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Taking Accessibility to the Next Level

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Alt Text, Transcription and Captioning are some typical features that are used to make websites and other digital information accessible to most people. These features are becoming standardized and are pretty much required elements to achieving digital accessibility per the ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act.) In addition to the familiar accessibility features, there are a number of other useful functions available to create compliant digital media and spaces.

Let’s talk about text. Accessible text is a real thing. For those who must approach text in ways other than visually, formatting and styling of fonts and layout can have a big impact on how accessible text is to individuals with disabilities.

When considering accessibility, headings do not play the same role as they do in content meant for the visually able. In an accessible setting, headings are meant to organize the structure of the content rather than help with the visual appeal of text. When a sighted person searches a long website page, they typically scroll down to quickly scan the page and look for big, bold text (headings) to get an idea of the page structure and content.

When configured correctly, headings can give screen reader and other assistive technology users the ability to navigate web pages by heading structure as well. In a properly accessible document, users should be able to view a list of all of the headings on the page or be able to read or jump by headings, or navigate directly to different level headings.

Descriptive and accessible links have to be considered carefully. When links are included in content, it is imperative that the link text makes sense on its own and is descriptive enough for a user to know where it is taking them. For instance, instead of using generic terms like “click here,” “see more,” or “continue”, the link text should be a word or several words describing the content. Also remember that the content that is linked to should also be accessible. If it’s not, it might be necessary to choosing another link to remain compliant.

Whether you pronounce them “giff” or “jiff”, GIFs must be mentioned when considering accessibility. The new WCAG 2.1 standards require users to have the capability to turn off animations unless the animation is essential to the information being conveyed. This guideline is designed to protect people with vestibular disorders who may get dizzy, nauseous or distracted from unnecessary movement. Because GIFs are automatic loop animations and cannot be turned off, they should be used with caution and best practices should be followed to make sure that people who are susceptible do not experience any bad physical reactions. When in doubt, better to omit, or if animation is crucial to the material, converting GIFs into MP4 files is a work-around that will give the user control of their experience.