Developing Digital Content: Basic Principles

Whenever we start developing (digital) content we should first clarify the purpose.

Next, we should think of all different audiences the planned content will reach and how the content will be used, perhaps even take into consideration how content will be shared.

Content should be written clearly, concisely and logically organized into sections to ensure the content is appropriate for the widest audience possible.

Based on information available on the W3C website, “Reading disabilities such as dyslexia make it difficult to recognize written or printed words and associate them with the correct sounds. This is called “decoding” the text. Decoding must be automatic in order for people to read fluently. The act of decoding text word by word consumes much of the mental energy that most people are able to use for understanding what they read. Text that uses short, common words and short sentences is easier to decode and usually requires less advanced reading ability than text that uses long sentences and long or unfamiliar words.”

After initial analysis, content developers can move on to finding the file formats and tools that help them get to the end result.

What happens if content planners leave out some user groups?

Example: Barriers to information access

John is a college student who has a visual impairment. He uses screen reader technology to access digital content online and offline.

He and his friends want to go and have dinner at a local restaurant, so John visits restaurant’s website to review the menu. Restaurant’s website does not use proper headings, images don’t have alternative text, and all links are too generic.

John has hard time navigating the site and must rely on a sighted peer to read him the inaccessible menu that is posted to restaurant’s website.

Individuals who are blind or have low vision or other challenges such as cognitive or mobility issues rely on adaptive technology in order to effectively interact with digital content. How can we make the digital content accessible?

Heading Structure

Headings help structure the content so that non-visual readers can skim through the content quickly and find the information they need. Also, properly used headings help readers learn the overall layout of the page. If proper headings are not used, screen reader users lose a keyboard shortcut search method and it becomes more time consuming to sift through content.

Each page should have one heading level 1 [h1] which clearly describes the purpose of the page content. The content should then be organized using additional heading levels (six heading levels are available) and should be listed in chronological order with the appropriate styles applied through CSS.

For example, a heading level 3 [h3] should not be used before a heading level 2 [h2]. In order for screen reader users to understand what to expect under each heading level, the heading should provide context for the information it precedes.

Relevant Alt Text

Images are used to convey information and enhance the message of written content. Images should have meaningful alternative text to ensure that non-visual readers can benefit from the information images provide.>/p>

Based on the information provided by WebAIM, “The key principle is that computers and screen readers cannot analyze an image and determine what the image presents. As developers, text must be provided to the user which presents the CONTENT and FUNCTION of the images within your web content.”

The alt attribute allows content developers to provide information about the images to non-visual readers.

Content creators should provide a concise description of what is featured on the page. The ultimate goal is to allow an individual who is blind to have same user experience as a sighted individual.

Occasionally images are used for decorative purposes. It is important to still use the alt attribute, just leave it empty (called the null alt attribute). With the null attribute, screen readers ignore the image entirely.

Alternative text can be too limiting for complicated images such as infographics, charts, or graphs. In this case, provide a clear description of the information the image conveys in the written content that precedes or follows the image.

Properly Labeled Links

Links are a great way for content developers to provide additional information, site research sources, and an alternative way for reaching additional areas of the site.

A common practice when linking to additional information is to use generic link text such as “Learn More” or “Click Here.” When these links are accessed in a screen reader shortcut list, the links are not associated with surrounding content. As a result, hearing “Learn More” provides no information about where the link takes the end user. To ensure all links make sense out of context, content developers should use descriptive link text. Instead of “Learn More,” use “Learn more about our financial assistance programs.”

Apart from making sure link text is descriptive, content developers should indicate if the link will take the end user off the website they are currently visiting.

Also, good practice is to let the user know if the link is a document as opposed to web content. Adding (Word Doc) or (PDF) to the link text will alert the end user they are opening a document.

Accessible Tables

The purpose of data tables is to present information in a grid, and to have column or rows that show the meaning of the information in the table. Sighted users can visually scan a table and make quick visual associations between data in the table and their appropriate row and/or column headers.

Users who can not see the table, can not make these visual associations, so proper markup must be used to make a programmatic association between elements within the table. When the proper HTML markup is in place, users of screen readers can navigate through data tables one cell at a time, and they will hear the column and row headers spoken to them.

It is beneficial to create a checklist of accessibility best practices and refer to it whenever new content is created. These best practices should also be assessed during the editing or quality control process to ensure proper implementation.

See also:

This page was last edited by VLuceno on Friday, September 2, 2016 16:34
Text is available under the terms of the DAISY Consortium Intellectual Property Policy, Licensing, and Working Group Process.