May 19, 2022
I know what you’re thinking. As a digital marketer, you’re already expected to stay up-to-date on constantly changing digital trends, new emerging technologies and platforms, and customer expectations. And now you’re being asked to load yet another “best practice” on your plate?
But wait! Before you close out this post and start watching a video of a kitten and a baby chick to soothe your jangled nerves, consider this: The majority of accessible marketing practices already align with what you (as a seasoned marketer) would be doing anyway to generate leads and sales. Yes, there are a few additional considerations you need to take into account, but in the grand scheme of things, they aren’t that big of a deal and will even help users without disabilities. Soon, you can start to see how digital accessibility becomes a mindset, not just a catchphrase.
This article - the first in a series - will introduce you to some foundational practices you can start implementing immediately to help make your digital content more accessible. Let’s dive in!
At its core, a marketer’s job is simple (but not easy!): improve awareness and interest in an organization’s products or services and convince people to buy them. A marketer can accomplish this by engaging in virtually limitless strategies and tactics.
Regardless of what strategies a marketer employs, a fundamental aspect of digital marketing is communication. No matter the platform, channel, or vehicle for this communication, all marketers need to somehow get their message across to potential customers.
Accessible marketing is a twofold effort.
First, it requires ensuring as many people as possible can understand your message. Notice the word “understand” in the previous sentence? That’s because there are several mediums through which you can convey a message, some of which a person with a disability can technically use but will encounter a limited or low-quality experience that prevents them from fully understanding your message.
For example, a video without captions is suitable for people with perfect hearing (except if they’re trying to watch it in a public space and don’t have headphones—a situational disability!) While those with limited or no hearing can watch it and potentially get a vague idea of what the video is about, their comprehension may be limited. It’s highly unlikely that a deaf person would interpret a video without captions exactly the same as someone who could hear what is going on.
Second, your digital assets must be usable for people with disabilities. Even if individuals can understand all the content, your website is still considered inaccessible if they can’t complete critical tasks on it. If your site’s key objective is to allow shoppers to purchase products, everyone needs to be able to check out, regardless of their ability or tools they’re using to engage.
To sum up: accessible marketing = comparable experience for everyone.
“If your site’s key objective is to allow shoppers to purchase products, everyone needs to be able to check out, regardless of their ability or tools they’re using to engage.”
Perhaps a better question is what digital assets should marketers not be concerned about? Because the answer is none.
No matter what content you’re putting out there, be it a video, a blog post, an infographic, a tweet, and any number of other assets creatives can dream up, it all needs to be checked for accessibility.
If it’s public-facing or intended for public consumption, in the US, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has determined that your content falls under the hugely impactful ADA - Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Inaccessible websites have been the cause of many digital accessibility lawsuits (which show no signs of slowing down), so why take the risk?
You may be wondering if there are universal requirements for digital accessibility under the ADA. The answer is “kind of,” but with a few caveats. Frustrating, we know!
First, let’s discuss the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international group that governs web standards. Web standards are guidelines on how to deliver a consistent web experience for all users across platforms and devices. As part of its web standards mission, the W3C created the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) to educate people on ensuring a comparable experience for all individuals, regardless of ability.
The W3C created the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as a resource for digital content creators in 1999. (The most recent version is WCAG 2.1, which the W3C published in 2018.)
These guidelines include criteria for accessible digital assets, but some criteria are more ambiguous than others. Unlike building codes for disabilities, many digital accessibility guidelines do not lead to binary outcomes (i.e., accessible or inaccessible).
For example, success criterion 2.4.3 (Focus Order) mandates that “when users navigate sequentially through content, they encounter information in an order that is consistent with the meaning of the content and can be operated from the keyboard.”
This is a perfectly logical criterion, but there may be more than one sequential order that would make sense for users to follow. In cases like this, it’s important to consider the user experience along with accessibility. If your content aligns with the WCAG 2.1 techniques and you’ve done some user testing to ensure the user experience is acceptable for most users, you’ll be well on your way to hosting an accessible website.
We will be publishing a number of articles to act as an introduction on how to create accessible content - read part 2 on Websites and User Experience. If you can align your organization’s processes and procedures with these best practices, you’ll be a lot closer to providing a great experience to everyone, regardless of ability.
For a first-hand description of the importance of digital accessibility for those with a disability who use technology in their daily lives, check out our podcast with Mark Miller and Cori Perlander of TGPi.
This article was produced in collaboration with accessibility solutions provider TGPi.
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