What is accessible content?

Two women are front in Macbook laptop screen, one woman is showing something to another

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.

Portrait photo of the post author Di Mace

Di Mace

Communication strategist

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?

What is accessible content?

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:

  • Level A: the minimum level
  • Level AA: the medium level
  • Level AAA: the highest level

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.

What does the word accessible mean?

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:

  • Individuals with physical or cognitive impairments
  • Other groups who may not identify as having a disability (e.g. older people)
  • Those who have temporary impairments (e.g. loss of sight or hearing due to short-term illness or injury, situational deafness, or temporary motor impairment)
  • The ability to access via a range of devices
  • The ability to access using screen readers and other assistive technologies.

In short, digital accessibility creates better websites and content for every single person.

Why is accessible content important?

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.

Get your own WCAG A-AA-AAA level accessibility checking tool. Click to discover how.

How do you write accessible text?

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.

Content structure

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.

  • The correct use of page titles and heading elements, assists screen reader users to navigate through the page.
  • Headings help readers understand the information and its hierarchy.
  • All headings should clearly describe or summarize the content that follows.
  • Use short subheadings to group related information.
  • Headings should only be used to label sections of content and not for visual styling.
  • Use Heading 1 (H1) as the main heading on your page, followed by H2, H3 and so on to maintain content hierarchy and do not skip the correct order (ie. not H1 and then H3).

There should only be one H1 on a page and subsequent sections (after H1) should follow a logical nesting pattern.



Page/Document Title


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)

5 tips for accessible content creation

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.

1. Language

Plain language and well-organized writing benefits all users, but especially those with cognitive disabilities such as dyslexia and ADHD.

  • Use clear, simple text.
  • Write short, plain sentences and paragraphs in a logical structure.
  • Avoid jargon.
  • Explain technical terms and acronyms the first time they’re used on a page.
  • Sentences should be around 20 words at most.

2. Fonts

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).

  • Fonts should be large enough to be easy to read by those with poor vision, failing vision, or who have reading disabilities like dyslexia.
  • Body text should be at least 12pt (16 pixels) with line spacing of 1.5.
  • Whenever possible, text should be real text, rather than an image of text.
  • Avoid writing in all capitals — it slows down reading speed and makes it difficult for some users to read your text.

3. Colors

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.

  • Ensure there’s an adequate contrast ratio between the foreground and background elements.
  • Instead of relying on color to convey meaning (e.g. red for stop and green for go) supplement your content by using text or icons to ensure everyone can understand what you’re trying to communicate.

4. Images alternatives

People using screen readers need an inclusive experience of your graphics. Brief descriptions provide meaning that would otherwise be invisible to these users.

  • All images must have alternative text (alt-text) to convey information or provide context and meaning to the image.
  • For purely decorative images, there is no need to write alternative text.
  • Providing text alternatives for any non-text content allows it to be changed into other forms such as large print, braille, speech, symbols or simpler language.
  • Alt-text is announced by screen readers and is also displayed by the browser when an image can’t be loaded.

5. Media alternatives

Provide transcripts and captions for all media, so that those who can’t see or hear can still experience your content.

  • For audio files — provide a transcript.
  • For video files — provide a transcript of the audio or captions.
  • For data visualizations — provide either a description of the conclusions that the visualization shows in the ALT text, or provide a text alternative that gives an in-depth description of the visualization.

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.

Portrait photo of the post author Di Mace

Di Mace

Communication strategist

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.

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