Digital accessibility: best practice essentials

Continuing Professional Development (CPD) points: 2


Apply techniques and best practices for making your content more accessible.

For example by using plain English, adding alt text and video captions, and checking colour contrast. Accessibility is not a project, it is something all government communicators need to consider during all aspects and stages of their work.

Delivered by: Stephanie Hill, Digital Content Lead at the UK Health Security Agency, and a member of the Government Communication Service. Former GOV.UK Content Designer and journalist with 20 years experience in web publishing.

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As communicators, we know that the audience matters.  By knowing our audience better, we are able to create a message that they will receive in the way we intended.

  • Digital communication continues to grow.
  • People rely on technology for connection to the outside world.
  • Accessibility is a critical part of publishing digital communication.

That’s why it’s so important for us to lead the change when it comes to accessible communication.

Hi, I’m Stephanie Hill, a digital content professional at the UK Health Security Agency, and a member of the Government Communication Service. I am an accessibility advocate and I’ve spent the last 20 years producing and publishing digital content. 

This session is a place to learn what digital accessibility is and some simple practices that you can introduce to your teams to make sure that your content can be perceived and understood by the widest possible audience.

We need to ensure that the government’s messages and information reach disabled people and those with accessibility needs.

After this session, you should be able to:

  • relate to the legal requirements
  • define web accessibility
  • apply techniques – best practices – to plan the accessibility of your communications

In effect, gain knowledge to continue this ongoing work.

My goal is for you to feel empowered to deliver accessible communications that will benefit all. So, let’s get started.

Your legal duty

Publishing easy to understand information and a clear call to action show people that they matter.

From a legal point of view, the most important reason to create accessible content is that it is your duty. As public sector communicators, you need to provide information to everyone without blockers.

You must make your website or mobile app accessible and meet the Public Sector Bodies web and app accessibility legislation, that came into force on 23 September 2018. Its full name is (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018.

These regulations build on the existing obligations to people who have a disability under the Equality Act 2010 (or the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 in Northern Ireland ).

Check the needs of people protected characteristics, as listed in the Equality Act 2010,

They are: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.

You also need to consider the British Sign Language Act that came into force in April 2022. 

Digital accessibility is important.

When it comes to understanding why digital accessibility matters, think about the following figures. According to the charity Scope, at least 1 in 5 people in the UK have a long term illness, impairment or disability and many more have a temporary disability.

By not making your content accessible, you are affecting a big part of your audience that might not get the information they need

Accessibility should be built in from the start. It’s the right thing to do and will help your campaigns reach more of the people you need to.

Defining accessibility

Web accessibility means: “making your content and design clear and simple enough so that most people can use it regardless of the impairments they may have”.

It means that people with disability can equally perceive, understand, navigate, interact with websites and tools.

The web accessibility initiative defines it as: “websites, tools, and technologies are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them. More specifically, people can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web, contribute to the Web”.

Situational or temporary disability

Digital accessibility is essential for people with disabilities and useful for all.

There are many types of accessibility issues and each of us, at some point throughout our everyday lives, may also encounter ‘temporary disability’, such as a broken finger, lost glasses, or impairment due to illness, like blocked hearing.

We frequently face situational limitations such as a noisy environment or glare on screen.

Not all disabilities are visible.These may include for example, anxiety, autism, for example described by the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, but also

  • mental health conditions – for example, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), personality disorder
  • sensory processing difficulties
  • cognitive impairment, such as dementia, traumatic brain injury, learning disabilities
  • ‘non-visible’ physical health conditions, such as chronic pain, respiratory conditions, diabetes
  • hearing loss
  • low or restricted vision

According to the World Health Organization, as of 2020 data, 22% of the world’s population is over 60 years old. This is noteworthy because as people age, they may experience changes in their abilities.

Accessibility is important for people of all abilities and affects how everyone uses technology.

So what can you do to plan your communications?

I’m going to give you a simple practices that you can refer to and use each time you are planning and delivering communication.

Best practices

Here are some easy best practices to help you get your content be perceived and understood by the widest possible audience. It includes:

  • language and structure
  • images, colour and colour contrast
  • movement, moving images and sound
  • representation
  • channel of communications

Let’s start with your text, the word choice. Is the language used in your message easy to understand?

People do not read one word at a time. They bounce around, especially online. When writing content, it’s important to avoid long sentences and blocks of text. Your information should be structured to guide people to get to the topic they are looking for.

It is best practice to use: 

  • descriptive title and headers
  • sub-headed sections
  • short sentences
  • simple vocabulary
  • and avoid jargon as well as making sure you describe acronyms

Layout example

So these are two examples: text with no structure and text with structure. Don’t be guilty of using bold to create a header.

Each presentation slides, documents or web pages should have a heading 1, followed by heading 2 and heading 3.

This helps people reading your text but also people using assistive technology, such as screen readers, to navigate and understand the information more easily.

