10 accessibility tips

10 accessibility tips

This is the first of a three-part blog series, following my presentation at the 9th New Librarians’ Symposium Deviating with Diversity, innovating with inclusion: a call for radical activism in libraries’. In this first blog post, I’ll share some accessibility tips that I briefly touched on within my speech. Before I dive into these tips, it’s important to remember that the changes you make don’t need to be drastic as most people with disabilities, especially people who are blind or have low vision, are likely to have their own ways of making content more accessible to them (e.g. using magnification software, text-to-speech software or braille). As mentioned in my presentation, it’s just about making a few small changes so that your content can reach everyone. So, here are some little tips that can make a big difference. I hope you find it useful!

Little tip 1: Use simple language, and descriptive links

Is your text presented in an easy-to-understand language, and are all hyperlinks descriptive? Use short, simple sentences to aid readability and engage a wider audience. It isn’t just people with disabilities who will benefit from the use of clearer language. People for whom English is a second language, and younger people will find simpler language easier to read as well.

If your content contains links, make sure the links stand out clearly from surrounding text and ensure they open in a new window. Links need to be concise and descriptive so that if they are read on their own, people will still know where they go. Screen-reader software such as JAWS are able to read their users a list of all the links on a page. So, if each link says ‘Read more,’ or ‘click here’ or is merely left as a full web address, this isn’t particularly helpful in letting the user know where each link is going to take them. This website contains more information about creating descriptive links.

Little tip 2: Structure your content logically

This means:

  • Giving your work a title
  • Using headings in a logical and hierarchical way (take advantage of the headings toolbar in Microsoft Word)
  • Using paragraphs and correctly formatting lists as appropriate
  • Making sure all related content is connected

All of this could be described as making sure the document has a logical flow, which to me is just common sense!

Little tip 3: Think about your use of colour contrast

Test text and background colour combinations and contrast online to ensure text can be easily read by people who are colour-blind or have impaired vision. There are a number of freely available tools to test colour combinations, such as the online Colour Contrast Checker from WebAIM, the downloadable Colour Contrast Analyser from the Paciello Group or Vision Australia’s Colour Contrast Analyser.

Also remember that anything that is indicated by colour needs to have a secondary way for it to be recognised. For example, it is no good saying ‘use the green button if you agree or the red button if you don’t’– as this is not helpful for people who have difficulty distinguishing colours.

Little tip 4: Add image descriptions

Describing images, or putting alternative text (alt text), for people who are blind or partially sighted is really important, as it allows them to build up a mental picture of what someone who is sighted is seeing automatically. However, when writing image descriptions avoid the temptation to describe every single detail of the image. Although it may seem like a thoughtful idea for someone who is visually-impaired, there is nothing worse than listening to voiceover read out a lengthy description that’s contains completely irrelevant information. Just pick out a few key details that paint the picture.

I’d like to give a shout out to Sally Turbitt who does wonderful image descriptions on her Instagram account @sallyturbitt. Sally writes the image description below the images because Instagram did not have a built in Alt-image option until recently. I encourage you all to check-out Sally’s beautifully written image descriptions.

Here’s how you can add image descriptions on different platforms.

Word documents and PowerPoints: Right click on the image and select “Format Picture”. Select “Layout and Properties” icon and click on “ALT TEXT”. Provide a title (optional) and a succinct description.

Twitter: You need to activate the ‘Image Descriptions’ feature, which you can find in “Twitter Settings”, under the “Accessibility” tab. You’ll then actually be prompted each time you upload an image to “describe this image”.

Instagram: When adding a caption to your image, click on “Advanced settings” and then select “Accessibility”. You’ll then have the option to “Write alt text”.

Facebook: Unlike Twitter and Instagram, Facebook doesn’t have an in-built image description section. For Facebook, you need to include a description in the text of your post. Write your post first and then tag the alt text onto the end of the post. I recommend putting your image descriptions in brackets, or somehow clearly separating it from the rest of the post.

