Creating Digital Access

Like so many kinds of access, making your digital information accessible in a variety of ways works better for people with and without disabilities.

Why Digital Access Rocks

Digital access is fundamentally about laying many different well-kept paths to the same information or content. This means that accessible hardware, software, and content is:

Like so many kinds of access, making your digital information accessible in a variety of ways works better for people with and without disabilities. But this is old hat for us. Let’s explore some pathways!

Paths of Digital Access

First, we need to recognize that many people cannot access digital pathways. Any conversation on digital access must first acknowledge that many people cannot get to digital information at all. Accessing digital information first requires access to usable equipment, electricity, and the internet, where all the content lives.

A photo of a baby hippo and its mother. The baby hippo's mouth is wide open and one of its front legs is raised.
A photo of a baby hippo and its mother. The baby hippo's mouth is wide open and one of its front legs is raised. The ground is covered in green lettuce and carrots. This baby hippo looks upset about a lack of digital access. Image:

People need to be able to afford hardware, software, and internet or access it in a community space or through a service. Community access may require transportation, paperwork, and travel time. Shared resources in community space may result in a limited or restricted time to access digital networks.

Disability and language needs compound with economic ones and traveling these digital pathways becomes even more complicated. When access to the internet remains difficult or impossible for so many, offering only digital services and internet-based communication will exclude people. Though the roadblocks to digital access make our journey less straightforward, pathways are emerging. There is so much good work being done right here in Portland to make getting to the paths of digital access easier. Head on over to the: Digital Inclusion Network, the  Digital Inclusion Resource Page at the Multnomah County Library, the City of Portland’s Digital Equity Action Plan, or Community Visions Assistive Technology Lab to find out more about these efforts.

When Digital Access is the Only Access

Second, we need to recognize that digital access is the only access for many people. There are also all kinds of reasons that digital access must be realized alongside other means of access:

  • Economic access to travel;
  • Childcare access;
  • Transportation access;
  • Mobility access;
  • Access for people with chronic illness (like access to march in solidarity);
  • Access for people whose disabilities are unpredictable;
  • Access for people who experience less safety in public space;
  • Access for people who need supports only available at home; and
  • Access for people who can’t spare the travel time.

Digital access options include meetings, conferences, events, talks, and more. Ever wanted better attendance at your meetings or events, to reach a wider geographic area or a more diverse audience, or attend a meeting in your pajamas? Digital access is for you!

Let’s be sure the webinar platform is accessible (including real-time captions, sign language interpreters, a call-in telephone number, and screen reader access) and archive the content so that it can be viewed at any time. We work so hard to host events, let’s make sure people can show up to them! Digital access needs to be part of the way we do business. And not the only way we do business. 

Laying the pathways

Let continue by considering all the ways we get to digital information. We start with our computer, tablet or phone and we use

To find and navigate through websites, documents, videos, podcasts, and more.

How can each of these different technologies get us to the same information? Well, if hardware, websites, and content are designed in accessible ways, it will be built right in! There will be many ways to seamlessly do the same thing. Remembering this basic philosophy will help us discern if our own information is accessible.

This four-minute video shows us why these different pathways are so importantAnd check out all the access features on that video player!

Moving along the pathways

Let’s make our pathways more concrete (pun absolutely intended). To be accessible to most users, information needs to be conveyed in all of the following ways:

  1. Visual: With a customizable display, either accessible by a user's computer or embedded on the site.

  2. Audible: Through an audio version or accessible to a screen reader

  3. Tactile: Usually through screen-reader accessible text displayed on a Braille display. Read more about refreshable Braille displays.

Having all of these pathways means that users have one or more options to get the information they need.

What does this mean for our content? Well…

Anything visual is available in audio and text:

 Anything audible is available visually and in text.

  • Dialogue in film and voice recordings (like podcasts) is captioned.
  • On-screen Sign language interpreters interpret audio.
  • Transcripts of the audio are available.­­­

Content is plain language

  • Content is clear to the intended audience.
  • Images/icons, video, and audio are used to enhance understandability of text.

Users control flow and display of information.

Guidelines before We Enter Our Tool Shed

Grab your hard hat! (Yes, for a shed. It's a big shed. Now we're safe and prepared. Go us!)

