Hi there. It’s been a minute. After a winter of brisk walks, frigid park-hangs, and more Zoom calls than I care to remember, I’m back to bring you my thoughts on another aspect of content design that has been percolating in my brain for many months now: accessibility.
So what is accessible content design and why is it important for B2B and SaaS specialists in the tech space? Great question, rhetorical Patrick. Now let’s see if I have an answer to match.
Last year, a friend recommended that I read Sarah Richards’ Content Design and I did, from cover to cover. A little later, I enrolled in a UX writing course hosted by the UX Writing Collective which I am just about to complete. Both of these resources helped me better understand accessibility in content design and why it is an integral part of any content strategy, regardless of the size of your team or the space that you’re operating in.
I’m proud to say that we at Wrk have implemented many foundational pieces to ensure that our content design is accessible and inclusive. But we’re not there yet and there are plenty of important changes still to come in the months ahead. So, let’s get to it!
Do you use plain language?
Unsurprisingly, one of the most effective ways of improving the accessibility of your content is to use plain language wherever possible. But what is plain language? In brief, plain language is informative, instructive, and inclusive. It is not complex, figurative, or impossible to find. It helps users visiting your website leave with a better understanding of what you do than they had beforehand. It uses short sentences.
Admittedly, baking plain language into your content design is often easier said than done, especially when you’re writing for an automation-focussed audience. That said, it is something that I’m quickly seeing the value of and I’m sure you will too.
In the past, accessible content design was largely seen as only something that governments and other public sector bodies had to worry about. In fact, the aforementioned Sarah Richards came to prominence as a content design expert through her pioneering work with the UK’s Government Digital Service. However, it wasn’t long before her insights, and those of her peers in the content design space, began being implemented into content strategies and style guides across the private sector, including in the tech world.
“As you’re writing, consider the tech literacy level of your target audience. Define technical terms that may be unfamiliar, and use a product or service’s full name before using its acronym or abbreviation. You may also consider adding a glossary if your content contains many potentially unfamiliar terms. Include in-line definitions for scientific, legal, or technical terms that you must use.”
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At Wrk, we have taken some very practical steps to ensure that our content is as accessible as possible.
In truth, simple things like reducing the amount of passive voice in the copy and keeping the sentences short and impactful has helped achieve our plain language goals quite successfully. These are learnings that we crystalized in our in-house content style guide to ensure that new team members can get up to speed quickly once they join the team.
Fun fact: I found the U.S. Government’s Plain Language Style Guide particularly useful when creating the content for our website.
Lots done, more to do
All long-form content assets that we've created in the past year have included a Glossary of Terms as standard. This helps readers navigate their way through the sometimes challenging terminology of automation. On top of that, we ensure that all the content on our website (including this blog section) is mobile friendly. Mobile-friendly content is vital, as research shows that mobile now accounts for more than half of web traffic worldwide. These steps combined with an increasingly-accessible approach to social media means that we are definitely on the right trajectory when it comes to accessible content design.
While it would be easy to pat ourselves on the back for the positive steps we have taken to make our content more accessible in recent months, the reality is that it hasn’t all been home-runs either. One specific area that we definitely need to improve on is to make captions on our expanding catalogue of video content mandatory.
Sure, adding more video content is inherently a step in the right direction in terms of content accessibility, but by failing to properly caption our interviews, preview snippets, and full-length webinar recordings, we are neglecting to cater to the needs of approximately 15% of our potential viewers. To right this wrong, we are currently developing a Transcription Wrkflow to ensure that all our video content is transcribed accurately and includes captions as standard—more on that next time.
So, that is a brief overview of what accessible content is and what it looks like here at Wrk. Now let’s quickly look at why it’s important.
What’s in it for me?
According to GAAD, over 1 billion people worldwide have disabilities and these users are disproportionately affected by simple design flaws such as empty links, missing document language, and low contrast text. While annoying to those without disabilities, these issues can severely affect the user experience for a person with a disability—often ruining it completely.
From both a rights-based approach and business perspective, accessible content design is crucial, but don’t just take my word for it. Here are three compelling reasons from Sitemorse explaining why digital content accessibility is so vital in 2021:
- A 2017 report from the BBC suggests that the disabled population in the UK spends approximately £249 billion pounds per year.
- A Forbes article quotes a 2016 survey that suggests 71% of users with disabilities will leave a website that is not accessible.
- Research on the number of lawsuits related to web and app accessibility filed in the US based on the (ADA) show a sharp increase over the last four years, tripling between 2017 and 2018, and maintaining that high level in 2019 with over 2,000 lawsuits.
“Accessible content is better for everyone. Not all access needs are permanent. Some are temporary and others may be caused due to the environment or situation. From a marketing perspective, accessible content makes you available to anyone, in any circumstance.”
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When you make your content more accessible to a wider audience, you not only fulfill an important inclusivity requirement, you also guarantee that your blog posts, case studies, eBooks, and videos reach an audience that feels included and heard. That seems pretty important to me.
Until next time,