Little tip 5: Add closed captions to videos

To make videos fully accessible, they should have closed captions. There are lots of free apps available which make adding closed captions to your videos really easy – so just  Google some options. I tend to use YouTube. For fellow YouTube users, here are instructions on adding closed captions to your YouTube videos.

Little tip 6: Use camel hashtags

On social media, you can also make your content more accessible by using camel hashtags. Capitalise each word in your hashtag as this makes it easier for people who are using text to speech software (and quite frankly, I think camel hashtags are easier for everyone to read). For example, if you wanted to say ‘I love libraries’ you would do it like this –   #ILoveLibraries– not like this #ilovelibraries.

Little tip 7: Don’t overuse emojis

Try not to overuse emojis. Text-to-speech software reads out a description for every single emoji which is used, so be careful with the amount of emojis you include. For example, if you put three smiley face emojis the software will read out ‘smiley face smiley face smiley face.’

Little tip 8: Take advantage of accessibility checkers and other tools

Microsoft Word has an inbuilt accessibility checker that can highlight problems in your document, tell you why they need to be fixed and how to fix them. You can access this checker by selecting:

  • File
  • Info
  • Check for Issues
  • Check Accessibility

You can also add other tools to improve accessibility as you work. As mentioned in my presentation, I’m a big fan of Vision Australia’s accessibility toolbar.

Adobe Acrobat Pro also has an accessibility checker. This website provides instructions on creating and verifying PDF accessibility in Adobe Pro. PDFs are a lot more difficult, and even impossible to make fully accessible (this is why I’m so adamant about getting the accessibility of word documents right). PDFs often cannot be read by screen readers and mobile devices because they are essentially image files and are not meant to be edited. The most useful step you can do to try and make PDFs more accessible (though sometimes it doesn’t work) is to apply optical character recognition (OCR). OCR scans and recognises text. It can be accessed within the “Recognise Text” button in the “Enhance Scans” tool tab.

Little tip 9: Prioritise accessibility

Prioritise information about accessibility for all your events and make sure the accessibility information about your place of work is included on your website. It’s frustrating for clients if this information isn’t accessible, and if they don’t know whether they’ll be able to access your library’s facilities or venues.

Prioritise accessibility by advocating for it, and not leaving it as an afterthought. Negotiate with vendors to ensure all electronic resources are accessible by screen readers. Do not sign an agreement without asking about accessibility.

Additionally, break down barriers to access by supporting initiatives such as the open access movement and the Marrakesh Treaty to make it easier to reformat and repurpose content in response to requirements. Promote open textbooks and open content to your clients, and provide online participation options for events you are organising. These are some simple steps you implement to prioritise accessibility.

Little tip 10: Apply Universal Design Principles

I recommend exploring the Center for Universal Design Australia’s website. It covers the application of Universal Design principles in the areas of e-learning, industrial design, Universal Design for learning, policy development and more. I find Universal Design for Learning (UDL) most relevant to my work in libraries and teaching. In my speech, I spoke about the importance of creating multiple means of representation, engagement and expression to accommodate people’s unique learning styles. This website explores UDL further.

These are just 10 little steps that anyone can do to ensure accessibility and inclusivity of their work. I encourage you to check out The University of Queensland’s Accessibility Study Hack created by Flic French for more professional development on accessibility.

I hope you’ve found these tips useful, and stayed tuned for part 2 of my blog series on deviating with diversity.


4 thoughts on “10 accessibility tips

  1. Hi, I’m a student and casual staff member in a uni library and I have an assistance dog. Is there any chance you could add something about disability support animals in a future post? It is an area where I find people get confused, act inappropriately and discriminate often.
    Thank you for your work increasing inclusiveness. It is very appreciated by people in the disabled community.


  2. Hi Keltie, thanks for your comment.. What a great topic for a future post – will write about this in future posts. Thanks for the suggestion and for reading my posts.


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