Digital accessibility: best practice essentials


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 Producer, Professional Standards team, Government Communication Service, Cabinet Office. Former GOV.UK Content Designer and journalist with 20 years experience in web publishing,

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Digital accessibility: best-practice essentials. 

My name is Stephanie Hill and I’m a digital content producer for the professional standards team in Cabinet Office communications, and I’m going to cover the essentials for digital accessibility.

I want to start with a thank you for attending this session and ask you to think, while you’re listening to the presentation, about your motivation for attending it. What is the reason you’re sitting here right now? Just think for a moment and write it down for yourself. How valuable is it for you to know about digital accessibility? Think of the action you will take following this presentation.

Setting the scene.

Accessibility means more than putting things online. It is the idea that technology must be equally accessible by people with, and without, disabilities, and that any barriers for accessing the web are removed.  

Let’s set the scene. A woman in her 40s is visually impaired and cannot use her right arm and right hand very well. How does she serve the web? It’s not easy but she does.  In fact, she does it every day: to get the news headlines, to check the weather or email her children. She’s browsing online and spots new products she’s interested to buy, but a call to action buttons are too small, the website does not have a responsive design, so she cannot make the text bigger. Frustrated she stops and won’t buy anything at that time.

This is one of the reasons I care, for people who struggle online and I’ve always been interested in digital accessibility.

So let’s look at the context. I’m going to tell you why change the way you work in regard to accessibility? Why now? Why our industry? And why spend money to save money?

So why change the way you work?

Why plan and publish accessible content? No one wants to change the way they work. We’ve always done it that way, why spend money making a PDF accessible? Or spend money getting a video transcribed? The answer is because it is a legal requirement.  

We need to comply with the accessibility regulations. To give it its full title: they are called the public sector bodies website and mobile applications accessibility regulations 2018. It aims to ensure public sector websites are accessible to all users, especially those with disabilities.

Why now?

The deadline to make your website or public sector website accessible has passed. The 20th September 2020, but you have a legal requirement to make your online service, your online information available in an easy way and everyone will benefit.

Note that apps will need to meet the regulations from the 23rd of June 2021.

Why our industry? 

People may not have a choice when using a public sector website or mobile app, so it’s important they work for everyone. This includes people with sight loss, hearing loss, cognitive impairments or learning difficulties and motor difficulties.

According to the charity Scope at least 1 in 5 people have a long-term illness, an impairment or a disability, in the UK, so potentially your communication is not reaching 1 in 5 people and they are missing out on information you want them to know, and any action they need to do.

Our industry is at the heart of people’s life. Government communication aims to support the minister priorities and enable effective operations of public services  

Why spend the money?

There is a financial benefit. Inclusive design can save you time and money. The more accessible and inclusive your communications are, the less money will be spent on making adjustments and the better you will reach your audience.

Ask yourself these questions: is your current content accessible? Is your team aware about the legal requirements of accessibility? Is your team trained on how to offer accessible content? What can you do today right now to create more accessible content?

I’m going to share 3 things with you.

Number one: the one thing you must do as part of best practice which is to publish an accessibility statement.

Number two: I’m going to share with you is an action plan, so some steps to look at, some of the actions you can do with your team the techniques on how to improve your content, to make it more accessible, with practical examples.

And the third thing is to set accessibility objectives starting with your team to implement this plan.

The number one thing is publish an accessibility statement, as HTML, and add a link to it in the footer of the website. There is a template available on GOV.UK. An example of this, the statement need is a way for people to request information in a different format, like accessible PDF, large print, easy read, audio recording or braille.

Publishing an accessibility statement is one of the things public sector organizations must do to meet the requirement of accessibility regulations.

Secondly. under the Equality Act 2010 or the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, in Northern Ireland, you are legally required to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people when they are needed.

For example, by providing the information they need in another more accessible format. You might need to produce an HTML, or Word version of a PDF, or an easy read version of a Word document. HTML is easier and cheaper to create than PDF.

To make your content accessible, start with the text.

