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What Is Digital Accessibility? Plus How to Get Started

As you may have noticed, accessibility awareness is on the rise [1]. In fact, it’s now often framed as a “business win” rather than a compliance burden [2]. But what is digital accessibility? As a website owner, you may want to gain a solid understanding of this concept.

Fortunately, digital accessibility is very straightforward. Once you understand the basic principles, you can start to incorporate some best practices into your design process. This will enable you to expand your audience, be more inclusive, and boost your site’s user experience (UX).

what is digital accessibility.

In this post, we’ll explain what digital accessibility is and why it’s important. Then, we’ll provide you with some tips for improving your site’s accessibility. Let’s begin!

What is digital accessibility?

Digital accessibility refers to the extent that online and electronic resources are available to users. It’s about making sure that digital materials are accessible to all audiences, including those with physical and cognitive difficulties.

For instance, a transcript can make an online video accessible to someone who is hard of hearing. Meanwhile, implementing keyboard navigation can enable users with limited motor skills to navigate a web page. Additionally, a blog post that is neatly structured with headings and subheadings can be easier to understand for someone with a reading disability.

👉 According to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the main principles of accessibility are:

  • Perceivable information and user interface
  • Operable user interface and navigation
  • Understandable information and user interface
  • Robust content and reliable interpretation

These guidelines were developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (WC3). However, you may have noticed that these principles aren’t necessarily limited to the internet. Let’s look at the difference between digital accessibility and web accessibility.

Digital accessibility versus web accessibility

What is digital accessibility and how does it differ from web accessibility? If you thought they were the same thing, you’re not alone. In fact, you’ve likely seen these two terms used interchangeably.

However, there is a slight difference. Simply put, digital accessibility is more of an umbrella term that web accessibility can fall under.

“Digital,” in this context, refers to content that you can access using a computer or similar operating system. This device doesn’t necessarily require an internet connection.

For example, consider an online course with downloadable materials:

An online syllabus for a course about what is digital accessibility and what is inclusive design.

Among these digital materials, you could find PDF documents, ebooks, videos, audio clips, and more. Once downloaded to a local device, these files are no longer on the “web.” Still, they should be held to the same accessibility standards.

👉 For example, if you download a course syllabus, it should be designed with accessibility principles in mind. One common example of inaccessible digital content in education is reading material, scanned directly from books. It isn’t compatible with assistive technologies like screen readers.

Why digital accessibility is important

As we mentioned earlier, making your digital content as accessible as possible will broaden your audience. Let’s consider this in terms of numbers.

In 2019, more than 3.6 million people between the ages of 21 and 64 had a visual disability in the U.S. In the same year, 340 million people worldwide had disabling hearing loss (this is expected to rise to 509 million by 2030). Furthermore, rates of cognitive disabilities hover between 4 and 7.8 percent in most states [3][4][5].

If your goal is to reach people via your digital content, you’re doing yourself and potential users a disservice by not prioritizing accessibility.

⚠️ It’s also important to note that certain disability rights laws, like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Telecommunications Act, make accessibility standards a requirement in some industries.

Tips for improving your site’s digital accessibility

Now that you know what digital accessibility is and why it’s important, let’s go over three ways you can make your site more accessible.

  1. Provide alt text and transcripts
  2. Enhance readability
  3. Implement keyboard navigation

1. Provide alt text and transcripts

When it comes to accessibility, providing alt text and transcripts is a great place to start. “Alt text” is short for “alternative text.” It refers to the description of an image on a website. While this isn’t usually visible to users, it can be read by assistive technology devices like screen readers.

To include alt text using the WordPress Block Editor, simply add your image to a post or page. Then, select your image and go to the Block tab in your settings panel. Here, you’ll see a field for alt text:

What is digital accessibility: Adding alternative text in the WordPress Block Editor.

Alternatively, you can add alt text to an image directly in the Media Library. Select your image to open up its Attachment Details. Here, you’ll also find a field for alternative text:

WordPress image attachment details.

When writing alt text, you should concisely describe the image and convey its purpose. This way, users with visual disabilities will be able to understand the context of your images.

What’s more, the same visitors will appreciate transcripts for any audio or video materials you display on your site. If you don’t have a lot of this type of content, you may consider creating these transcripts yourself.

However, if you’re working with lots of audio and video files, you may want to hire a professional service. A more affordable option would be to use transcription software, like Rev:

What is digital accessibility: Rev transcription software.

However, you may want to avoid relying on automatic closed captioning (CC) that comes with some video hosting services like YouTube. Typically, the quality of these is very low, so it could frustrate non-hearing visitors.

2. Enhance readability

As the name suggests, “readability” refers to how easy it is to read a piece of content. While readability is based on quality writing, there are a few simple guidelines you can follow to enhance it. This can make your content more accessible to users with cognitive disabilities.

Heading structure is key to improving the readability of your content. In the Block Editor, you can insert Heading blocks to organize your content and introduce new sections. The highest level heading is labeled as H1 and the lowest is H6:

WordPress heading structure.

WordPress offers a few general suggestions for using headings. You should forego the use of an H1 because the title of the post automatically gets this tag assigned. Additionally, you’ll want to make sure to use H2s to H6s throughout, but you shouldn’t skip headings or mix them up.

In addition to proper heading hierarchy, you can also improve readability by using short sentences, transition words, and active voice. These best practices can also improve your site’s SEO.

Therefore, it’s good to consider installing a plugin like Yoast SEO. This free and beginner-friendly tool has a “Readability analysis” feature that can help you learn and implement readability standards.

3. Implement keyboard navigation

Some users make their way around websites using a mouse or touchpad. However, people with limited motor skills often rely on keyboard navigation. They jump from element to element using “tabbing’ and other simple keyboard commands.

Ideally, users should be able to explore your primary menu, dropdown menus, blog posts, and any other features using only a keyboard. They should also be able to identify a visual indicator, like an underline or a box, that shows where exactly they are tabbing on the screen.

Fortunately, most modern WordPress themes are designed with keyboard navigation built in. You can enable full keyboard access controls on your operating system to test yours.

If you discover that your current theme doesn’t allow keyboard navigation, you can update to a more accessible one like Neve:

Neve WordPress theme.

If you’re not able to change themes, or you’d like to expand keyboard functionality even further, you might consider hiring a WordPress developer. In this case, you’ll want to make sure that they have some expertise in web accessibility.

What is digital accessibility? Now you know! 🙋

When you prioritize digital accessibility, you’re able to accommodate new groups of users and grow your audience. However, if you’re not familiar with the core accessibility principles, you might not know where to start. Fortunately, accessible design is pretty straightforward, and there are some simple steps you can take that will make a big impact.

You can start by adding alt text to your images and creating transcripts for your videos. Additionally, you might want to improve readability by using a proper heading hierarchy and straightforward writing. Finally, you can ensure that your site offers keyboard navigation by choosing an accessible theme like Neve.

📌 For some other tips on implementing digital accessibility, you can also check out our complete list of WAI ARIA roles, which can specifically help you implement web accessibility.

Do you have any questions about what digital accessibility is? Let us know in the comments section below!

Don’t forget to join our crash course on speeding up your WordPress site. Learn more below:

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