Writing W3C content for people with disabilities


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.

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