What Is Digital Accessibility?
Best Practices and Guidelines

Digital accessibility is the ability of a website, social media, mobile application or electronic document to be easily navigated and understood by a wide range of users, including those users who have visual, auditory, motor or cognitive disabilities.

In the United States, there are a handful of laws are around accessibility and digital spaces. Between the Americans Disability Act (ADA), and Sections 508 and 504 of the Reformation Act, we are legally required to provide accessible content. 

  • Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires electronic communications and information technologies, such as websites, social media, email, or web documents, be accessible. For video content, closed captions are a specific requirement. 
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act protects the civil rights of people with disabilities by requiring all federal entities — and organizations that receive federal funding — to make accommodations for equal access. This means that closed captioning must be provided for users who are deaf or hard of hearing. 

On our websites with UFHealth.org or ufl.edu, we have the ability to make changes to the way they are coded and formatted to allow those users to navigate our content. When it comes to social media, we have less control over the mechanics of the platform, because we can’t make changes to the coding or formatting of the website or app. By now, many social media platforms have added built-in features to accommodate for users accessing our content with assistive technologies, and there are ways you can improve access to the content you create. 

Web accessibility and social media

Because there aren’t any official guidelines for social media accessibility, guidelines for accessible websites are adapted to work with the different platforms. Social media accessibility is tricky because we do not have the same ability to make edits to the way the apps and social media platforms are designed, like we do with our own websites. This is important to note because how a website is designed affects how assistive technology will interact with it. So to get everyone on the same page, an official set of guidelines WCAG 2.0 and now 2.1 were created. 

What WCAG is looking for is any critical issue that will cause serious problems and/or stop most users of assistive technology from using a site. Those things could be anything from making sure you can navigate the site and perform any necessary tasks using only the keyboard, making sure all images have alt-text and multimedia is appropriately tagged, and that all color contrast is correct. These guidelines also look for any issue that may cause problems or frustration for a small number of users. And minor issues that will cause problems or frustration for a small number of users. 

Key terms

Alt-text: Alt text tells people what is in an image, such as text or basic essential details. If an image fails to load, alt text will display in its place. Search engines also index alt text information and consider it a factor when determining search engine ratings.

Assistive Technology: Technologies (software or hardware) that increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities when interacting with computers or computer-based systems. Examples of assistive technology include: 

  • screen magnifiers, which are used by people with visual disabilities to enlarge and change colors on the screen to improve the visual readability of rendered text and images.
  • screen readers, which are used by people who are blind or have reading disabilities to read textual information through synthesized speech or braille displays.
  • voice recognition software, which may be used by people who have some physical disabilities.
  • alternative keyboards, which are used by people with certain physical disabilities to simulate the keyboard.
  • alternative pointing devices, which are used by people with certain physical disabilities to simulate mouse pointing and button activations.

Audio Description: Narration added to the soundtrack to describe important visual details that cannot be understood from the main soundtrack alone. It is a means to inform individuals who are blind or who have low vision about visual content essential for comprehension in a video.

Captioning: A textual representation of sounds–usually associated with television programming or movies; captions are meant to display in real time and to capture speech sounds and sounds beyond speech in some cases. There are two different kinds, open (or burned) captions and closed captions. Open captions are added to the video as a text element and do not need to be turned on or off, and will always appear on the video. Closed captions are probably the most familiar, and are what is used in TV and by various online streaming services with the ability to turn them on or off. This kind of captioning is indexed by search engines like Google. 

Captions are text transcripts synchronized with other audio tracks or visual tracks. Captions convey information about spoken words and non-spoken sounds such as sound effects. They benefit people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, and anyone who cannot hear the audio (e.g., someone in a noisy environment). Captions are generally rendered graphically superimposed (“on top of”) the synchronized visual track.

Camel Case: a naming convention in which each word within a compound word or hashtag is capitalized which allows assistive technology to read each word. For example, #ThrowbackThursday or #UniversityOfFlorida

Image Description: An image description gives more details than alt text and allows someone to learn more about what is in an image that goes beyond alt text. Alt text gives the user the most important information while image descriptions provide further detail. For example, alt text tells someone that there’s a puddle on the floor, and image description tells someone that the puddle on the floor is in the middle of the floor and its orange juice.

Plain Language: (also called plain writing or plain English) is communication your audience can understand the first time they read or hear it. For more information visit PlainLanguage.gov.

Screen reader: A software program used to allow reading of content and navigation of the screen using speech or braille output. Used primarily by people who have various levels of sight loss. JAWS and NVDA are examples.

Transcript: A “transcript” is a text representation of sounds in an audio clip or an auditory track of a multimedia presentation. A “collated text transcript” for a video combines (collates) caption text with text descriptions of video information (descriptions of the actions, body language, graphics, and scene changes of the visual track). Collated text transcripts are essential for individuals who are deaf-blind and rely on braille for access to movies and other content. 

Questions?

If you questions about your social media content and whether it’s accessible, the social media team at UF Health is here to help! Send us an email at socialmedia@ahc.ufl.edu