Planning Content Accessibility Training for Your Organization

April 11, 2022

What is content accessibility training?

For organizations that prioritize digital accessibility (and that should include your company), content accessibility training is a very important piece of the puzzle. Digital or website accessibility refers to a set of standards meant to ensure that users and customers with disabilities are able to read and make use of your website or other digital platforms. This is partially the responsibility of developers and coders to ensure that the final product conforms to the accepted standards in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). But there are also some specific guidelines that focus on the content itself.

Even if your website is technically coded to be 100% ADA compliant, your content authors and editors also need to know how to write and structure accessible content. They also should know how to enter it into your platform without accidentally introducing any accessibility violations.

The good news is that these concepts and rules are relatively easy to learn. However, they won’t come naturally to your content teams without training and reinforcement. Providing content accessibility training is a way of communicating to internal teams that digital accessibility and compliance with the ADA is a priority.

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Why is content accessibility training important?

As we mentioned above, if your company intends to produce accessible digital content, it is important to provide the relevant teams with the tools to follow through. But why should you provide accessible digital content?

For one thing, it’s the right thing to do. But even if you aren’t altruistically minded, it’s also the law. The US federal courts have ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to websites. (And there are parallel legal obligations in many other countries). Over the past several years, the number of private lawsuits filed against businesses over inaccessible websites and mobile apps has skyrocketed (and many thousands more settle before filing in court).

There is also a strong business case for providing an accessible digital experience for your users, customers, and potential customers. The World Health Organization estimates that up to 15% of people worldwide experience some form of disability. Making your site usable for this population (including many older adults) can improve your bottom line and optimize the user experience for everyone. Plus, many of the steps necessary to provide accessible content can also improve your site’s Google SEO rankings!

What is a typical content accessibility training curriculum?

The principles of content accessibility are intended to produce content that is perceivable and understandable to users with disabilities. But how to accomplish this will depend on a number of factors including the types of content you are producing, the audience and the medium. For example, text-heavy instruction manuals might need more work on writing clearly and simply for audiences of all cognitive abilities. Video producers need to take into account captioning and audio descriptions. Regardless of the medium or platform, all content accessibility trainings should include both written materials and live trainings that cover the following elements.

General principles and the business case

We’ve already addressed some of the important moral, legal and business considerations for incorporating content accessibility into your digital output. Before teaching your content teams how, they also need to understand why. Without that context, they are more likely to let content accessibility requirements fall by the wayside when they have so many other priorities.

But explaining what it means for a website to be accessible and how each page of content fits into that picture is just as important. Content creators don’t necessarily need to know every single one of the WCAG guidelines, but they should be able to place their own efforts into a larger context.

Relevant WCAG guidelines for content

If you have already invested in technical accessibility, it’s likely that your content teams will only have to consider a small subset of the WCAG guidelines. But they should know them well! The principles are straightforward, but there are intricacies in how to apply the rules that content authors and producers should be familiar with. 

In most cases, the training would address concepts like:

  • Alternative text descriptions for images and how to write them
  • Proper use of GIFs and other animations
  • Charts and graphs
  • Writing page titles and headings
  • How to label links and buttons
  • Using color
  • Producing accessible video and audio content
  • Form building and configuration
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Tool and platform-specific training

In this article, we have referred to content teams, but this is a general term. In reality, the employees responsible for content creation may not even be on the same team. They can include web authors, technical writers, email marketers, social media marketers, curriculum writers or even HR. 

And all of these teams work on their own platforms with their own features that can help or hinder accessibility. This is before taking into account customizations that may be special for your specific company. Even though the principles of making video accessible is the same, Wistia or Youtube offer different tools to do so. By the same token, it’s important that your teams receive platform-specific training on WordPress, Instagram, Linkedin, or Drupal as necessary (to name just a few example). This includes how to take advantage of built-in accessibility features, where to be cautious of common issues, and how to avoid accidentally introducing net-new accessibility violations.

Coaching and ongoing support

Ultimately, the goal is for content teams to be self-sufficient in keeping your digital content accessible and ADA compliant. But especially at first, it’s natural to run into growing pains or frequent questions. Any training should include a period following the formal training where content authors and producers have an address for additional questions. This can also include a formal process for having their work reviewed for accessibility issues and opportunities for refreshers as needed.

Training is an overlooked necessity

It’s common for organizations to ignore the content creation process even after they have already invested heavily in technical efforts to build (or remediate) an accessible website. Inaccessible content is one of the major sources of accessibility decay for most web properties. One of the most effective ways to prevent this is to incorporate your content teams into the accessibility process with training sessions that immediately follow your remediation (or your accessible first-time build). For an existing web property, training can even help onboard your content team into the remediation process in addressing accessibility violations in historical content.

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