility.
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How Do You Structure Your Content?

There are several ways to structure your content to make it more accessible.

Use short sentences and paragraphs

Accessibility means more than providing content for people with some form of disability. Your website should be accessible with the critical information conveyed to visitors in a way they can understand. Use short sentences and keep paragraphs no longer than three or four sentences.

This makes it easier for people to digest the meaning, going beyond style recommendations. Users must be able to discern your content and its meaning. It also simplifies the site for people with attention deficit issues. Also, this can help people with cognitive difficulty consume the content better.

Make use of H2 and H3 headings

Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), the language of the web, has built-in tools to help make your content structured for the majority and those with disabilities. Typically, your site has one top-level header or H1 heading. Next, the main sections of your site, which can be designated with H2 headings, are followed by any subsections organized under H3 headings.

Make sure you nest your content logically. This also helps screen readers organize the content for those with visual disabilities. One of the excellent features of using headings like this, such as with WordPress, is that you can automatically create a simple clickable table of contents for your readers and any screen reading software.

Use image alt tags

If your site has pictures, people with some form of blindness may be unable to identify the content represented unless you use the HTML “alt” tag for all important images. Within this attribute, you can briefly describe what’s in the picture, which is read aloud by screen readers when they’re used.

You don’t need to use these for purely decorative images. However, it’s good to create an alt tag and leave the content blank (e.g., alt=””) so that screen readers don’t just read out loud the image URL.

Use blockquotes and citations

If you’re using any quotations, place these inside blockquote elements, as this separates them from the text. When quoting a specific source, refer to the citation using the “cite” element.

Use data tables

Place these inside HTML tables if you have data better summarized in tabular form. However, for screen readers, using the table header (“th”) elements for rows and columns is essential so the content within your tables makes sense when read aloud.

Conversely, avoid using tables for layout purposes. This can confuse screen readers and make content read out of order. Use clearly structured HTML and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to organize the layout of your page.

Use text content to supplement multimedia

If you have audio or video elements, accessibility rules dictate you need some text content, including a transcript of what’s being displayed. This way, readers with a hearing disability or the sound turned off can consume the content.

Beyond this, many people surf the web with the sound off ― particularly at work. People use closed captioning for videos for a considerable time, even if they don’t suffer from a hearing disability. Text goes a long way to ensuring the greatest number of people consume your content.

How Do You Structure Visuals?

Provide contrast

People with some color blindness may have trouble distinguishing between different hues. Many people who aren’t even on this spectrum but wear corrective lenses like eyeglasses or contact lenses may have trouble distinguishing between poorly contrasted text and background. Ensuring adequate contrast on a page between background and foreground colors helps alleviate this problem.

Follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) guidelines to make sure color contrast can be seen adequately by people with various forms of color blindness. Typically, this means that most text must appear at a 4.5:1 ratio, while larger headings must be at least 3:1.

Don’t use color for informational purposes

Remember that many people suffer from color blindness. While color may work well for some people, many have trouble distinguishing between shades and hues. If there’s important information you wish to convey, do so using other methods, such as with text.

Identify interactive elements

Use clear indicators for identifying elements the user interacts with and employ underlining for links. Utilize buttons for various actions, such as form submittals. While it may be tempting to do things with design and color instead of standard underlining, this can cause many problems for people with trouble distinguishing between shades.

Even though some people may find them artistically boring, using tried-and-true practices goes a long way toward improving the functionality of your site.

Does proper web accessibility help with your SEO ranking?

Many elements of a highly accessible website overlap with search engine optimization (SEO) principles. Use solid page headings and robust navigation ― including good breadcrumb links. Also, use sitemaps, which help search engines map your site and assist people in navigating through the maze. All these features make your site more accessible and readable by search engines.

Quality metadata for your site improves SEO and helps many accessibility tools parse information for those with disabilities. For example, use good meta titles and meta descriptions in the header of your site.

The use of alt tags helps as search engines are textually based. A good rule of thumb is that if a search engine can read and understand it, it increases the likelihood that your site is accessible. Even if you’re acting in pure self-interest, it makes sense to consider accessibility techniques for SEO purposes.

What Websites and Tools Should You Use to Structure Visual Content Correctly?

  • TextOptimizer: This simple tool can help you optimize your text for accessibility and SEO.
  • WAVE Evaluation Tool: This provides visual feedback on when your site meets accessibility standards. It includes alerts, lesser issues, and errors like empty or broken skip links.
  • Axe DevTools Web Accessibility Testing: Running inside your browser, this tool provides results at the specific HTML level where there are potential problems with accessibility and where precisely on the page they’re located.
  • Siteimprove Accessibility Checker: This tool analyzes your site’s accessibility and identifies areas where it can be improved. It covers text alternatives, adaptability, use of color and contrast, and various timing issues, such as with carousels.
  • Lighthouse Accessibility scoring: A built-in tool for Chrome that scores your site based on several accessibility criteria.

Reading up on the WCAG guidelines can improve your overall sense of how to make your website accessible. While the official guidelines may seem dense, this WebAIM checklist should make it easier to wrap your head around the requirements. Another great resource is the A11Y Project’s checklist.

Another way to appreciate the importance of using these tools is to understand how people with disabilities use the web. You may also wish to read more about how to make your small business website more accessible.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Structuring Your Content for Website Accessibility

What are the four principles of accessibility requirements for content?

The WCAG are organized by four main principles, claiming that content must be POUR: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust.

What are some of the mistakes to avoid in web accessibility?

It is important to avoid missing alt text on images, weak color contrast, poor link text, and missing form labels, among other things.

How do I make digital content more accessible?

Use a large enough font size, an easy-to-read sans-serif font type, and transcriptions or captions on videos. Format electronic documents to work with a screen reader. Also, use clear and simple-to-understand language and organize information for easy reading.