Ensuring that your online content is accessible isn’t merely a legal obligation—it’s a reflection of your dedication to inclusivity and your forward thinking. As an experienced accessibility consultant, I provide custom solutions to guide you through the intricacies of digital accessibility, offering everything from comprehensive audits to straightforward practical advice. In this short article, I explain what digital accessibility is, why you need it, and how to get started.
Digital accessibility is about crafting online spaces – and content delivered via computer interfaces – where everyone, regardless of their abilities can engage with the content. For example, for your website, it means ensuring every aspect is welcoming and accessible to visitors, whether they are using a screen reader, navigating with a keyboard, or facing other challenges.
The essence of digital accessibility—in the wider sense—means designing and developing digital content in a way that breaks down barriers and opens up avenues of access for everyone. This is done by ensuring the format of content is designed to be flexible, i.e., it can change to fit the needs of the individual, not the other way around. We don’t force the individual to change to fit with the way we present our content.
For example, when digital content is accessible, it will be possible for a blind person, using a screen reader, to have your content read out to them, including descriptions of any image or photographs on the page. And those descriptions will be equivalent to the function the image or photograph plays for sighted visitors.
When we talk about digital accessibility, we’re not just talking about ticking boxes or meeting legal requirements (although that’s important too!). We’re talking about fostering a digital world where everyone feels included, empowered, and able to fully participate in the online experience.
First and foremost, there’s the matter of reputation. By prioritising digital accessibility, you’re not just showing the world that you care about inclusivity—you’re also demonstrating your commitment to excellence. You are telling your audience, your customers, your partners, and your competitors that you mean business when it comes to inclusion and equality.
Then, there’s the matter of legal compliance. In many jurisdictions, digital accessibility isn’t just a suggestion—it’s the law. By ensuring your content meets accessibility standards, you’re not just avoiding potential legal headaches down the road—you’re also safeguarding your brand’s reputation and integrity. In the UK that means complying with The Equality Act 2010.
By reaching a wider audience, you’re opening up new revenue streams, tapping into markets you might have overlooked, and ultimately, boosting your bottom line. If you are a charity, a non-profit, or a public sector organisation you are getting your message out to more of your potential audience.
When you prioritise accessibility, you’re also opening the door to new ideas and possibilities. You are flexing your creative muscles, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, and ultimately, setting yourself apart from your competition.
So, in a nutshell, the advantages of digital accessibility for content producers are clear: enhanced reputation, legal compliance, increased audience and/or revenue opportunities, and a boost to innovation. It’s a win for you and for those who consume your content and services.
One of the first things you can do is to assess where you are right now, i.e., find out how accessible your current digital content is. A good way to do that is to commission an accessibility audit. For example, if you have a website and you want to know if it is accessible, an accessibility auditor can check it against the de facto standards that are used by governments across the world, i.e., the WCAG 2.1. (and WCAG 2.2 when it is adopted by governments).
WCAG stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. These are the guidelines published by the W3C. You will be reassured to know, that I provided feedback on version two of the guidelines, in my previous role as Director of the Guide of Accessible Website Designers. I have detailed knowledge that I can put to good use when assessing the accessibility of websites and other digital content, including PDFs and MS Word documents, videos, and dynamic content. I have been working in the area of accessible website design since 1996, written multiple books on the subject, creating training courses (check out my bestselling WCAG 2 Accessibility online course) and given advice to 100s of organisations. I’ve also got over 20 years experience of building websites – so I understand the problems you meet and need to solve.
I WCAG 2.2 audit of your website tests it against 56 WCAG A & AA checkpoints on a variety of different platforms (including mobile and tablet), using a variety of accessibility tools (e.g., screen reader, keyboard, magnifier, colour contrast changers) and different browsers. Both automated and manual testing are used as part of the audit.
When I carry out an accessibility audit I ask two of my disabled colleagues will give feedback on the accessibility of your website. John Turley is blind and uses a screen reader on both his mobile phone and laptop; Ruby Shah has a visual impairment and uses a variety of accessibility tools including a screen magnifier and contrast changer. They will also test the site to ensure that it is keyboard-only accessible.
The length of the report can vary depending on the size of the website, the amount of issues found, and their complexity.
An accessibility audit is your first step to ensuring you are complying with relevant equality laws and reach more poeple with your content and your message.
“We requested a root-and-branch evaluation of our website to help inform its development, and in a short space of time Jim and his fantastic team put together an incredibly comprehensive report that fulfilled every aspect of our brief. He was able to identify specific instances of non-compliance, as well as highlight recurring themes and issues and make recommendations to ensure that our web presence not only complies with WCAG AA standards but is fully optimised for usability. Moreover, the first-hand feedback from his auditors provided invaluable insight into the UX of users with disabilities. I’d be delighted to recommend Jim and his colleagues to anyone looking to make their web presence accessible to the widest possible audience.”
Alex Norton (Communications Manager, CLOSER)
Contact me today to discuss your accessibility needs. I provide accessibility advice and support as well as practical services such as website and document accessibility auditing.
PDFs are generally created from source documents; often that is an MS Word document – which has to be made accessible before being exported (or in the Mac version, saved) as a PDF.
In this short article I outline the steps you need to take to ensure your PDFs are accessible after you have gone through the conversion process. The information in this article assumes that you have already read my article on how to create an accessible Word Document (outlined in my ‘Creating Accessible Word Documents’ guide).
In summary to make your Word document accessible you must:
Create and format your tables correctly to ensure that they are accessible.
Once you have ensured that you Word document is accessible you are ready to convert it to PDF What you are now trying to do is to ensure that all the work you have done is preserved during the conversion process.
Luckily it is easy, as all you have to do is, export the file to PDF and ensure that ‘Document structure tags for accessibility’ has been checked within the export preferences pane. Don’t print to PDF – that will not preserve the work you have done in your Word document.
Once you have exported the file to PDF there are still a few things that you need to do to complete the process. You have to carry these steps out within Adobe Acrobat Pro DC.
The major difference between an accessible PDF and an inaccessible PDF is that the accessible version will be tagged, i.e. each element of the document will have a tag. In simple terms, that means each element has a text label saying what type of element It is, i.e. is it a paragraph, a heading, an image a bulleted list and so on.
It is these tags that allow accessibility technologies to read and organise the content in ways that make it accessible. For example, a blind person can use a screen reader, such as JAWS to list all of the headings in the document and jump to the section they are interested in – only because the headings in the document are identified as headings – using tags. If there were no tags in the PDF document JAWS would not be able o recognise headings from all of the other text in the document.
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“The audit was extremely comprehensive, clear and demonstrated Jim’s expertise in the area of accessible web design.” Peter Madden, Project Manager, Sealed Envelope Ltd