Accessibility experts share tips for digital marketing teams on how to make campaigns more accessible to people with disabilities.
After being diagnosed with dyslexia in the final semester of my undergraduate degree nearly 40 years ago, the issue of accessibility has always been on my mind. I think of all the issues I have faced when it came to correctly reading various materials — including advertising.
I was thrilled to be present 25 years ago when Sir Tim Berners-Lee first announced the Web Accessibility Initiative back in April 1997. But while awareness of accessibility issues may have increased and various government legislations have mandated it (for some), anyone involved in the field of accessibility knows that digital campaigns as a whole are lacking.
Many people don’t think about accessibility beyond seeing ramps added to buildings. When they find themselves on crutches or using a wheelchair, only then do they become concerned with physical accessibility.
Accessible design — when combined with advances in technology that may hinder accessibility and an aging population who can no longer read small print — is becoming (and should be) front-of-mind for everyone in the marketing community.
I interviewed three accessibility authorities on the subject to find out the current state of things and the best way to ensure that accessibility becomes part of all digital projects.
Our experts are:
- Meryl K. Evans, CPACC, Speaker and Accessibility Marketing Consultant.
- Lea Scudamore, Lead SEO, Aimclear.
- Kim Krause Berg, CPACC, QA Analyst, Accessibility and Human Experience Design, BMTX.
What percentage of digital campaigns do you feel involve any level of accessibility thought and or testing?
The experts responded in an almost unanimous response of “none to almost none”. Evans was the most optimistic, estimating no more than 10% while Scudamore estimated 5%. She went on to expand:
“I am still seeing light grey fonts, red fonts, and other colors of fonts that do not have the high contrast that makes it easy for everyone to see. Many ads have very small fonts that also make them hard to read. Inaccessible content is still far too common. Many landing pages pop up over the website, and many pop-ups, landing pages and shopping carts are not reachable without a mouse, which makes them inaccessible.”
What is the most common aspect of accessibility that digital marketers forget?
“It’s more of a lack of training than being forgetful or neglectful. Marketers are focused on able-bodied target markets and SEO and less inclined to consider how people access content. There’s a gigantic segment of the population using assistive technology or accessibility settings on their computers and mobile devices whose needs are ignored. They are simply not getting promotions because there are barriers preventing them from accessing content.”
“The most common aspect of accessibility that digital marketers forget is using the headings on blog posts and web-based content. They tend to enter headers and subheaders, and then format them to look the way they want. This deprives their content of search engine juice.
Search engines give a higher priority to headers and subheaders than using proper headings as in <h1>, <h2>, <h3>, etc. When you don’t use headings, the headers are treated like a paragraph.
Think about reading an article in the newspaper or online. Do you scan the headlines, subheadings, images, and bullets? Most of us do. It’s how we get the lay of the land. Online content with <h#> headings provide the lay of the land for people using screen readers. Without them, they can’t skip around the content.”
Have you ever seen a digital campaign where you felt the marketers and designers did a good job from an accessibility perspective?
Both Evans and Berg couldn’t think of a single campaign that did a good job with accessibility, Scudamore did identify a single one:
“U.K. Unilever a few years ago. From their ad campaigns to their site, they did a really nice job and a seamless experience from the ad to the landing page to the sale. They have slipped a bit. I think there have been some leadership changes there, and perhaps accessibility isn’t the priority it still should be.
PurpleTuesday.com is also a good example. However, if you use the WAVE Evaluation Tool it will appear that the site has errors. It doesn’t. This shows that tools can only test a site through math, accessibility evaluations need both tools and people to review. We need marketers to up their game and knowledge about accessibility so we don’t rely on automated tools that have varying degrees of accuracy.”
If you could make digital marketers and designers implement a single aspect or key aspects of accessibility into their campaigns, what would it be? How could they test it to be sure they did it correctly?
Evans recommends looking at color contrast:
“Campaigns are usually very visual. So, a single aspect I’d recommend they check is the color contrast. They can do that easily with a free color contrast tool like Colour Contrast Analyser.”
Berg also encouraged the use of tools for testing:
“Imagine what your campaign sounds like without the visuals. The bulk of the delivery is with the use of images, UI layout, calls to action and text. Without images, would you know the purpose of the promotion? Are the images described with alt text?
Use a built-in browser web dev tool extension to remove all images and see if there is anything left to communicate the promotion and then provide the opportunity in multiple ways, such as text, links, buttons with your keywords and verbs.”
Scudamore highlighted that accessibility testing shouldn’t be an afterthought:
“Brands must bring people with various abilities to the table at the start of the development of any campaign, website, app, etc. They must keep them on board to test as the project develops.
As an industry, we have got to stop wasting money trying to retrofit poorly developed projects. Too many brands and agencies lose time and opportunity by not considering accessibility as an imperative (as opposed to being an option, at best — or ignored, at worst).”
Are there any tools or websites you’d recommend to help digital marketers evaluate/test their campaigns prior to launch?
Tools are tools and the most important tool any digital marketer has is the one located between their ears. That said, some handy utilities/tools to provide information to our brains were provided.
Scudamore recommends “cozying up with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Each step of the way. Every time there is a function or a measurable goal, we need to check how it should be done accessibly with the WCAG” as well as a contrast tester plugin from WebAim.org.
Evans provided the following list:
- W3C Easy Checks (manual review).
- Use a color contrast analyzer for color contrast.
- For web content, WAVE Browser Extensions, WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool, and/or Accessibility Insights for Web using the FastPass option.
- For docs, Microsoft Word’s built-in accessibility checker.
- For presentations, Microsoft PowerPoint’s built-in accessibility checker
- Grackle has multiple tools
Berg’s final suggestion:
“This is not about features. It’s about delivering promotions in ways that more people will understand, perceive, and be motivated to choose. They can’t make decisions when they can’t see, hear, or comprehend marketing content and page layouts.
View your digital marketing strategies on as many computers and mobile devices as possible. Turn the page from portrait to landscape view. Magnify the page up to 200%. Be sure your marketing investment is not a big content blob when the page is requested with practices you may not have considered.”
Evans made the point, “If you want to reach more people, then make your content accessible.”
This was substantiated by Scudamore. As she pointed out:
“The American Institutes for Research estimates the spending power of people with disabilities in the United States to be $ 490 billion in disposable income for workers aged 16 to 64 — the after-tax dollars for basic necessities such as housing, food, and clothing. In the marketplace, PWD — as well as their families, friends, and advocates — wield considerable spending power.”
Incorporating accessibility in digital marketing efforts
It is this untapped market where we can expand the reach of our digital marketing efforts to not only increase revenues but increase our customer base.
If we are the first to tap into an untapped audience and do a great job, we’ll also create loyal customers. It’s time to take the advice of our accessibility experts and start including accessibility as part of our digital marketing efforts.
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