Accessibility Resources & Best Practices for Productivity Tools

This guide includes accessibility tips and tools for making your everyday work (emails, documents, slides, websites, online meetings) more accessible. If you have suggestions for other resources or edits that you think would make this resource more useful, let us know via this form.

Why is it important to create accessible digital content?

Under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, “Federal agencies are responsible for ensuring their information and services are accessible to persons with disabilities.” But creating accessible digital content benefits everyone!

Librarians spend a lot of time creating content for patrons and colleagues. Make sure your efforts are not wasted by taking a few moments to follow some digital accessibility standards. Alternative text, color contrast, and structured headings are simple ways to ensure your content can be meaningfully used by as many individuals as possible. Plus, it saves everyone time when it comes to future remediation efforts.

Creating born-accessible digital content can become the norm by following a few basic accessibility best practices in your daily work- from documents and slides to virtual meetings and websites.

Priorities

Your top priorities for creating accessible documents:

Create document structure with headings and tags – Documents need to have proper headings that allow users to navigate easily through the content with screen readers. Use the styles features in word processing software to create the headings and make sure you use them consistently. Be sure to use the bullets or numbered list features in word processing software as well so screen readers can interpret this content as a list.

  • Use alternative text for visual content – Alternative text or Alt-text provides text for content that is visual in nature. This includes both images as well as tables of content and data. If you use a logo or image that includes text be sure to include Alternative text of the text that is part of the logo.
  • Make link text descriptive – Be sure to use descriptive text, like the name of the website the link will go to as link text, and then list the URL after the link in case the user is looking at a printed version of the document.
  • Choose an accessible font: Pick a font that is big enough to be read and that has sufficient contrast with the background color to make it easily read. Pick fonts that are commonly used and make sure that your font include easily distinguishable shapes between commonly confused characters like the number 1 and lowercase Ls.

Benefits

While these priorities certainly benefit those with visual impairments, there are much wider benefits to creating accessible documents, including:

  • Easier to read by both people and machines
  • Consistent design
  • No need to waste time remediating documents if they are born accessible

Resources

Priorities

Writing an accessible email has a lot in common with writing any text document in an accessible manner. These are some top priorities that are likely to come up specifically when composing an email:

Use a descriptive subject line – Make sure that your subject line clearly conveys the content of your email. All readers, but especially those using screen readers, rely on the subject to determine whether to read your email.

  • Use accessible fonts for optimum text readability – Select commonly available sans-serif fonts that will display correctly on most devices. Use a minimum font size of 12pt. Make sure there is sufficient color contrast between the font and the background. Email signature templates often have inaccessible default font size and color contrast options.
  • Make your images accessible
    • Use alternative text – Every image should have a descriptive alt text that conveys the same meaning or content as the visual. Images that are purely decorative and contain no information should be marked as such. If your email platform has a built-in tool for that, use it. Otherwise do it by using a single empty space (“ ”) for the alt text.
    • Provide text versions of important information in images – If you share a graphic such as a flier with important information (ex. contact information, dates, times, locations), make sure that information is also shared in the text of the email.
    • Ensure your email signature uses accessible fonts and images – Signatures are a microcosm of accessible image use in emails. Make sure important information such as names, titles, and contact information are conveyed in text. Ensure the images you use, such as institutional logos, have an alt text.

Benefits

Email is still the most common workplace communication tool. Ensuring email communication is accessible benefits all parties by:

  • Providing support for staff, patrons, and others with visual disabilities.
  • Improving comprehension and information sharing for everyone.
  • Improving searchability when finding emails.

Resources

Priorities

Top priorities to consider for accessible meetings and presentations include:

  • Pay attention to font size and type – Aim for a font size that is at least 18-point for important content on the slide. Choose readable fonts that are serif or sans serif and avoid script fonts.
  • Use contrasting colors – Choose background colors that have good contrast with font colors. Consider using a contrast checker to find a combination that increases readability of content on your slide.
  • Be descriptive of content – Do not rely solely on the audience to read or see content on your slides. Read content aloud to the audience on a slide and describe included images, charts, graphs, and other visuals.

Benefits

While these priorities certainly benefit those with visual impairments, there are much wider benefits to creating accessible presentations, including:

  • Ensure yours presentation has the widest possible audience
  • Easier to read by both people and machines
  • Reduce cognitive load on attendees by using a consistent design
  • No need to waste time remediating presentations if they are born accessible

Resources

Priorities

The priorities for social media, including platforms like Facebook, Instagram, X (formerly Twitter), and YouTube.

