March is National Disability Awareness Month here in the United States. Living with a disability is very common, affecting about 1 in 4 (26%) of individuals according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). And vision impairments account for about 8% of the U.S. population according to Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute.
In the digital space, accessibility should always be top of mind – especially for individuals living with vision impairments. But, in my experience, awareness of this in marketing is surprisingly low.
A portion of your audience is living with visual impairment. Period.
So you already have a business case to invest in accessible design – can you imagine a more cost-effective way to reach 8% of your audience?
Beyond being the right thing to do, marketers should consider that optimizing for accessibility impacts a sizable segment of any audience and they are worth reaching. A 2016 estimate from Return On Disability estimates that people with disabilities have $8 trillion in spending power. Also, consider that everyone – including YOU – will experience visual degradation as they age. Wouldn’t you want options to help you engage with digital content in the future?
This National Disability Awareness Month, I challenge you to learn something new about how YOU can incorporate features, checks, and strategies that keep accessibility top of mind!
How You Can Advocate for Digital Accessibility
No matter where you sit in the process, you can always encourage your colleagues, clients, and even marketing automation platforms to prioritize accessibility. Depending on your role, you may be able to advocate for folks living with disabilities in different ways:
- If you routinely build creative assets such as emails, landing pages, and forms, you can directly support end users.
- If you own the standard operating procedures, you can enshrine steps to include accessibility in documentation.
- If you’re in management, you can advocate for additional budget and time for testing and building creatives with best practices.
- If you’re the main point of contact on an account your company pays for such as Adobe Marketo Engage, Hubspot, Pardot, or others, you can demand that they develop more accessibility features that they may currently lack.
I want to share an anecdote on this last point. A colleague recently informed me that their client’s Marketo forms were failing screen readers because the forms used asterisks in the code. Screen readers were interpreting these symbols as “required fields,” misleading screen reader users about what they were required to submit. When this was brought up to vendor support, their response was (paraphrased) “if this form needs to be accessible, you will have to write your own code.” While I understand that it’s not feasible to rewrite a whole product on a support call, this lack of accessibility is disappointing – especially when similar issues have been around for years. In the end, the client had to accept the sub-accessible form.
This story is unfortunate, but I want to be clear: we do have recourse as marketing automation professionals. We can always submit suggestions to improve the product, and we can talk amongst ourselves to build awareness and pressure to change defects like this.
4 Practices You Can Start Doing (or Keep Doing) NOW
1. Color Contrast Accessibility
Build emails and landing pages that conform to WCAG color contrast standards. Just because something looks legible to you does not mean it’s legible for everyone. For this reason, there are defined standards for color contrast. Read on for more about Color Contrast accessibility.
Check out these accessibility checker tools:
- Web-based color contrast checkers:
- Chrome browser extensions that review accessibility and SEO on web pages:
Read up on digital accessibility standards:
- Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are the gold standard for web accessibility.
- Guidance on Web Accessibility from the American Disabilities Act (ADA.gov) site
- The U.S. Access Board’s Information and Communication Technology 508 Standards and 255 Guidelines (these are used across all federal government web properties).
2. Use Image Alt Text
Always use alt text on images. Alt text is a simple line of text metadata used with an image in an email or web page; you simply need to describe the image in plain language. Read about good practices for composing alt text language.
- Tip: If you’re using multilingual segmentations, always make sure there’s a translation for alt text too!
- Tip: If there is any language in the image itself, literally write that language in the alt text field.
- Tip: Another major benefit to using alt text is SEO optimization.
- If this practice feels elementary to you, talk to your colleagues about this – you might be surprised how little awareness there is about how alt text works and you can share your knowledge with them!
3. Avoid Including Text Inside Image Files
Depending on the device used by the end user, the copy may be unacceptably small. Some organizations have standards on how small a font size should be, so check your internal resources when in doubt! Some marketers are in the practice of building call-to-action (CTA) buttons as images, but I personally discourage this practice for this reason and because some users do not open emails in HTML and may miss the CTA language when viewing a plain text email.
4. Optimize Your Plain Text Emails
Not only does optimizing your plain text emails make your communications more accessible to low-bandwidth users, but it also strips out the extraneous HTML code from your emails and makes the screen reader user experience better. For example, Adobe Marketo Engage automatically generates a plain text version of an email, but it’s not great. So, take the extra minute or two to optimize these versions.
5. [BONUS] Digital Accessibility Certification
Go the extra mile! Did you know you can be certified in digital accessibility? Check out these courses & certificates!
Dive deeper: Check out this comprehensive digital accessibility resource from Perficient: The Future of UX is digital accessibility
A Final Thought About Screen Readers
Even if you’re already doing all these suggestions as a standard practice, try using a screen reader for yourself. Check out this article with a list of screen readers & tips on using them.
Have it read a few news articles to you. Or close your eyes and have it read a home page you’re familiar with. You might be surprised how much code a screen reader recites to you because somebody did not optimize the page. I’m certain you’ll leave that exercise with more insights and a grain of empathy for people who rely on screen readers.
If you want a faster glimpse at a good vs. bad experience with screen readers, watch this:
I hope this blog helps you to consider how you can advocate for people living with visual impairments and other disabilities in your professional life. Being cognizant of how you can help with digital accessibility means you are more likely to act when the occasion calls!