And do not use full capitalisation for headers

The example on the screen shows text on the left without a structured layout. It is harder to read than the example on the right that has header and subheaders and breaks down the information in bite size. It is easier to scan and understand.

In terms of language, I’m going to quote the guidance on GOV.UK Inclusive language: words to use and avoid when writing about disability.

Not everyone will agree on everything, but there is general agreement on some basic guidelines. The word ‘disabled’ is a description not a group of people. Use ‘disabled people’ not ‘the disabled’ as the collective term.

So, check the guidance for more examples of language to use. 


Describe your hyperlinks or any links. An easy way to make links accessible is to use a clear description.

For example: links that say ‘click here’ or ‘read more’ without any additional context are particularly bad for screen reader users.

Instead of ‘find out more’ use ‘check the weather for tomorrow’, or ‘attach files’. This tells people what they will click on. Make sure you write calls to action to provide a clear onward journey.


There are no strict rules but make sure that your text is legible. 


  • for example, font size 12/14 for in an email or newsletter
  • on a presentation slide, it’s good practice font size 32
  • a sans-serif typeface, such as arial, is easier for most people to read 
  • and avoid large paragraphs in italic or bold which are harder to read


To reach all of your audience, you need to make effective use of accessible communication formats (also known as alternative formats). For example:

  • EasyRead, which is a document usually combining short, jargon-free sentences with simple, clear images to help explain the content.
  • Large print
  • Braille
  • British Sign Language (BSL)
  • printed materials for those without access to the internet

You might also need to plan the translation into different languages and the production of visual assets with little or no text.

You can look for further guidance on GOV.UK and the guidance is called Inclusive communication


Make sure your images have alt-text. Alt text is the description of an image. It is a written copy that appears in place of an image on a web page if the image fails to load on a user’s screen. This text helps people who use screen reading tools to describe images.

The ALT text should not replicate the caption of the image (since both will be read by the screen reader).

An example is on the screen on the left ‘discussing sticky notes’ instead of just ‘image’ on the right-hand side.

For graphs, diagrams and charts, use:

  • data labels, do not rely on colour to explain data
  • offer the information as specified as possible
  • and provide a summary of what the data represents

However, not all screen reader users are visually impaired or blind. Some people use them to help with reading comprehension, structural page navigation or focus.

They may have specific learning disabilities, for example, severe dyslexia or rely on screen readers to be able to navigate the computers and the web.

And this is the example for charts and diagram. So use

  • data labels and do not rely on colour to explain the data

Colour and contrast

Contrast and colour use are vital to accessibility so people can perceive content on a page. You must check the colour contrast, for example white text on a yellow background is really hard to read.

Use a free contrast checker  (for example WebAIM contrast checker). 

Do not convey information using colour only, for example in a pie chart, sections could have different pattern instead of colours to details the data or use clear label.

About moving images and sound

If you are producing videos, make sure that you apply the requirements from the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, also known as WCAG standards. For pre-recorded videos, it is best practice to provide captions and a separate transcript for videos.

  • Use closed captions that can be turned on or off by the users
  • Use sentence case and not all caps
  • Use captions on videos and, wherever relevant, audio descriptions as well
  • Add transcripts for videos
  • Transcripts are needed to provide access to people who are Deaf-blind and use braille.
  • Also, transcripts are used by people without disabilities, as listed in the intro page of this resource about  Benefits to Organizations and Individuals.
  • Avoid flashing lights and photography to which some people are sensitive


Represent your audience in your materials visually, orally and in the contexts and scenarios featured.


Care about your audience and think about the context they will read, receive or act on your message.

Are they in a stressful situation?

Do they have time to understand and take action?

Think about the user need.

Consider whether your message should be placed in specialist as well as mainstream outlets. Think about:

  • the makeup of your audience in assigning your media budget
  • partnering with community leaders, voluntary organisations or influencers to ensure your message gets to those who are harder to reach by traditional channels

    Go further with the Inclusive communication guidance on GOV.UK

Web Accessibility Standards

Web Accessibility is not a design trend or a nice to have. It is a standard we must strive towards and a legal requirement. Today, communication has a global reach, so your work is to be aware about this and be proactive.

Whether you publish documents, emails, web pages, blog posts or videos, you need to understand that some people might need the information in a different format.

For effective communication you need accessible content and this is an on-going learning journey.

Be active by educating yourself on how the different communication types affect the different disabilities, visible and non-visible.

Consider where your team knowledge and skills are and keep help shifting behaviour and champion accessibility.

In a world that’s so diverse, the ways in which we communicate should be too.

In conclusion:

  • Plan your communication to include digital accessibility.
  • Consider the different formats to target different audiences.
  • It is our duty and not optional to provide accessible communication.
  • Inclusive communication makes services and information more accessible for everyone.

Learning objectives

In this webinar you will learn to:

  • relate to the legal requirements
  • define web accessibility
  • apply techniques – best practices – to plan the accessibility of your communications

Next steps

Think about your audience

Further resources


    Image credit:
  • Webinar image cover: Shutterstock/By Sandy Storm (1)