Encountering a truly inclusive customer experience can be rare if you’re a person living with disabilities. In addition to being a customer experience designer and running a marketing agency, I am also disabled and live with many chronic illnesses.
I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the marketing strategies of creatives and small business owners and I’m here to tell you we could all be doing more to make our marketing more accessible – myself included.
Now, before you claim that “disabled people aren’t part of their target audience” (and yes, I have heard that one before), let me remind you that disabled people are everywhere!
According to the CDC, about 61 million adults in the U.S. are living with a disability. That number almost certainly falls short, as there are millions of more people who don’t have access to healthcare or proper diagnosis.
Disabilities can be visible or invisible, temporary (like a broken arm), permanent or chronic. And because our bodies change with age, the chances are very high that we all will experience some form of disability in our lifetimes.
In recent years, we have slowly started to see an increase in images and depictions of disabled people in marketing, some done with care (like Aerie’s recent efforts to show disabled folks in their product and marketing images) and some less so. While this shift is greatly appreciated by disabled folks, it’s not enough just to showcase disabled people in our marketing materials, we also have to ensure that our customer experiences are accessible from start to finish.
What is Accessibility?
Accessibility is the practice of designing and creating content and services that can be used by all people regardless of their abilities. Creating accessible services can look like ramps at crosswalks for people who use wheelchairs or clear error messages when trying to submit a form on a website for people with anxiety.
When it comes to marketing your business online, it’s important to know what things to do to make your content and customer experience more accessible. If you’re asking yourself, “where do I start?” then you’re in luck!
There is already an internationally recognized set of guidelines for making content accessible and most platforms you already use (like Squarespace or Instagram) are aware of these guidelines and have taken over the technical side of things for you. Now all you have to do is focus on making your content and services as accessible as possible.
While there is always more that we could be doing to make our digital marketing accessible, here are six things you should be aware of in your marketing to get you started on the path to accessibility:
1. Understand Color Contrast in Your Branding
One of the most common places that I encounter a lack of accessibility is with branding and color. Color contrast is a major concern when it comes to accessibility because many people have vision impairments, including things such as cataracts, color blindness or low contrast vision. This can make it hard to read or understand your logo or your text if there is not enough contrast between it and the background color it’s on top of.
Thankfully, we have guidelines we can follow to know if there is enough contrast for our logos and text colors. Use a color contrast checker to confirm your brand color combinations have enough contrast so that they can be truly legible to everyone. This will likely lead to more brand awareness because your audience will be able to recognize your logo and content more easily.
2. Choose Brand Fonts Wisely
In addition to color, fonts can also be a common area where accessibility and readability get overlooked. Script fonts and fonts that are all uppercase or all lowercase can be difficult to read and scan, especially for people with dyslexia.
Fonts that have similar designs for commonly confused letters such as a capital “I” or a lowercase “L” can also slow down and confuse your audience. When selecting your brand fonts, be careful to limit such fonts to your logo and use simpler fonts for most of your text.
Whether they’re browsing your website or paying an online invoice on HoneyBook, your logo is usually one of the first things your customers will notice and remember about your brand. Make sure that the first impression is legible!
3. Avoid Ableist Language
Ableist language is any language that misuses terms that could be used to describe people with disabilities (like the term “tone deaf”) or that makes assumptions about someone’s abilities or physical body and appearance (like the phrase “Raise your hand if…”).
Ableist language can be hard to recognize because it is so ingrained in how we communicate. That’s why whenever we work with clients to create guidelines for their marketing we always include a list of ableist terms to avoid.
By cutting these terms out of your marketing language, you will be demonstrating inclusivity and awareness and you’ll likely attract more clients and customers in the process!
4. Structure Your Web Content
If you’ve ever written an outline for a paper in school, then you’ve got experience writing structured content. When it comes to marketing your business, providing structured content on your website is so important, not only for accessibility but also for search engine optimization (SEO).
Each page of your website and each blog post should be focused on a specific topic. For example, if you’re a photographer, you might want a heading that says “Photo Album Options” above all of your pricing information for your photo album services.
Here are a few reasons why using headings is helpful:
- Your headings should describe the content that follows clearly. This makes it easier for all users to understand and scan the content.
- Headers and other HTML elements are understood by screen readers and other assistive technology that folks with disabilities might be using to consume your content.
- Most assistive technology (AT) allows users to jump from heading to heading to find the information they are looking for more easily.
The great news is that Google and other search engines love to see structured content, so getting in the habit of writing clear and concise headings that are keyword-focused for your website content is great for your SEO.
5. Include Alternative Text and Image Descriptions
Alternative Text or alt-text is a text that describes the content of the image and that displays if an image cannot be loaded. Alt-text can also be read by screen readers and search engines, so using descriptive alt-text for images on your website also has the added benefit of helping with SEO.
Beyond your website, alt-text is also important to consider for images you post on social media. Platforms like Instagram now allow you to edit the alt-text for your feed images, but you can also always add an image description to the caption of your post. This ensures that everyone can consume the information in your images and graphics.
6. Include Captions for Your Video and Audio Content
Video and audio content is growing in popularity with TikTok and Instagram reels taking over much of social media. Video content and audio content, like podcasts, can be so engaging. This is why people are so drawn to these mediums, but unless this content includes captions or transcripts, your content may not be accessible to all people.
Thankfully, most social media platforms are starting to implement auto-generated captions for video content, making it easier than ever to produce engaging and accessible marketing content.
Use Instagram’s new Caption sticker to auto-generate captions for your video content in these three easy steps:
1. Head to your Instagram Stories or Reels camera and either record or upload a video from your camera roll.
- Once uploaded or recorded, tap the sticker icon and select the “Captions” sticker.
- You can choose from different text formats, move the text around the screen and change color.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget to double-check your captions before posting as Instagram may not accurately transcribe your audio. Don’t have access to the Instagram Caption sticker yet? Tools like Rev.com also offer transcription services at a reasonable price.
Focusing on Accessibility Benefits Everyone
These small efforts to help people with disabilities also benefit everyone else because what we’re doing by focusing on accessibility is making services easier to use.
Finally, as we’ve mentioned throughout this article, when following accessibility guidelines you’re likely to see an improvement in your SEO, as many of the things that make your content easier to understand for people with disabilities also help Google and other search engines better understand your content. Accessibility truly is a win-win!
Want to know more about SEO and Accessibility? Download our free SEO Guide.