Ensuring digital accessibility

So often when we consider access and inclusion for disabled people, we think of physical access for wheelchair users and those with mobility impairments. However, only 8% of disabled people in the UK are wheelchair users. Web accessibility is a real issue for many and could be a financially savvy move for many travel and tourism businesses wanting to attract a more diverse clientele.

a girl with Down's Syndrome playing with an interactive exhibit at a museum with a staff memberContents

  1. Accessible websites
  2. Inclusive social media hints and tips
  3. Add alt text and image descriptions
  4. Capitalising hashtags
  5. Making videos accessible
  6. Text is king
  7. The importance of disability representation

Information from W3C and the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) explains the accessibility solutions that can help to remove digital barriers that exist for users with certain impairments and access requirements. Further information can also be found in VisitEngland’s Digital Marketing Toolkit.

 

Accessible websites

In the UK alone, 7 million people have digital access requirements, so an accessible website makes sound business sense (Click Away Pound report, 2019).

Below are some top tips for ensuring your website is accessible to the widest audience as possible:

  1. With many users accessing the web from their phones, it is vital that any website is also formatted to be mobile-friendly.
  2. Keep your web pages clear and uncluttered. Simple and consistent webpages will support blind and partially sighted visitors who utilise screen readers (an assistive technology that reads text and image content as speech, or braille output when paired with a refreshable braille display).
  3. Structure content in a logical order. Use pictures, short snappy headlines, and bulleted lists to ensure the text on your site is easy to access and understand.
  4. Ensure images are partnered with alt text to provide access for blind and partially sighted visitors.
  5. Don’t use italics or CAPITALS for large blocks of text and ensure the text colour contrasts with the background colour.
  6. Any video content should be captioned, have adjustable volume controls, and able to be paused or stopped. It should not auto play unless the user knows this is going to happen.
  7. There should be options for visitors to suppress blinking, flickering, flashing, and otherwise distracting content.
  8. Providing sign language interpretation of important information would be particularly aspirational (although not all D/deaf people know and use sign language).
  9. Forms and buttons should be labelled consistently for ease of navigation and use. Functionality and interaction expectations should be predictable.
  10. Forms should not ‘time out’ if filling in takes longer. Error correction options should also be provided.
  11. Buttons and icons should provide large, clickable areas rather than relying on small, specific movements.
  12. Not everyone who visits your website will be able to use a mouse, so make sure your website can be accessed and navigated via keyboard use only.
  13. Ideally, there should be visible indicators of current focus on a webpage.
  14. Your website should offer alternative communication functions to voice-based services, such as text-based chat.
  15. Your website should offer several contacting methods, including email address and feedback forms.

 

Making contact easier

It is recommended that every page of your site has a ‘Contact Us’ button to allow a user to immediately arrive at a form, make a call or send an email. Your social media pages can also be set up to allow people to send you direct messages.

There are international web accessibility standards called Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). They are quite detailed but if you use a web designer you should ensure they follow them. The WAVE tool is also particularly helpful if you’re wanting to assess the accessibility of your current website and find areas for improvement.

Once your website is accessible, it is a good idea to also produce guidance on website accessibility in the form of a ‘Website accessibility statement’ with a link to it from the website footer.

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Case Study: Church Farm Barns

“We have incorporated an accessibility tab within our website, which includes photos, facilities, floor plans, accessibility and prices. One of the most important things for us is that guests can find our website easily. We know that this is working as the majority of our guests find us by Googling ‘disabled friendly cottages’.”

Inclusive social media hints and tips

Web accessibility doesn’t just involve your website; social media is often where potential customers will get their first impression of you. Disabled people use social media for travel research, peer reviews and to ask providers questions. It’s great to nurture customer relations, give relevant information and improve from feedback. Just make sure you’re using the relevant keywords and hashtags like #AccessibleTourism, following and engaging with disabled influencers, and joining relevant forums and groups, some of which can be found later in this toolkit.

Social media changes are often ‘quick wins’; there is usually very little that needs to be altered in order to make an account on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram accessible. Users will often have their own assistive technologies, such as screen readers, magnification tools and braille displays. But the one thing that is vital is consistency; your followers with access requirements should be able to become familiar with your content and know how they can best access it.

Add alt text and image descriptions

For visitors to your social media accounts who are blind or partially sighted, image descriptions (or alternative text) allow them to engage with content by visualising what a sighted person is seeing.

If you are posting an image that is of a quote, statistic or other text, make sure you also add the text itself into the image description. E.g., ‘pink background with the well-known travel phrase ‘Not all those who wander are lost’ in a white speech bubble.’

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Alt text top tip

Alt text should be descriptive but concise and ideally fit into one or two sentences, if possible – don’t over-do it and mention irrelevant features. You are building a general mental image.

a man in a wheelchair speaking to a woman at a reception desk in a visitor attractionCapitalising hashtags

This is a perfect example of a ‘quick win’ that will simply become second nature after a while! Hashtags are a great way of getting involved in conversations and boosting your engagement on social media but can be very difficult to identify and read for some. When using hashtags, capitalise the first letter of every word (otherwise known as using CamelCase). For example, #traveltuesday, is much more accessible if written as #TravelTuesday.

Making videos accessible

One of the main accessibility barriers for people who are D/deaf or have hearing loss is when videos are not captioned. When posting your own video content, captions should ideally run as standard (this can often be managed within the ‘settings’ system of your chosen social platform).

If you are using video hosting platforms like YouTube that create captions automatically, don’t forget to review and update them for every new video you publish as automatic captions can be full of errors. And be careful when sharing video content from others; captions are something that many forget to include.

Video accessibility is also important for followers who are blind or partially sighted, especially if the video has picture but no sound to describe what is happening. When a video doesn’t send the same message both audibly and visually, a text description of what is happening in the video should be added in the caption, or the video itself should include audio description.

Text is king

In terms of access and inclusion, it’s always best if you can write what you want to say, rather than portray it through emojis. Otherwise, screen readers will read out each one – making certain points disjointed and difficult to follow for those who use them.

The importance of disability representation

Only 0.06% of UK adverts currently showcase disability (All Response Media, 2021). As 20% of the global population is disabled, this statistic proves huge under-representation.

Whether on your social media or website, disability representation should be at the heart of how you choose to promote your business to those with accessibility requirements. Reading that a restaurant entrance has step-free access, or that a hotel has a lowered reception desk and hearing loops is one thing (and great in itself); seeing disabled people using these facilities is another thing entirely and highly likely to build customer confidence and engagement in your offering.

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Case Study: Alpacaly Ever After

“In our marketing material on our website we use clear symbols and descriptions. We also have accessibility sections for each of our activities - listing the available facilities as well as full accessibility statements for as many of our sites as we can provide. We also have a monthly newsletter providing updates and features on some of the work we do, and we have introduced closed captions on our social media video posts.”