Some brands are accused of creating poor content. But POUR content is different. According to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), accessible content must be POUR: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust. When content is organized by these four principles, it ensures everyone has equal access to your content.
WCAG standards are the most-referenced set of standards in website accessibility lawsuits, and adhering to them is widely considered the best way to achieve accessible web content. But they can be confusing.
The standards are grouped into guidelines — organized under the ‘Four Principles of Accessibility’ — which cover all the major things that web content must be, to be considered ‘accessible text’. But what does that mean?
Accessible content provides equal access to information for all people, with special consideration for people with disabilities. It also improves the user experience (UX) for people without disabilities.
The goal is access for all.
According to WCAG, “Anyone who wants to use the web must have content that is:
Perceivable: […] This means that users must be able to perceive the information being presented (it can’t be invisible to all of their senses).
Operable: […] This means that users must be able to operate the interface (the interface cannot require interaction that a user cannot perform).
Understandable: […] This means that users must be able to understand the information as well as the operation of the user interface (the content or operation cannot be beyond their understanding).
Robust: […] This means that users must be able to access the content as technologies advance (as technologies and user agents evolve, the content should remain accessible).
If any of these are not true, users with disabilities will not be able to use the Web.”
Each of the guidelines have testable success criteria, that fall into three levels: A, AA, and AAA:
Success (or failure) against these success criteria, determines the content’s ‘conformance’ to WCAG. For a short summary of the WCAG guidelines, see WCAG 2.1 at a Glance.
Being accessible means no one is excluded from using something on the basis of experiencing a disability. In the case of accessible web content, it means that every person has equal ability to perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with electronic information and be active, contributing members of the digital world.
People are now reliant on technology, for their connection to the outside world. So access must be easy and equal.
Accessible content should therefore consider and include:
In short, digital accessibility creates better websites and content for every single person.
Accessibility is a crucial part of digital communication.
Improving the accessibility of your content directly reduces the number of barriers to comprehension, and improves everyone’s user experience. Why? Because people experience situational and temporary disabilities on a daily basis, so accessibility is not an edge case. It’s the norm.
Frequently, features that are specifically designed to help people with disabilities, help other people, too. Video captions may have been designed to help people with hearing difficulties, but they actually help everyone, especially when the video is watched on mute (e.g. in a social media feed).
Additionally, digital accessibility is a global regulatory requirement, and non-compliance now brings with it a significant legal risk, and associated financial costs.
Accessibility should not be considered a feature that’s added after the writing and design of your content.
To create a website with accessible content, you need to be aware of the diverse range of needs in the community and then purposefully plan, write, design and build content of all forms, with accessibility in mind from the very beginning.
One of the most important elements of writing accessible content is the content’s underlying structure. It helps users make sense of the information, as well as aiding assistive technology to present your content in the same order and logic, in alternative formats.
There should only be one H1 on a page and subsequent sections (after H1) should follow a logical nesting pattern.
Section 1 Heading
Text of first section (normal text)
Section 2 Heading
Text of second section (normal text)
Section 2 Subheading
Text for subsection (normal text)
Most frequently, it’s lack of awareness that causes content to be inaccessible. Here’s a list of five things to consider to ensure your content writers and editors are creating and maintaining accessible web content that’s suitable for all users.
Plain language and well-organized writing benefits all users, but especially those with cognitive disabilities such as dyslexia and ADHD.
Choose standard fonts that are likely to be available on most devices. San Serif fonts are generally the easiest to read (e.g. Arial, Tahoma, and Verdana) while Serif fonts are typically harder to read (e.g. Times New Roman, Georgia, and Book Antiqua).
Some people are unable to perceive information based on color alone (e.g heading color changes) nor are they able to distinguish text from its background if there’s not enough contrast. A screen reader, for example, doesn’t give an indication of a change in color.
People using screen readers need an inclusive experience of your graphics. Brief descriptions provide meaning that would otherwise be invisible to these users.
Provide transcripts and captions for all media, so that those who can’t see or hear can still experience your content.
Living in a digitally-driven world, it’s all too easy to get lost in the glory of our devices. But not all content is digitally accessible to every reader. And the excuse shouldn’t be “I’d love to make it work, but given the constraints, we simply can’t accommodate edge cases like accessibility.”
That’s simply not true. Accessibility is not an edge case.
Everyone experiences situational and temporary disabilities on a daily basis, and we’re all getting older, so it’s to everyone’s benefit to write, design and build accessible content.
Di Mace is a freelance copywriter and messaging strategist who's worked with both B2B and B2C brands across the country. She helps businesses identify who their best-fit customers are, what drives them to do what they do, and then crafts messages that turn them from fans into customers and evangelists.