By Laiba Asad
At the beginning of the my internship with the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD), when I learned that I was going to be working on creating info sheets on the federal and provincial/territorial disability benefits as part of the organization’s system navigator project, I believed that the project would only take me a few weeks to complete and that soon enough, I would be able to move onto another project with the CCD. However, with only two weeks left at the CCD during which I am finalizing my research and info sheets, I am realizing how challenging it can be to create content that is accessible, mainly because prior to joining the CCD, I didn’t necessarily know how to write for web accessibility, assuming quite ignorantly that what I wrote or created was already understandable, and didn’t think about the importance of making content more accessible. With that said, I have compiled a list of key takeaways from my internship regarding accessibility:
(a) Content that is presumably accessible can always be more accessible.
Since I mainly consulted government websites for my research on the disability benefits, which follow certain rules to make web content easier to understand and use for everyone, I had assumed that I only had to select the relevant content from these websites, tweak the language used, and reorganize the information when drafting the info sheets. However, I quickly learned that this wasn’t enough and that the content from these websites could be even more accessible by incorporating more plain language such as common words, writing shorter paragraphs, and describing certain concepts which weren’t always defined.
(b) Less is more.
One of the challenges I faced when drafting the info sheets was deciding what content to remove to reduce the length of the info sheets. I learned that less is more when it comes to accessibility and that elaborating on the most useful information in the info sheet and leaving out any extra information or referring to it through hyperlinks can help the audience better understand the eligibility criteria and procedures for each disability benefit.
(c) Using plain language is key to writing for web accessibility.
I tried to incorporate plain language in the info sheets as much as possible, notably by keeping sentences and paragraphs short, using the active voice, using personal pronouns, and explaining technical terms.
(d) In addition to the content itself, the way the content is presented helps to ensure accessibility.
As my internship progressed, I understood that contrary to what I believed, tables aren’t always the best way to present information. Instead, I started to prioritize bullet points and subheadings to organize the information without using tables. I also learned that hyperlinks could be introduced in a more accessible manner by avoiding full hyperlinks and language such as “click here,” describing hyperlinks if necessary, and using nouns as link anchors.
(e) Images, if used correctly, can help the audience easily understand information that is complex.
Since the infographics I made for the info sheets were meant to convey complex information more easily, I had to make sure they were accessible by using contrasting colors, using reasonably sized and easy to read font, limiting infographics to a single idea or concept, limiting text to labeling and avoiding sentences, and practicing modal design.
Overall, my experience with the CCD has changed my perspective on accessibility and on what makes content accessible. I look forward to finalizing my work with the organization in the upcoming weeks and to applying what I’ve learned regarding accessibility to future experiences.