Imagine someone in a wheelchair not being able to enter the public library, because there were no access ramps.
You would be outraged, right?
Well this scenario is comparable to what it’s like for so many people trying to access and make sense of online content.
You just don’t see them going through their pain.
In a modern, inclusive society, we have come to expect entrance ramps (or a viable alternative) enabling access to public buildings.
Now we must expect the same when it comes to public information.
Creating accessible content is equivalent to adding ramps, disability toilets and good signage to physical buildings to improve access for all.
The consequences of inaccessible content can be equally far-reaching, including loss of income, entitlements, resources, wellbeing, confidence, self-esteem, connection with society, wider impacts on health, and more.
Two personal scenarios
Just last week my family encountered two personal scenarios.
First, my dyslexic teenager couldn’t complete his online history assessment, because the assessment was set out in very wide tables and designed for print format.
It was impossible for anyone to make sense of the whole assessment without a lot of horizontal scrolling back and forth. It’s hard enough for anyone to absorb content this way, but it really disadvantages someone with a dyslexic brain under exam pressure.
Secondly, my elderly, blind father-in-law wanted to learn about stair-lifts. He wanted to assess whether a stair-lift could work with his staircase and whether he was entitled to public funding. With considerable trial and error, he found the best website, but he was not able to navigate it. After much frustration, he rang us for help.
On the surface, both these scenarios may seem insignificant. But for my son and father-in-law this kind of user experience is common and compounding. These experiences both disempower and disenfranchise on a daily basis.
I doubt the people who published these web pages intended any negative consequences. It was predictable that their respective target audiences — kids and elderly people — would have high accessibility needs. Had the authors known how to, they would have undoubtedly fixed the accessibility problems.
Inaccessible content discriminates and infringes basic human rights
The bottom line is inaccessible content is discriminatory.
If you write content as part of your office job, for instance, you may be unaware and quite shocked to learn that your content can very easily cause discrimination.
You may not appreciate how the quality and presentation of your content can directly impact the wellbeing, performance and rights of others.
Inaccessible content breaches the intent of human rights legislation, which promotes equitable access for all peoples, regardless of age, ability, gender, employment status, race, national origin, gender identity, belief.
How to make information accessible to all people, irrespective of age, ability, location, language and resources, is also the purpose of international accessibility standards or the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), adopted by many nations in principle, aim to protect the fundamental human right to access information when you need it, especially information intended to help all citizens and consumers go about public life.
With a little know-how, writers and content publishers, like you, can help create a fairer, more inclusive society.
Barriers to accessing content are everywhere
Disability statistics sit around 20-25% of the population, depending on where you are in the world. That puts the figure at close to 2 billion people. So, we’re not talking about a small section of society!
These statistics don’t really tell the full story.
Barriers to information have much wider causes than disability. Other barriers, for example, include age, language, resources and location.
There are all sorts of accessibility criteria to consider when producing content for the public domain. Most people give these criteria little thought before hitting publish or send.
Additionally, you cannot assume online distribution alone will be sufficient to reach everyone who needs your content.
Ask yourself does your content cater for, and can it be accessed and understood by people:
- with limited resources i.e. no printer, no expensive colour ink, no internet, no home computer, no personal transport
- with limited or poor eyesight or hearing or limited mobility
- on devices with small screens
- in remote locations with slow internet
- who speak English as a second language
- in a society with more than one official language
- on a variety of browsers and search engines
- without additional software or apps
- with learning differences or colour-blindness?
Understanding your audience is key. But if your audience is the general public, then as a writer or content creator, you will need to cater for very diverse needs and circumstances.
Professional writers have a duty to learn about content accessibility
Learning how to apply accessibility principles is an important skill in the modern writers' toolkit.
Accessibility affects the words you choose, and the design and layout of your content.
In 5-10 hours, you can learn these essential skills that make a big difference to your information serving and empowering people. It can change lives.
Much like modern architects, professional content writers and creators with a public audience have a duty to achieve accessibility. Do you agree?