A Letter to My Fellow Communications Majors: Let’s Talk Digital Accessibility

By Kennedy Willingham, Oklahoma ABLE Tech Communications Intern    

Dear Fellow Undergrads,

As we prepare ourselves to enter the world of communications in a professional setting, we need no reminder of the power and impact of our words on digital platforms. However, one aspect of communications work often gets overlooked: digital accessibility.

Digital accessibility refers to the practice of ensuring that websites, applications, and online content are usable by everyone, including those with disabilities and those who access these platforms using assistive technology (AT). It's about making sure that our digital creations are not barriers, but bridges to information and communication for all individuals, regardless of their abilities.

You might be wondering why digital accessibility matters to us as communications professionals. Well, think about it this way: our work has the power to reach millions of people around the world. But if our content isn't accessible to everyone, we're excluding a significant portion of our audience. 15-20% of people have self-reported disabilities. However, there is an estimated 25-30% disabled individuals including non-reported cases.

Imagine a world where someone with a visual impairment couldn't access the news articles we write or someone with a hearing impairment couldn't understand the videos we produce. That is not the inclusive world we strive to create through our communications efforts!

Now, you might be thinking, "But how can I make my content more accessible?" It's not nearly as scary as you might think. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. Use descriptive alternative text for images: When you include images in your digital content, provide alternative text (alt text) describing the image's content. This helps individuals who use screen readers to understand the visual elements of your content. To learn more, check out WebAIM’s article on Alternative Text.
  2. Provide captions for videos: Adding captions to your videos ensures that individuals who or hard of hearing can still access the audio content. It also benefits those who may be watching your videos in a noisy environment or without sound. The Bureau of Internet Accessibility has an article about closed captioning, Open Vs. Closed Captions: Which is More Accessible?
  3. Make your website keyboard accessible: Some individuals may not be able to use a mouse or touchscreen to navigate your website. Ensuring that all interactive elements are accessible via keyboard navigation makes your website more inclusive. It’s important that we make sure keyboard commands interact with a website the same way a mouse can. One way to check is by using the “Tab Test” which is demonstrated in this video: The Tab Test. How to test if a website is accessible for disabled people. It is easy!

  4. Choose accessible fonts and colors: Select fonts that are easy to read and avoid using color combinations that make it difficult for individuals with color blindness to distinguish between elements. (You can learn more about this and access multiple resources from my previous blog: Maintaining Design Aesthetics and Keeping Accessibility in Mind)

Other resources, such as conferences and training courses, include:

  1. Oklahoma ABLE Tech’s TechAccess Oklahoma Conference: This is an annual conference dedicated to providing attendees with resources, speakers, and networking opportunities associated with digital accessibility, no matter the stage of implementation! Oklahoma ABLE Tech has already hosted this year’s conference, but you can watch TechAccess Oklahoma 2024 session recordings on our YouTube channel.
  2. Training courses, videos, and webinars:

Now, how can we encourage our peers and colleagues to prioritize digital accessibility? This is where we can take a page out of the playbook of behavioral change campaigns targeted toward college-age individuals, like anti-smoking or anti-vaping campaigns.

Just as those campaigns utilize powerful messaging and social influence to promote healthier behaviors, we can do the same for digital accessibility. We can start by raising awareness about the importance of digital accessibility within our own circles. Share articles, participate in workshops, or attend events to educate yourself, your friends, and your classmates about the impact of inaccessible digital content.

We can also lead by example. By incorporating digital accessibility best practices into our own projects and advocating for accessibility in our workplaces and communities, we can inspire others to follow suit.

Not to mention, when you think about it, the sooner accessibility is implemented, the less remediation is required later. This is especially true for undergrad students like me. 

I began my digital accessibility journey as an intern for Oklahoma ABLE Tech’s Digital Accessibility program last year. As an intern and student employee, I have found it is much easier to create accessible content from the start, rather than having to go back and fix your content later. 

One easy fix that stood out to me when I started my accessibility career was no longer including links in Instagram captions! We’ve all experienced an Instagram caption that provides a link to an outside webpage, but you can’t actually click the in-caption link. By providing a call to action like “Check out the application at the link in our bio,” we can make our links on Instagram more accessible for EVERYONE who views our content.

Together, we have the power to create a more inclusive digital landscape. Let's use our skills and knowledge as communications professionals to ensure that no one is left behind in the digital world. I hope you’ll join me in making digital accessibility a priority in our communications journeys!

Sincerely,

Kennedy Willingham