accessibility imageGood design and clear, simple writing are two aspects of creating accessible websites that not only meet new Canadian regulations — they’ll also improve your search results.

At a meeting of the Halton-Peel Communications Association last week, my colleague Andrea Dubravsky brought the group up to speed on what Ontario’s new Web Content Accessibility Guidelines* mean for those of us who are writers or web designers.

The intent is to make web content more accessible to people with visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, language, learning and neurological disabilities. For example, well-spaced links would allow someone with painful arthritis to navigate a page, or a text transcript would capture audio content for someone who is hard of hearing.

Here are some of the simple changes that Andrea outlined:

Design guidelines

  • Choose logical organization and easy navigation.
  • Provide descriptive (alt) text for graphics and images with useful content; it’s unnecessary for purely decorative images.
  • Provide transcripts for audio and video content.
  • Don’t rely on colour to indicate where action is needed (for instance, “Required fields are indicated in red” on a form).
  • Allow users to increase the font size of text.
  • Avoid splash pages, pop-up windows and intro music. (I think we can all get behind getting rid of these annoying features!)
  • Differentiate links by colour and underlining, and don’t use underlining elsewhere.
  • Aim for navigation that requires fewer clicks or tabs, and use descriptive menu titles.

Writing guidelines

  • Write clearly and simply, using short sentences.
  • Aim for no more than a 9th grade reading level.
  • Provide content in blocks or paragraphs with a single main idea.
  • Explain or preferably avoid abbreviations and acronyms. Also avoid slang and jargon.
  • Use the active voice and direct instructions (“Read chapter five” vs. “Students should read chapter five.”)
  • Signal links with descriptive text rather than “click here.”

Website accessibility naturally leads to better website usability and stronger search engine optimization (SEO). We can all appreciate websites that are easy to use, and that can help companies reach a wider audience — reaching seniors, for example. Andrea noted that with some 1.3 million Ontario residents with disabilities, following the guidelines can expand a company’s market share, and just makes good business sense.

Find out more about the Web Accessibility Initiative and where to find training and technical assistance.

*The guidelines apply to new websites for public sector organizations, businesses and non-profit organizations with 50 or more employees as of January 1, 2014.

Image: Keyboard by Gualberto107 and