Use short sentences and paragraphs and consider the different reading level of the public. Try to stick to 25 words per sentence, using headings and subheadings. This helps people who use screen readers. You will need to run basic accessibility checks using online tools, like Wave, as you see on the screen, and manual checks. You will do manual checks for Word documents or PDF documents. It is difficult to make a PDF accessible so consider publishing the HTML alternative.

The web accessibility initiative lists some evaluation tools you can use on

Planning accessible images.

An important information in an image needs to be described in alternative text, or alt text, for visually impaired users. Alt text serves three purpose:

·      it is readable by screen reader

·      readable by search engines and

·      provides context for images that fail to load  

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 and rely on screen readers to be able to navigate the computers and the web.

Planning accessible charts and graphs.

Here is an example when dealing with objects that give detailed information such as an infographic.

Use alt text to provide the information conveyed in the object describing the pie chart as a chart showing sales over time, for example, would not be useful to a blind person. Try to convey the insight. The alt text should read: “the chart shows the November pie sales in percentages: cherry 43%, peach 31% apricot 18% and plum 8%.

Planning accessible links.

Use full links where possible. If you use a shortened version, make sure you include a description. For example: links that say ‘click here’ or ‘read more’ without any additional context are particularly bad for screen reader users. Make sure calls to action provide a clear onward journey. 

Planning colour and contrast.

Don’t use colour to convey key message in isolation. For example to describe an action. On the left, you see Colour combinations as seen with Protanopia, which is red-green colour blindness. Make sure you add labels to the data as shown in this example.

Another reason contract is important is that people with different level of dyslexia will find it hard to read black text on white background, they will find it easier to read on a lightly coloured background.

Planning accessible social media.

Planning accessible social media is not a requirement of the regulations but you should always ensure your organisation’s social media accounts and the content you publish on them is accessible.

It isn’t just the accessibility regulations you need to meet but the Equality Act and respect the Public Sector Equality Duty.

I’m going to give you a few concrete examples here. For  example to make hashtags more accessible, you need to use capital letters at the start of each word so screen readers can interpret them more easily. 

You can see the difference on the screen. Another best practice is to feature your hashtags at the end of the post, so as not to disrupt the reading flow, and limit hashtags to 2 per post.

Planning accessible videos.

Videos which do not include audio should include a plain English description and a voiceover describing the key visual elements of the content. Depending on the content of the video, a transcript might be helpful.

What is the difference between closed captions and subtitles?

Closed captions for the same language as the spoken audio and subtitles, for spoken audio translated into another language.

Transcripts are a text version of the speech and non-speech audio information needed to understand the content. Note that in the UK, subtitles are used for both the same language as the audio and for the translation.

Set yourself an accessibility objective.

So, this is the third thing.

Accessibility is something all government communicators should be considering during all aspects and stages of their work. So setting a digital accessibility objective for each member of your team could be a great way to show diversity in practice. This can include, for example, design with flexibility in mind, to get training on the most relevant accessibility issue for your role, to be a second pair of eye for colleagues, to check the social media post or web page before publishing, to raise awareness on digital accessibility.

In summary, make sure you one publish an accessibility statement, two, put in place a checklist to consider providing alternative format, making sure your content is accessible with plain English short sentences, alt text for images, check the colour contrast, make sure your social media content is accessible as well with hashtag and customized links.

Producing accessible videos with caption transcript, especially if there’s only music in the video, and number three: set accessibility objective for your team it is everyone’s role to make the information and service as inclusive as possible and everyone will benefit.

In conclusion, following the regulations does not guarantee that your social media posts are accessible and that your website is accessible, but is the minimum you can do.

Encourage all of you to keep raising awareness and help your colleagues learn about accessibility  

Try testing your services and comms with disabled users and with assistive technology.

I invite you to look at what you wrote a few minutes ago on what you wanted to get out of this session and try to put into action some of the things you’ve learned today. Thank you.

Learning objectives

In this webinar you will learn:

  • the number one thing you must do as part of best practice: publish an accessibility statement
  • practical examples to make your content more accessible, such as:
    • plain English, short sentences, alt text for images, colour contrast
    • social media with accessible hashtags
    • videos with captions and transcript
  • examples of accessibility objectives you could set as part of your role

Next steps

Think about your audience:


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