One in four adults in the United States is living with some form of disability, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As these adults encounter marketing content online, it’s essential that business campaigns include accessible design in order to reach this segment of the population.
There are over one billion people in the world living with some form of disability. With their collective buying power of $13 trillion globally, businesses that fail to adopt accessible design features are missing out on valuable opportunities, as well as alienating prospective customers and fellow human beings.
What is accessible design?
According to “Accessible By Design,” an initiative by Current Global, accessible design is content that is formatted to be easily engaged with by people with visual, cognitive, and audio disabilities. Unfortunately, most people with disabilities report that they struggle to interact with online videos, images, and text, often due to factors that could be easily remedied with minor adjustments.
For example, many people who are blind or have low vision may use screen readers that scan documents and webpages, providing an audio summary or explanation. When documents and images are appropriately tagged, the screen reader can distinguish between headings, hyperlinks, and tables. Image descriptions — included as “alt text” —can be read out by the screen reader so that the user is able to engage with all the content. Without this alt text, a screen reader will only say “image,” and the meaning or purpose of the graphic is obscured.
Recently, user experience (UX) has entered popular business parlance. Accessible design is an aspect of creating a great UX that must be included in successful marketing campaigns.
Why is accessible design so important?
When content is inaccessible, users get upset. In a survey by Current Global, respondents reported feeling frustrated, disappointed, ignored, unhappy, and isolated when they encountered inaccessible content. When images and video can’t be understood, or text is too difficult to read, users will give up and look elsewhere for the answers they seek. This will lead to the loss of sales and certainly referrals from these unhappy customers.
On the other hand, users reported feeling satisfied, supported, happy, included, and relieved when they encountered content that had been made accessible. Pleased and satisfied users get excited about a brand, choose to purchase from that company, and are happy to recommend the brand to others. When customers can be immersed in content without barriers — discovering closed captions that align well to a video’s audio, for instance — they can stick with the marketing materials long enough to make a buying decision, and not abandon the promotion because it’s just too challenging to understand.
How can businesses implement accessible design into their content?
At the outset, marketing and other content should be created with accessibility in mind. Documents that eventually become pdfs or HTML can be organized with clearly defined sections and headings. Fonts should be clear and large enough to be easily read, with obvious color contrasts (1 in 10 males have a deficiency in processing colors).
Hyperlinks within documents and pages, especially when designed for mobile users, should be well-spaced in the text. When links are too close together, clicking on the intended hyperlink becomes overly challenging for anyone, and especially someone with a motor or visual disability. Links should have meaningful display names (avoiding a bland, “Click Here” in favor of “Read Our Latest Report on Consumer Happiness”).
Many people with disabilities use a variety of assistive tools and technology to aid their engagement with online content. There are simple tags and features that can be added to web content that allow these assistive tools to interpret each page. Tutorials and guides for designing this content can be found on the Section 508 United States government page. Microsoft Word includes an accessibility checker that quickly scans a document to point out issues that could obscure meaning or create frustration for someone using a screen reader, and even suggests fixes on the pot.
However, some users cannot afford accessibility tools or find them too challenging to use (or content that isn’t appropriately laid out or tagged for the tools to interpret). Businesses could also consider adjusting their content so that it is accessible even without special tools. For example, adding captions to a Facebook video is an easy solution for a hearing-impaired user — or even a user on a crowded subway car. Avoid giving instructions that would be impossible for a blind user, such as “Click the red button to learn more, or the green button to buy now!” Excessive pop-ups can become confusing to users or make pages more difficult to navigate.
One practical and unique approach to improving accessibility is to take up the “Accessible By Design” 21-day challenge. With the aim of forming long-term habits, each day of this challenge includes one small change a business could make to ensure its content was accessible to all people. For example, on day 7 a business would learn how to organize a document with tagged headings that can be easily interpreted by screen readers. Day 17 explains how to use closed captions on social media – a forum that was most often reported to be frustrating to visually-impaired users.
“Accessible by Design” was named a 2021 Fast Company World-Changing Idea, and it’s a smart move for any company to implement. As the United States population ages, an increasing number of people will develop hearing, vision, and cognitive disabilities. Creating accessible content is a simple process that expands the audience for marketing campaigns and online offerings. With a few tweaks to design and thoughtful tagging for headings and images, businesses can welcome a broader customer base, keep their market fully engaged, and ensure that their online users feel included and relieved.