Accessible Who? Accessible U

June 29, 2018

The goal of content production is to reach one’s audience. Creating accessible content makes that goal more achievable.  Accessibility means making your content usable by people of all abilities. It improves the experience for adaptive technology users, people with non-apparent disabilities, and the general population—in essence, improving both accessibility and usability.

Everyone wants to get accessibility "right." But a perfectionist attitude can be overwhelming. It’s simply impossible to make your digital content 100 percent accessible for 100 percent of your users. Accessibility doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

Start by learning the six core skills of accessible, usable digital communication: headings, hyperlinks, video captions, bullets and numbered lists, color and contrast, and image alt-text.


Headings make your documents accessible to screen readers while also improving scanability and maintainability. Practice applying headings in any written medium: from emails to research papers to blog posts.

You should structure your document using paragraph styles or heading tags. Structure is critical for adaptive technology users, who rely on properly formatted headings to understand documents and web pages. Without this structure, there is no easy way to navigate a document because it is read as a single long section.

Photo of heading styles


Improve the usability and accessibility of hyperlinks by embedding them in text and making them clear, concise, and meaningful out of context. Sighted users visually scan pages for links to help them find what they're looking for. People using screen readers can do the same thing. At the touch of a button, they can pull up a list of all the links on a page.

Embed hyperlink within other text—instead of cutting and pasting the full link, like this:

Highlight the text you want to hyperlink, and insert the link. The shortcut for creating a hyperlink is control + K (or command + K on a Mac). Your embedded hyperlink should look like this:

Hyperlinks best practices

Photo of best hyperlink practices

Bulleted and numbered lists

Presenting a “wall of text” can discourage reading. Instead, present key concepts as bulleted/numbered lists when possible.

Do not create lists manually by simply inserting numbers, characters, images or other symbols. For example:

-List item

-List item

-List item

Adaptive technologies cannot identify or convey the existence of a list in this format.

✔ Do:

  • Use your software’s built-in list function.
  • Use bullets to show a list of related items.
  • Use numbers to show steps in a process or the number of parts in a whole.
  • Use a small amount of space between each line.

Color and Contrast

Just because text looks one way to you when designing your documents and web pages doesn’t mean it will look the same way to your audience. Users of adaptive technologies like screen magnifiers can change the way colors look on their personal display, for example, high contrast mode. Some users may be looking at your content while standing in bright sunlight. Others may have an older computer monitor with different color calibration settings.

Always ensure a strong color contrast between foreground and background and always use color plus another visual indicator, like color + boldface type or color + size, to communicate essential information.

Video captions and Transcripts

Captions are for videos, and transcripts are for audio. Captions display all audio information, including music. They can be either “closed” (able to be turned on or off by the user) or “open” (on all the time). Transcripts are skimable and can be found by search engines.

These alternate formats improve the playback experience for your audience in a variety of contexts and situations, such as a viewer who cannot hear the audio or a viewer who is in a quiet area without access to headphones. Captions and transcripts should be included with all multimedia content produced by the University of Minnesota. Accessible U has a step-by-step article on creating captions and transcripts.

Alt Text

Alternative text (alt text) describes the content of images or graphics. It should be added to every image that conveys meaning in instructional and communications materials. You do not need to include alt text for decorative images/graphics. After adding an image to a Google document, slide, or spreadsheet, navigate to the menu: Format > Alt Text. The dialog box looks like this:

Photo of the alt-text box

Alt text should answer this question: What is the content conveyed by the image? You don’t need to write full alt text if the information about the graphic is located elsewhere in the document, for example, if the description of the image is already part of the body text or image caption. Longer descriptions (125+ characters) should be included in the body text of your document, rather than as alt text. Accessible U has a step-by-step article about using alt text.

Alt-text for a photo of Goldy

Furthering your skills

If you’re interested in learning more about accessibility, you will be able to earn a badge in Accessible Digital Communication soon. Through the completion of the free modules, you will gain practice with skills like:

  • Writing emails
  • Creating documents and instructional materials
  • Making presentations
  • Using the 6 core skills

The training is not available yet, but when it is it will be added to Accessible U.