  • Images and memes: Always add alt text or an image description, and limit the amount of text embedded in an image. Be aware of the limitations of the platform and be prepared to provide a text description of the image in your post when necessary. For example, the image description on Facebook and Instagram posts scheduled through Meta Business Suite do not get published. If the text includes important details like dates or venues, make sure to repeat that information in your post. For memes, explain the humor or context of the meme.
  • Moving Images (Gifs, Stories, Reels, etc.): Avoid rapid blinking or flashing elements. Include image descriptions if possible, and double check any auto-generated captions. If alt text or an image description is not available, include a summary in your post.
  • Audio & Video: Provide captions or a link to a transcript, and double check auto-generated captions.
  • Hashtags: Use Title Case, capitalizing the first letter of each word in your tag, for example: #MyAwesomeTag. This makes the words easier to read, avoids potentially embarrassing misreading of your tag, and helps a screen reader identify separate words.
  • Emojis: Limit the number of emojis you use in a post. Screen readers will read out the text version of each emoji which can create a jarring experience, especially if the same emoji is repeated multiple times in a row.

Benefits

By following these best practices, you’ll reach more people with your message – and not just those with a disability. Using a post’s description or caption instead of overlaying text on an image makes your content easier to read and understand across devices. Seeing written text for videos can help when viewers are in a setting where sound isn’t allowed or the spoken word is hard to hear, as well as for viewers who’s first language is not the language of the media. And, being mindful of emoji and hashtag use will improve the meaning of your message when read back by a screen reader.

Resources

Below are links to the accessibility features of some of the most popular social media platforms:

Priorities

Your top priorities for creating accessible video and multimedia content are:

  • Provide transcripts – Video transcripts are a text document version of a video audio. The transcription process can use automatic speech recognition technology, human transcriptions, or both.
  • Provide captions and audio descriptions
    1. Captioning provides a text display of sound and dialog. Often, captions are generated from transcripts. Captions should be provided for live and pre-recorded events. Avoid relying solely on auto-captions which are notorious for inaccuracies. Accessible captions should be synchronized and equivalent.
    2. Audio descriptions provide verbal representations of visual elements. Typically, a narration of visuals is inserted into pauses in video.
  • Provide user controls for media players – It is important to consider the media player you are offering for viewing. It should provide user controls for captions, audio descriptions, and volume. Consider media players with keyboard controls.

Benefits

While these priorities certainly benefit those with hearing or visual impairments, there are much wider benefits to creating accessible video and multimedia, including:

  • Uses for language learning
  • English as a second language learning tool
  • Comprehension of dialog
  • Help with concentration for those with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or other learning needs
  • Allows for viewing in quiet spaces like an open office
  • Boost SEO

Resources

Priorities

The priorities for web content and websites are a combination of the best practices for documents and video:

  • Use headings where needed for structure
  • Add alternative text for images, charts, and infographics
  • Write descriptive hyperlinks
  • Provide captions and transcripts for video and audio content
  • Check color contrast for the foreground text and background color. Don’t use color alone to convey information.

The density of content available on a website and the interactive nature of the web present unique challenges for making that content accessible. Additional priorities include:

  1. Design for readability: The WCAG principle of Understanding requires that all users be able to understand the information and functionality of a webpage. Use easy to understand words, short sentences, and short chunks of text to make a page easier to understand and scan.
    1. Use headings and lists to break up your content into chunks. A bulleted list is easier to scan than a paragraph.
    2. Titles, headings, button labels, form labels, and links should all clearly describe the content or its purpose – don’t use vague labels like “more” or “click here”.
    3. Avoid font sizes less than 12px; 16px is considered the default standard minimum for text.
  2. Clearly label and place interactive elements: Ensure that interactive elements like menus, buttons, form fields, and hyperlinks are consistently placed and visually distinct from the text on the page. All interactive elements should have an easily distinguishable indicator (hover and focus states) to show when they are selected versus when they are not selected. Buttons and interactive items should be large enough and have enough space around them so that they are easy to tap on a phone.
  3. Create HTML-first content: Consider converting PDFs and Word documents into web pages and forms. These types of documents are often inaccessible and their content can become outdated quickly. Creating a form or content in HTML will save you the time of remediating every PDF form or file on your website, including when those files are updated.
  4. Manual tests for accessibility: Testing a webpage with an automatic checker like WebAim’s WAVE, Deque’s aXe, or Google Lighthouse is a great first step to catch errors. However, automatic checkers only catch about 30% of all accessibility errors. Make a plan to do manual testing that includes using only a keyboard to tab through the interactive elements of a page, and using a screen reader to uncover issues with reading order and labels.

Benefits

Creating accessible-first websites helps ensure your content is reachable by the widest audience and is displayed accurately and consistently on the widest range of devices. Following the priorities above can improve your website’s search ranking and discoverability.

Resources