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August 24, 2022

The “Why” and “How” of Accessibility in Digital Marketing

By Lindsey Glorioso, Digital Marketer, and Chantel Hall, Marketing Content Specialist

An estimated 15% of the global population — roughly 1 billion people worldwide — has a disability, according to the World Health Organization.1 The conversations around disability are often framed in terms of legal requirements instead of actual accessibility and inclusivity, but digital marketers are in a position to change that.

The transformation of digital marketing means that content and data are more widely available than ever, but availability does not always mean accessibility. People with vision impairments such as blindness or color deficiency, hearing impairments, or learning or developmental disabilities have unique needs when accessing digital content. There are many ways marketers can make their content accessible to these groups.

Ironpaper Digital Marketer Lindsey Glorioso explains why accessibility in marketing is essential and how digital marketers can make impactful changes by improving accessibility.

Three illustrated coworkers building a web page, with one using a wheelchair

Why digital marketers must embrace and prioritize accessibility

Accessibility in marketing is both a moral imperative and a way for marketers to ensure they are reaching as many people in their target audience as possible. When you think of accessibility this way — not as a compliance issue but as an opportunity to broaden your reach — it’s easy to see why digital marketers need to embrace it. 

The disability market, comprised of people with disabilities and their friends and family, controls over $13 trillion in disposable income.2 When your content and other assets are not accessible, you exclude viewers and alienate potential buyers — including non-disabled members of your audience who may see inaccessible marketing as a negative indicator of your company’s values. 

At 15% of the population, the buying groups we market to very likely include people with disabilities, and even the most effective marketing strategies can’t overcome inaccessibility. A well-scripted video without captions can’t convert someone who is hard-of-hearing, deaf, or has an auditory processing disorder; a timely and compelling content offer won’t provide value to someone with a visual impairment if the design prevents their screen reader from reading it. 

Finally, neglecting accessibility requirements can have legal consequences for businesses. In one of the most famous examples, Domino’s was sued by Guillermo Robles, a blind man who couldn’t use their website because it was inaccessible to his screen reader.3 Domino’s settled with Robles out of court for an undisclosed amount after six years of litigation, spending a substantial amount of time and money defending against an ADA violation. 

Making your website accessible benefits your leads and clients with disabilities and your credibility and ability to engage with and convert your buyers. 

4 accessibility best practices for digital marketing 

Alt text on images 

Screen readers use alt text to describe an image to the user. Marketers’ focus on alt text is often on using it to boost the SEO of the page the image is hosted on, but ignoring the accessibility function of alt text will reduce the overall accessibility of your site. 

Alt text should be a concise, accurate description of the image that provides contextual information to the reader. Because screenreaders announce they are describing an image to the user, your alt text should not include words like “image of” or “picture of.” 

You should also consider the purpose of the image when writing alt text. You may focus on different details depending on why you decided to include the image in the first place. The goal of alt text is to provide blind or visually impaired readers with the same context that non-visually impaired readers get from looking at the image. 

Use the appropriate contrast ratio on your website

The contrast ratio of your website (i.e., the amount of contrast between the background and foreground colors, such as text) is a simple change that can make your website more accessible to colorblind and visually impaired visitors. 

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2 Level AA guidelines, used by companies in the US and around the world as the baseline for accessibility, state that text and images of text need to have a contrast ratio of 4.5:1, except for text that is 18 points or larger, which requires a contrast ratio of 3:1.

Various contrast checker tools are available to help you determine whether you meet these contrast ratio standards. While this adjustment may affect your design decisions, it will help you develop a more inclusive and accessible website.

Coding for screen readers 

Screen readers are used by readers with a variety of disabilities to read and interact with web pages, including:

  • Blind and visually impaired readers, which includes over seven million people 16 and older in the US4
  • Readers with reading disorders like dyslexia, which affects an estimated 20% of the population5
  • Readers with conditions like ADHD, which between 2.5% and 4.4% of adults in the US have6
  • Non-native speakers 

The number of people who rely on and benefit from screen readers makes optimizing for their users a crucial piece of accessibility in marketing. 

Designing for screenreaders typically includes coding and design best practices, so you may find that you do not have to make too many changes. For example, structuring your HTML with the appropriate tags and indicating a language in your HTML help screenreaders correctly pronounce words and describe the structure of a page. Using ARIA roles and alt text also helps screenreaders indicate the function of an asset and provide context to the user.

Using headers correctly will also go a long way in making your content easier to navigate for everyone, including visitors using screen readers. Only use one H1 tag in your piece, and ensure your subsequent header tags (e.g., H2, H3, etc.) follow an outline format.

Finally, writing descriptive headings and making the first sentence of your paragraphs explanatory will help screenreader users skim content similar to visual readers. 

A simple exercise for seeing what a user might experience browsing your site with a screen reader is to open up a page on your website and use the Tab key to navigate through the links and see what order it takes you in. Ideally, English sites should move from left to right, top to bottom. If tabbing through your website skips around the page instead of hitting links in that order, a user with a screen reader may have a hard time reading and using the information on that page.

Use captions and transcripts properly

Captions and transcripts are similar but distinct tools that make video and audio content more accessible. Ensuring they’re accurate and used appropriately will help you make your content accessible to — and convert — deaf and hard-of-hearing users, users with auditory processing disorders, and even non-native speakers.

Captioning includes timestamped transcriptions that sync with the audio in a video. Captions typically include all the noises in a video and identify the speaker in some way if they’re not being shown on camera while talking. Captions enable users to watch a video and follow along with the words on the screen, allowing them to see the speakers, animations, graphics, and other important context.

Transcription is converting speech and audio into a written format, and transcripts often don’t include timestamps. Transcripts can either be verbatim, including all of the sounds from a video or audio clip, such as sound effects, music, etc., or a “clean read,” meaning they have been edited to read more fluidly. Transcripts make content more accessible by allowing users to read it instead of requiring them to watch the video.

Transcripts are typically not enough to meet accessibility requirements, but they are still a useful accessibility tool and can be used alongside video captions to make your website inclusive for people with various disabilities. They’re also usually easier to DIY than video captions, so they can be a good starting point for marketers looking for ways to make their video and audio content more accessible.

Start working towards true accessibility today

Many of the accessibility best practices we’ve shared here can be implemented quickly and help your digital marketing team move away from simply complying with accessibility requirements and toward true accessibility and inclusivity. You’ll also find that many accessibility best practices make your site a more welcoming place for all kinds of users, ensuring you’re reaching and engaging as many members of your target audience as possible.

Sources

1World Health Organization, Disability and health, November 21, 2021

2Return on Disability, Design Delight from Disability - 2020 Annual Report: The Global Economics of Disability, 2020

3Seyfarth ADA Title III News & Insights Blog, Robles v. Domino’s Settles After Six Years of Litigation, June 10, 2022

4The National Federation of the Blind, Blindness Statistics

5The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity, Dyslexia FAQ

6Attitude Magazine, ADHD Statistics: New ADD Facts and Research, July 13, 2022

Siteimprove, Accessibility: Image Alt text best practices, August 15, 2022

Penn State Accessibility, Image ALT Text

3Play Media, Transcription vs. Captioning – What’s the Difference?, August 23, 2021

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