We write for a diverse audience of readers who all interact with our content in different ways. We aim to make our content accessible to anyone using a screen reader, keyboard navigation, or Braille interface, and to users of all cognitive capabilities.
Important legal requirements
New regulations came into force for public sector bodies on 23 September 2018. They say you must make your website or mobile app more accessible by making it ‘perceivable, operable, understandable and robust’.
You can do this by meeting the accessibility standards: WCAG 2.1 AA.
You must also:
- publish an accessibility statement - this must include details of content that doesn’t meet accessibility standards
- if someone requests it, provide an accessible alternative within a reasonable time for content that doesn’t meet the standards
For more detail, see the government advice on making your public sector website or app accessible.
Things to consider
As you write, consider the following:
- Would this language make sense to someone who doesn’t work here?
- Could someone quickly scan this document and understand the material?
- If someone can’t see the colours, images or video, is the message still clear?
- Would a blind or deaf person be able to understand this material?
- Is the mark-up clean and structured?
- Mobile devices with accessibility features are increasingly becoming core communication tools, does this work well on them?
Avoid directional language
Avoid directional instructions and any language that requires the reader to see the layout or design of the page. This is helpful for many reasons, including layout changes on mobile.
Yes: “Select from these options,” (with the steps listed after the title)
No: “Select from the options in the right sidebar.”
Headers should always be nested and consecutive. Never skip a header level for styling reasons. To help group sections, be sure the page title is H1, top-level sections are H2s, and subsequent inside those are H3 and beyond. Avoid excessive nesting.
Employ a hierarchy
Put the most important information first. Place similar topics in the same paragraph, and clearly separate different topics with headings.
Starting with a simple outline that includes key messages can help you create a hierarchy and organize your ideas in a logical way. This improves scannability and encourages better understanding.
Make true lists (bulleted or numbered) instead of using a paragraph or line breaks.
Label inputs with clear names, and use appropriate tags. Think carefully about what fields are necessary, and especially which ones you mark as required. Label required fields clearly. The shorter the form, the better.
Use descriptive links
Links should provide information on the associated action or destination. Try to avoid “click here” or “learn more.”
Use plain language
Write short sentences and use familiar words. Avoid jargon and slang. If you need to use an abbreviation or acronym that people may not understand, explain what it means on first reference.
Use alt text
The alt tag is the most basic form of image description, and it should be included on all images. The language will depend on the purpose of the image:
- If it’s a creative photo or supports a story, describe the image in detail in a brief caption.
- If the image is serving a specific function, describe what’s inside the image in detail. People who don’t see the image should come away with the same information as if they had.
- If you’re sharing a chart or graph, include the data in the alt text so people have all the important information.
Each browser handles alt tags differently. Supplement images with standard captions when possible.
Video and audio
Closed captioning should be available for all videos (except ‘live’ video). Video made after September 23 2020 will need a version that gets the information across in audio-only.
Transcripts for sounds recordings should be made available.
Be mindful of visual elements
Aim for high contrast between your font and background colours. Tools in the ‘Read more’ section should help with picking accessible colours.
Images should not be the only method of communication, because images may not load or may not be seen. Avoid using images when the same information could be communicated in writing.
HTML vs PDF
Content should be published in HTML rather than PDF format, as PDFs are harder to find, use and maintain. For more on why you should avoid using PDFs, or at least supplement PDFs with a HTML version, see this blog from the Government Digital Service.