I have to admit, before I started using a screen reader (software that reads text and page elements aloud) for my own health problems sometimes, I didn’t think much about the accessibility of my blog. I didn’t even know there were certain things I could be doing that would make it easier to navigate or use for anyone who uses a screen reader, which can include (but is not limited to) people who are blind or visually impaired, have learning disabilities, or have other types of health problems. But now I do know, and I thought it would be helpful to share some of what I’ve learned with all my fellow bloggers out there.
And don’t worry! None of this requires knowledge of coding or web design. Most blogging platforms offer easy ways to do these things with the click or two of a button (though you may need to search for a how-to for your specific platform). These are all simple things you can do or changes you can make going forward when creating content online if you want your blog (and social media) to be more accessible for blind and visually impaired visitors or anyone who uses screen readers!
*Note: I can’t speak for every screen reader user or every screen reader out there, and this is definitely not an exhaustive list, but these are the things I’ve personally noticed as common but easily fixable problems.*
Use Alt Text for Images
If you’ve ever wondered what the alt text is for, this is your answer! It’s to describe the image so that anyone who can’t see it can still know what the image is showing. Sometimes it’s not super important (e.g. a decorative break between sections), but sometimes it is (e.g. something you’re referencing in the text, or a book cover if you don’t state the title in the text). And honestly, even when it’s not important, I’d rather hear a brief, simple description of “decorative line break” than “fhjertewanfdklgrtagi3455ngklet3qnt.jpg”.
Edit to add: Also don’t add unnecessary extra words to your alt text! (E.g. No keyword stuffing) Thank you, Cee Arr, for pointing this out in the comments!
Use Headings for Sections
Headings are great because they make it easier to navigate! When you’re using your eyes, you can easily scan a page to get an idea of the main points, or to find what you’re looking for. Using heading tags (h2, h3, h4, etc.) allows anyone using a screen reader to do the same.
Use Blockquotes When Necessary
If you’re quoting something, blockquotes really are helpful beyond just how they look. Without them, when using a screen reader, it can be hard to differentiate between the quoted text and the blogger’s own words. Hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.
Make Link Text Descriptive
Instead of linking to another post or webpage like this:
Here’s my post about how to make your blog more accessible.
Make the text you use for linking more indicative of what it links to, like this:
Check out my post on how to make your blog more accessible.
If someone is using a screen reader to quickly scan through links or find a specific one, it’s much more helpful to hear what the link is for.
Just be aware when you’re putting out content. Pop-ups and moving parts on a site can be confusing when using a screen reader. Some comment systems are difficult or impossible to use. Visual captchas are obviously inaccessible to anyone who cannot see.
I’m not saying you can never use a pop-up or something, but it’s good to try and keep accessibility in mind, to find accessible plugins for what you need if possible, and to understand that some people may be unable to visit or interact with your blog or website if certain parts of it are inaccessible.
And now some bonus social media accessibility tips…
Add Descriptions to Images and GIFs on Social Media
I’m editing this section to include all social media, since originally I only mentioned Twitter (that’s the only social media I use, so others just kind of slipped my mind). But anywhere you share images publicly online, it’s good to include alt text and/or description!
For Twitter, it’s so simple! I believe it’s automatically turned on now, so all you have to do is click “add description” and type in a description when you add a photo or gif. But here are instructions for adding image descriptions to tweets if you need them.
Goodreads also supports alt text for images in reviews. You just include alt=”describe image here” within the img tag. (And, you know, actually describe the image.)
If you use any other social media sites, I’m sure there are more tutorials out there!
Capitalize Words in Hashtags
For example, instead of #hashtagsarefun make it #HashtagsAreFun because that makes it easier for screen readers to read aloud properly.
Don’t Use Unnecessary Symbols on Twitter
Symbols may look like letters, but they’re not letters. So they’re not spoken like letters. Same goes for using a ton of emojis or symbols in your name. And tweets that use certain meme formats (e.g. text that’s meant to be read in columns) are indecipherable for people using screen readers. Here’s an example of what something like this can sound like to a screen reader:
You 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘬 it's 𝒸𝓊𝓉ℯ to 𝘄𝗿𝗶𝘁𝗲 your tweets and usernames 𝖙𝖍𝖎𝖘 𝖜𝖆𝖞. But have you 𝙡𝙞𝙨𝙩𝙚𝙣𝙚𝙙 to what it 𝘴𝘰𝘶𝘯𝘥𝘴 𝘭𝘪𝘬𝘦 with assistive technologies like 𝓥𝓸𝓲𝓬𝓮𝓞𝓿𝓮𝓻? pic.twitter.com/CywCf1b3Lm
— Kent C. Dodds 🌠 (@kentcdodds) January 9, 2019
Text art can be really hard on people using screen readers — assistive programs helping folks who would otherwise not be able to read a screen.
Try sharing an image of your creation instead!
The video below is your tweet as read by a screen reader. pic.twitter.com/IdPA4sKeAi
— Please don't use text art… (@asciiArtHelpBot) June 16, 2020
Say Things Aloud Instead of Just Putting Text on the Screen in YouTube Videos
This one’s just for YouTubers, and it’s a more nebulous piece of advice since it’s not going to apply to every video or everything in every video. But one of the things I’ve been able to do, despite my health problems, is listen to videos! Except, unfortunately, many videos will often put text up on the screen or hold something in front of the camera, without also saying it aloud. So then I have to look and give myself a headache, and if someone is blind or visually impaired and cannot look, they’re just completely out of luck.
It’s understandable that you can’t speak everything you’re doing or everything on screen aloud for every video, but there are times when it does make sense and would be very easy to say something aloud. Making a list and putting text on the screen for each item? Say them out loud too! Holding up a book because you’re gonna talk about it? Say the book title and author! Taking Buzzfeed quizzes or playing trivia? Read the questions and answers out loud instead of just assuming people can see the answers on screen!
Who knows, maybe one day YouTube will add the option for creators to add audio descriptions to videos for users to turn on or off, like captions. But for now, the more you can say aloud, the better your videos will be for anyone who can’t see what’s happening (or even anyone who’s multitasking and not looking at the screen).
Nobody’s perfect, I’ve definitely made some of these mistakes myself, and I’m sure my own blog is not perfect, so I’m not trying to call anyone out! But the more we all start at least trying to make the world more accessible for everyone, the better it will be!