Writing for Accessibility

We’re always working to make our content more accessible and usable to the widest possible audience. Writing for accessibility goes way beyond making everything on the page available as text. It also affects the way you organize content and guide readers through a page. Depending on the audience and country, there may be laws governing the level of accessibility required. At minimum, an accessible version should be available. Accessibility includes users of all mental and physical capacities, whether situational (broken glasses!) or more permanent.

Basics

We write for a diverse audience of readers who all interact with our content in different ways. We aim to make our content accessible to anyone using a screen reader, keyboard navigation, or Braille interface, and to users of all cognitive capabilities.

As you write, consider the following:

  • Would this language make sense to someone who doesn’t work here?
  • Could someone quickly scan this document and understand the material?
  • If someone can’t see the colors, images or video, is the message still clear?
  • Is the markup clean and structured?
  • Mobile devices with accessibility features are increasingly becoming core communication tools, does this work well on them?

Many of the best practices for writing for accessibility echo those for writing technical content, with the added complexity of markup, syntax, and structure.

Guidelines

Avoid directional language

Avoid directional instructions and any language that requires the reader to see the layout or design of the page. This is helpful for many reasons, including layout changes on mobile.

  • Yes: “Select from these options,” (with the steps listed after the title)
  • No: “Select from the options in the right sidebar.”

Use headers

Headers should always be nested and consecutive. Never skip a header level for styling reasons. To help group sections, be sure the page title is H1, top-level sections are H2s, and subsequent inside those are H3 and beyond. Avoid excessive nesting.

Employ a hierarchy

Put the most important information first. Place similar topics in the same paragraph, and clearly separate different topics with headings.

Starting with a simple outline that includes key messages can help you create a hierarchy and organize your ideas in a logical way. This improves scannability and encourages better understanding.

Make true lists instead of using a paragraph or line breaks.

Label forms

Label inputs with clear names, and use appropriate tags. Think carefully about what fields are necessary, and especially which ones you mark as required. Label required fields clearly. The shorter the form, the better.

Links should provide information on the associated action or destination. Try to avoid “click here” or “learn more.”

Use plain language

Write short sentences and use familiar words. Avoid jargon and slang. If you need to use an abbreviation or acronym that people may not understand, explain what it means on first reference.

Use alt text

The alt tag is the most basic form of image description, and it should be included on all images. The language will depend on the purpose of the image:

  • If it’s a creative photo or supports a story, describe the image in detail in a brief caption.
  • If the image is serving a specific function, describe what’s inside the image in detail. People who don’t see the image should come away with the same information as if they had.
  • If you’re sharing a chart or graph, include the data in the alt text so people have all the important information.

Each browser handles alt tags differently. Supplement images with standard captions when possible.

Make sure closed captioning is available

Closed captioning or transcripts should be available for all videos. The information presented in videos should also be available in other formats.

Be mindful of visual elements

Aim for high contrast between your font and background colors. Tools in the resources section should help with picking accessible colors.

Images should not be the only method of communication, because images may not load or may not be seen. Avoid using images when the same information could be communicated in writing.

Resources