Today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day - GAAD. We’re focusing on how plain language is essential in helping to cultivate an inclusive digital landscape. 

What is GAAD? 

GAAD - or Global Accessibility Awareness Day - is celebrated annually on the third Thursday of May. According to the GAAD website:

"The purpose of GAAD is to get everyone talking, thinking and learning about digital (web, software, mobile, etc.) access/inclusion and people with different disabilities."

This year’s GAAD is particularly poignant in our lockdown-affected world. Many people are experiencing lockdown difficulties for the first time. Frustrations which have necessitated the world opening up to social distancing measures more than ever before. 

These are struggles that many people with disabilities already live with daily. On this year’s GAAD, let’s make the most of the increased awareness to focus on the web experience.

We all use screens and use the internet in our daily routine, for work and leisure. Imagine if an easy activity you take for granted, like searching the internet for the answer to a query, was made unnecessarily difficult. This is a reality for many, and we need to do better. 

What is digital accessibility?

Digital accessibility is putting every user first when creating your website. This contributes to a user-friendly web. People with disabilities have just as much of a right to have excellent web experiences and successfully use digital products as those without disabilities. Committing to digital accessibility is all about inclusiveness. 

What are the accessibility issues we need to be aware of?

According to a 2020 WebAIM study, even the top websites have significant accessibility issues. These include visual readability issues: 

  • Amazingly, 85.4% of the pages in their study contained low contrast text which is difficult to read

  • Equally mind-boggling is that, although the use of headings has increased in the past year, “skipped headings were present on 39.1% of all pages”

Several other significant web page issues are detailed on the study, from which WebAIM concludes: 

Significant work remains to be done to make the web accessible to everyone.”

Some of the site categories with the most errors in the study are concerning: law, government, politics, and careers. It is vital that we all do our part to make sure people with disabilities can easily navigate these topics. 

How can I make my content more accessible?

We all know content is king, but it can’t be without clarity. The latest content accessibility guidelines are created by the Web Accessibility Initiative - WAI - of the World Wide Web Consortium, W3C. These guidelines can be found on their website.

Many aspects of the guidelines may be difficult to understand for anyone not involved in development or design. But the guidelines also contain valuable information on how content creators can contribute to good UX and accessibility. Particularly for the benefit of people who rely on screen readers or other assistive technologies. We’ll cover a few easy fixes to get you started. 

Use headings well 

It’s tempting to change font sizes and bold text for emphasis. This can’t be discounted as a great way to draw people’s attention to certain details. But, it should not be a substitute for making good use of subheadings, especially h2 and h3, within articles. 

Make sure you’ve structured your content in a way that’s straightforward to understand. Keep in mind that a screen reader will read your heading levels aloud, such as “heading level one” for your h1. 

Embrace lists 

Whether someone is unable to read your whole article or they just want to get the answers quickly, it’s a good idea to use bulleted lists. This contributes to good article structure as well as making your content easier to digest. 

Improve your readability 

There’s a reason we root for readability and plain language so much. It’s an essential skill for accessibility, saving resources and democracy. 

As Sarah Richards of Content Design London pointed out at a plain language conference last year, not making your content accessible for everybody is discriminatory. And there’s no excuse for not using it. 

There’s a common misconception that using more complicated language makes you look more authoritative. But it’s actually very easy to cloak your content in jargon and alienate the audience - it’s just not advisable. It makes you look opaque and untrustworthy. 

To help you out, we have a guide for how to improve your readability in 60 seconds

Got any tips of your own? Tag us @readablehq on the topic of #accessibilityawarenessday - or #GAAD2020 - and let’s learn from each other.

Laura Kelly

Laura is a freelance writer and worked at Readable for a number of years. Laura is well-versed in optimising content for readability and Readable's suite of tools. She aims to write guides that help you make the most out of Readable.