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Design With Accessibility in Mind

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Media. Content. Accessibility. We spend a huge portion of every day consuming and interacting with various media. We watch, listen and read to be part of the world around us. Unfortunately, some of us find it harder to do than others.For people with disabilities much of the information and content generated every day in the digital realm is not accessible. For those with visual or auditory impairment, lots of things are out of reach. Luckily, all is not lost.

As digital content creators and curators are learning, there are many ways to make information more accessible and enjoyable for everyone. Here we are discussing digital media and web-based content but these guidelines are appropriate for everyone.

Images go a very long way. Pictures, photos, illustrations and other images can give a lot of information at once and can help tell a story efficiently. When creating accessible content it is very important that all images are described accurately and clearly so that someone with vision loss is able to access it in other ways.

Alt text is a good thing and it should be used consistently. Images become accessible to everyone when there is a description attached. Alternative text (alt text) is used to describe the image and allows screen readers to read the description so that visually impaired users can consume the content and understand the context of the information. When writing alt text, make sure it’s clear and pertinent. Descriptive language should be used judiciously. Alt text should be concise, meaning that descriptions should not be more than 120 characters, although in some instances such as complex charts or diagrams, an additional descriptive paragraph could be required.

This is where an audio description can be employed to great effect. Audio descriptions can be very helpful for visually-impaired people. Quite simply, it is a descriptive audio track that narrates the visual content out loud. Just like alt text is used to describe still images, audio description provides access to visuals in videos. In addition to being an accessibility tool for individuals with visual impairments, audio description can benefit those on the Autism spectrum, auditory learners, and children who are learning language skills. Fun fact: Providing audio description on video content not only makes it accessible but is actually the law.

Captions have been around on television for a long time and can be used to the same great effect in the new digital media. Closed captions are time-synchronized text that can be read along with video. Originally an accommodation for deaf and hard of hearing television viewers, this tool has proven useful in other ways. Captioning video content makes it more accessible to individuals who are hearing impaired, and it is a great feature for anyone who is watching something in a sounds-free environments.

Along with captioning, another useful feature is transcription. Transcripts are plain text versions of the accompanying audio. Transcripts can be very useful as reference and study material for students and educators alike.

There are many other features available to make digital content accessible to all. More to come in future blog articles.