Writing W3C content for people with disabilities

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Sabina Heggie  -  


Computer keyboard. Key shows image of person walking with stick.

Will your content suit someone with a disability?

People with disabilities can have trouble accessing web pages. Impairments in vision, hearing, reading ability, attention span and mouse control can all affect how well people can use, understand and navigate websites.

If you’re writing content for a website that’s likely to be accessed by people with disabilities, you need to think about your content with this in mind.

Your client may ask you to abide by W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) guidelines. These are guidelines developed to make web content more accessible for people with disabilities. Many government websites require this, as do health-related sites. W3C guidelines cover both content and coding, but in this article I’m just covering what you need to keep in mind as a content writer.

What do W3C guidelines mean for a content writer?

Here are some tips adapted from W3.org that will help to ensure your content conforms to the standard. Most of this is just good practice for any website. I’ve added some extra pointers (in italic) that reflect my own additional guidelines.

  • Use headings and subheadings to organise content.
  • Use simple language and formatting, as appropriate for the context.
  • Start with an H1 heading, then H2, then H3. Don’t skip over this ranking within a section of text. Don’t use more levels of headings than necessary. If you need more than H3’s, rethink the structure.
  • Write in short, clear sentences and paragraphs. (One thought per sentence).
  • Replace unnecessarily complex words and phrases with simpler ones. Avoid words with more than 5 syllables.
  • Expand acronyms on first use. For example, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Keep acronym use to a minimum.
  • Consider providing a glossary for terms readers may not know.
  • Use list formatting as appropriate.
  • Consider using images, illustrations, video, audio and symbols to help clarify meaning.
  • Use ALT tags for images.
  • Use subtitles for video content.
  • Make page titles descriptive and end with the organisation name.
  • Use link text to describe content, e.g.: Read more about WC3 copywriting tips.

Will adhering to W3C improve search engine rankings?

Some people think that adhering to W3C guidelines will improve search rankings, but Google has dispelled this myth. Hopefully this may change in the future.

Do you have experience writing W3C compliant content? If so I’d be interested in your feedback.

Web: Is your company keeping up appearances?

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Sabina Heggie  -  

It’s scary how quickly a website that once looked so sparkly begins to appear tired and old-fashioned.

Nowadays more organisations upgrade their websites on a regular basis, with a new look and feel every 12 to 24 months. This is particularly true of organisations working in highly competitive spaces and those wanting to project an image of being at the leading edge of technology.

Often the launch of a new product or range coincides with the decision to commission an updated, re-skinned or brand new site. Among the new things companies are asking for at the moment for their sites are:

  • A fresh new look
  • Snappier, more strategically-focussed content
  • More video content
  • A simple content management system so that edits can be made in-house
  • Mobile and tablet compatibility
  • Improved search engine optimisation
  • Faster loading times
  • A blog embedded in the site
  • Integration with social media


The new Resmed.com.au site, upgraded August 2014.

Looking at it from the content writer’s point of view, upgrading a big website is a logistical challenge, especially for companies without a system in place for processing copy approvals on a mass scale. I’ll often spend three to six months working in-house on a big website upgrade. During that time, hundreds of pages will be upgraded or discarded and new ones created from scratch.

It’s an exciting process for me because of the steep learning curve at the beginning, the feeling of camaraderie that builds as the team works together and the satisfaction of ticking off each page on the site map as the copy is completed and approved. If that sounds like an idealised picture of how it all comes together – you’re right, it is.


The upgraded Avant Insurance site

Learning about a company’s products is the easy part. Understanding how they’re sold in different markets and to different audiences can be more of a challenge. Overlay that with working out who in the organization does what, which country/office they work in, their working hours and when they can find time to review the copy – well that’s a whole other thing. I’ve left out the weekend work, the late nights and the overseas conference calls at the crack of dawn. Then there are the fraught meetings with the web developers when the company has a last minute change of mind or the panic about the possibility of missing a deadline.


Armstrong Legal has recently upgraded the corporate crime section of its site.

It’s extra fun when the developer’s office in India gets flooded or their whole city goes on strike…yes it does happen! But the excitement of the go-live moment when the crisp and crunchy new site is revealed always makes it seem worthwhile. And, for me, after helping with the post-go-live fixes, I pack up my things, book a week at a health spa for myself and my long-suffering partner and spend my cache of content cash!


The new HiQCell website for Regeneus

Have a look at these website upgrades I’ve written content for:




Armstrong Legal