  1. Practice makes…it a lot easier. If it's too hard to make a document or content accessible—do it 10 times and call me in the morning. We get confident (and faster) by DOING it.
  2. It’s fastest if you create accessible content from the beginning. Pro-tip:  Make your next piece of content accessible using this Tip as a resource. And then the one after that. And the video after that. And… In no time, you’ll be a whiz at creating digital access.
  3. It still takes more time! That’s okay. We want people to access our stuff. That’s why we made it. And we planned in that time in from the beginning, so we’re set.
  4. It costs too much! What do you mean? It’s part of our budget, right?  
  5. I’m the only one who can do this, and now I’m fixing everyone’s stuff! Nope. That is not cool. Share this tip and 15 minutes of your experience with one other person in your bureau or community and tell them to pass it on. Bonus: When we all learn to make our content accessible, we can troubleshoot with our new Communities of Access. #AccessNerdsUnite

Creating content any way but as accessible as possible assumes that people with disabilities don’t exist or don’t matter. And I know we don’t believe that. If you’re short on time, hire someone to ensure your content is accessible.

See, aren’t we glad we have our hard hats? The truth is, we have the technology and tools to make the digital world so much more accessible than it is, and a lot of accessibility is Just Doing It.

The Tool Shed

It’s time to get to the nuts and bolts of creating access in our digital content. A tool box isn’t quite big enough for all the tools that are out there, so we’ve got a whole shed.

We’re about to get super-specific, so for those of us who love tools, demos, and making things happen: Here. We. Go!

Text, Headings, and Reading Order

Any accessible content is navigable by a screen-reader which reads aloud text on a screen. Screen readers rely on associated headings and other formatted elements in the HTML code to know what order to read a document. Don’t be scared! We got this.

How are us non-coders supposed to create access?

Easy! We use the built-in structure whenever possible add text to anything that’s not built in. The built-in structure already has code that screen readers read. Whew! We can do that.

Check out these One Page Cheat Sheets for Word, PowerPoint and PDFto learn how.

And of course, access goes beyond screen readers. We can make our content available to more people by using plain language, trigger warnings, contrast, captions, volume control, large buttons, and...!

Perhaps it’s time for another checklist.

Check Yourself!

Just like before, these checks are not everything access, they’re the beginning of it.

Does your website…?

  • Follow Accessibility Principles
  • Have language, font, and colors that can be switched by the user
  • Have high contrast
  • Use plain language
  • Have a direct contact for access questions and issues
  • Have alt-text for all pictures, photos, and charts

Here are some resources to help you achieve the above:

Does your Microsoft Word document…?

  • Use Styles
  • Use built-in bullet and number lists (the button, not typing -- or *)
  • Use built-in tables with headers
  • Have alt-text for all pictures, charts, and graphics

Here are some resources to help you achieve the above:

Is your PDF…?

Here are some resources to help you achieve the above:

Does your PowerPoint Presentation…?

Note: PowerPoint-generated “handouts” are not accessible. 

  • Use built-in slide layouts
  • Use layouts with solid backgrounds
  • Have high contrast
  • Have alt-text for images and charts
  • Have an accurate reading order
  • Use charts for headers
  • Include descriptive links

Here are some resources to help you achieve the above:

Do your Social Media Posts…?

  • Contain Alt-Text or image descriptions
  • Fully describe any fliers or other images that you post or share
  • Offer trigger warnings
  • Use #CamelCase
  • Feature videos with captions
  • Feature videos with Audio Description
  • Share transcripts for videos

Here are some resources to help you achieve the above:

Says Who?

Learn how the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines relate to these checks. WebAIM Checklist for Access All-Stars.

And remember, no matter how accessible our content, we still need to be ready to have the accommodation conversation if someone cannot access our information or services.

Testing and Review

Reviewing and testing our content for accessibility is one of the most important steps in creating accessible content. The accessibility checkers linked above are a great start. They are not perfect. They can miss errors or mistakenly flag accessible content, especially with complex content. This is one of the reasons it is critical to understand what makes content accessible.

Nothing will substitute for our own continued learning and continued partnership with people with disabilitiesand accessible technology experts. Hopefully, the resources within this Tip will guide us to learning well into the future.

And please, let’s intentionally cultivate our access knowledge and our relationships in the disability and accessible technology communities, and not all rely on a single screen-reader user we know to review our content.  

And as we’ve no doubt gathered by now, digital access takes knowledge and skill, whether learned through experience or explicit training. We will (of course!) pay people if they take their time and use their expertise to make our content more accessible.

Feeling stuck?

First, try Google. Seriously. We live on a planet full of people trying to make our content ever more accessible. There are online forums and troubleshooting guides and about a million YouTube videos guiding people through access.

If you’ve reached the limits of your access knowledge or your time, it can be well worth it to hire people to review and fix your content. (Because of that practice thing, they’re often lightning fast, too!)