It is estimated that about one billion people in the world have a visual or processing disorder that makes it harder for them to read the information on the web. To put that into context, that is about one-eighth of the world’s population. One in every eight people, right across the globe.
Unpicking the problem
Let’s unpick that a bit. One in every ten people are blind or visually impaired. One in 12 men are colour blind: they struggle to distinguish between one or more colours. This may make it harder to see pictures online, or distinguish text such as hyperlinks. Around one in ten people is over 65. Their eyesight may be deteriorating, or their motor control may make it harder to manage a mouse.
Processing disorders also affect web access. Dyspraxia limits motor control, especially fine motor control. This can make it difficult to control a mouse. One in ten people has dyslexia. This is often seen as an issue with reading or spelling—and this is certainly true for some people, but it goes far beyond that. It may make it harder to read and digest dense text, or complex sentences. It may also make it harder to process numbers or sequences of information.
Aural as well as visual
Dyslexic people can also find it hard to process information presented aurally. Taking in information from videos, without much visual content, may therefore be difficult. We often think of the web as a world of visual information—but most videos contain sound. This can also be challenging for people with auditory problems such as deafness or tinnitus. In fact, avoiding sound may simply be a preference for many of us. When Instagram first launched videos, over 85% were watched without sound.
This adds up to a huge issue. There is no question that we are increasingly expected to engage with the world via the web. From governments to retailers, through leisure providers and non-governmental organisations, the world is online. It is bad enough that a digital divide is developing based on poverty—but at least we can solve that with money. However, it is extremely worrying that 70% of digital content may be inaccessible to people with a visual or auditory disability or disorder.
What can be done to improve the accessibility of information on the web? The Contentsquare Foundation is taking steps to raise awareness of the issue, and encourage organisations to make their websites more accessible. For example, the foundation runs digital accessibility training for web designers, developers and executives, to increase understanding of the challenges facing people with disabilities and processing disorders.
However, there is much that we, as content creators, can also do. Some of this is good practice for web-writing anyway—but a reminder is always helpful. For example, we can:
Break up blocks of text – Use short sentences and paragraphs, and leave spaces between the paragraphs. This will be much easier to read. Using bullets and numbers also breaks up the text and makes information easier to read and process. Other useful options include text boxes to highlight the most important information, and adding pictures and infographics to show ideas in a different way.
Cut down your content – Ask yourself the question: do I really need to include this to make my point? Less may in fact be more.
Think about your font – The most obvious aspect of font is size. Consider using a bigger size for your blog posts. You may also need to change font. A sans-serif font like Arial or Calibri is generally easier to read than a serif font like Times New Roman.
Consider colour – Colour has a huge impact on processing information. For example, colour blindness can affect which colours you can see, and how you see them. Many people with dyslexia find it easier to read light text on a dark background, rather than black on white.
Mix visual and auditory input – When making a video, consider doubling up on visual and auditory input for important ideas. For example, highlight three bullet points on the screen, and reinforce them with a voice-over. It follows that you should also include or enable subtitles in any video.
The long view
As with any issue like this, awareness is the first step towards action. Responsibility for accessibility is with not only the content creators; website creators/developers should also be involved. Everyone in the workstream needs to take accessibility into account when creating or updating a website. This means making Inclusive design THE new standard. Users need to be educated and be aware of accessibility features in order to contribute and help raise awareness. Decision makers within companies who are not web/digital experts need to know about the matter in order to make things change.
It starts with each of us. Take time to make yourself more aware—and then let’s all do our bit to make the web more accessible to everyone.