26% of adults in the US have some type of disability, and according to the UN, one billion people around the world live with disabilities. Accessibility is the practice of making your business and your business’ marketing available and usable by as many people as possible, including those with disabilities. (If you’re thinking that sounds like inclusivity, they are related, but they’re not quite the same.)
Today we’re going to focus on web accessibility. Web accessibility means that websites and online content, like your marketing, are made so that people with disabilities can use them. It also includes things like apps and new technology. There are many different types of disabilities that can impact how someone accesses websites and online content. For example, someone could have a visual disability that requires them to use a screen reader.
In this post, we’re going to focus on why web accessibility matters for your business, and easy ways you can improve accessibility in your marketing.
Accessibility is not only the right thing to do, it’s also the legal thing to do. Countries around the world, including the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and the European Union, have all passed legislation requiring some form of accessibility or non-discrimination.
Based on the numbers above, accessibility is also a smart business decision. If your business and your marketing aren’t accessible, you’re excluding a large number of people from doing business with you. That’s a lot of potential customers and revenue lost.
At the same time, accessibility benefits people without disabilities, too. Many accessiblity practices benefit older people, those who live in rural areas or who have limited internet access, and people with temporary disabilities or other limitations. By making accessibility part of your marketing practices, you’re opening up your business to those potential customers as well.
There are entire organizations working on accessibility, and it’d be impossible to cover everything you can do to make your business and your marketing accessible in this post. So, for now, we’re going to focus on some immediate actions you can take to make your marketing more accessible.
Alt text tells someone what the basic details of an image are, and if an image fails to load, alt text is what loads instead. Instagram and Facebook have introduced automatic alt text, meaning their technology will attempt to fill in alt text for your image, although you can (and in many cases, will want to) manually change it later. Pinterest and Twitter, on the other hand, give you the option to add alt text when you post or edit an image. If you have a website, you should also make sure all of your images have alt text available, and some website builders even have built in tools to check for this now!
An image description gives more detail than alt text, and is generally included somewhere in the caption. In fact, you might have noticed that all of my Instagram captions include an image description between the caption and hashtags. One follower pointed this out to me and thought the descriptions were mistakenly copy/pasted in, and I had to educate her on the importance of accessibility! Sometimes you’ll see image descriptions labeled differently, they might be listed as “description”, “image description, “id” or “i-d”.
If you’re confused about how to write alt text and image descriptions, this post gives helpful character count recommendations and examples.
Captions help hearing impaired viewers watch your videos. They also help the 85% of people who watch videos without sound understand what’s going on in your videos. On top of that, captions help those whose primary language is not the same as yours understand more of the video you worked so hard to create.
Facebook offers automatically generated captions, while Instagram recently added this option for IGTV videos. Automatically generated captions aren’t a default (yet) on Instagram Stories or Reels, but many creators and businesses have started to use the Instagram Threads app, and other third party captioning apps, to add captions to shorter video clips before posting. Similar workarounds and apps have popped up for TikTok recently, too.
Last year, Youtube got rid of its community closed captions feature, sparking a discussion about video accessibility for creators and viewers. Instead of keeping the feature, the platform now encourages creators to upload their own captions. Similarly, Twitter offers the option to manually upload “subtitles”.
If you use Zoom, you should also know that their paid plans include closed captioning and live AI-powered transcription. These captions and transcripts can be useful and save you time and money if you’re going to repost and share a Zoom recording.
If you’re sharing audio content, like a podcast, transcripts can help those who have an auditory disability access your content. Transcripts also make it easier and faster for people to scan your content and decide if it’s worth listening to. Making a transcript available also makes it easier for people to pull quotes or references and share your content, or better understand your content if their primary language is different from yours.
There are many options for you to generate transcripts. Of course, you can listen to your recording and transcribe it yourself, or you can use a service like Fiverr to find someone to help transcribe for you. There are also many note taking apps and AI-powered apps that offer transcription services now, too.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are an international set of standards for web accessibility that are updated regularly. WCAG provides instructions for making sure aspects of your website, like clickability, readability, images and menus, are as accessible as possible. Some website builders, like Webflow, have built in guardrails to ensure that businesses building on their platforms are meeting a minimum level of accessibility. There are also free tools, like this one from Accessibe, that can help scan your website automatically and provide recommendations for improving accessibility.
Once you’ve audited your website, prioritize the accessibility updates that need to be made and add them to your marketing plan. Often, there are many changes to be made, but don’t worry - for most websites, accessibility updates don’t require a complete redo of your website, they just mean you need to take a look at how certain parts of your website are built or labeled.
For full transparency, I did an audit of this website and even though I’ve built with accessibility in mind, I’m not 100% WCAG compliant. For example, my titles could be clearer and not all objects or images are tagged. Accessibility improvements are on my list of to-do’s in the next few months, and I look forward to making them alongside other improvements to this blog!
Finally, many accessibility improvements also have a secondary benefit of making your marketing content more SEO friendly. This means these improvements may make it easier for search engines to read your content and help customers find you.
This is a good thing, but I’ve seen countless blogs share “growth hacks” and shortcuts that encourage entrepreneurs and marketers to do all sorts of bad practices to take advantage of this. For instance, adding keywords to long descriptions, or loading up transcripts and captions with keywords that add little to no value to a person, but may be valuable for a search engine.
Remember, accessibility is about making your business and your marketing available and usable for people, not search engines. You want to make sure any accessibility improvements actually make it easier for people to learn about your business and eventually become your customer.
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