General content guidelines
You can apply these general guidelines to any content you are working on to make it accessible for everyone, whether it is a webpage, document, video, or presentation.
On this page:
- Colour and contrast
- Use of images
- Plain English and content
- Using forms
- Recording audio and video content
- Exempt types of content
Structure (use headings and styles)
A structure means adding descriptive headings such as Heading 1, Heading 2 and Heading 3. Adding these creates a map or navigation menu of headings and sub-headings for screen readers to follow. It also allows readers to scan the page for the content they are looking for.
- Break up your document to make it more readable. Use bullet points, numbered steps and subheadings.
- When using descriptive section headings should be used to organise the content. Authors may also want to consider putting the most important information at the beginning of each heading. This helps users “skim" the headings to locate the specific content they need and is especially helpful when browsers or assistive technology allow navigation from heading to heading.
- Do not use bold to mark-up subheadings. Use styles to create a hierarchy of headings: ‘heading 1’, ‘heading 2’ and so on.
- Use a sans serif font like Arial or Helvetica and use a minimum size of 12 point
- Add a table of contents and summaries to longer documents and use page numbers ensuring all page numbers are in the same location.
- Use descriptive page titles that describe the topic or purpose. Any links referring to the page/content should also semantically match the page title.
Colour and contrast
This will help to make your content accessible to people with visual impairments or colour-blindness.
- Colour is not the only method of conveying meaning. e.g using green, red and amber alone to convey a hierarchy
- There is sufficient contrast between text and background colour in your document.
Ways to do this
- Use the University web visual identity colour palette (be careful not to overuse or use colours that are similar)
- Use the Microsoft Office Accessibility Checker to list any accessibility issues in your document, including insufficient colour contrast.
- In Moodle, use Blackboard Ally accessibility checker
- Use a tool to check contrast, for example, WebAIMs Contrast Checker
- You can also look for text in your document that’s hard to read or to distinguish from the background.
Use of images
Images need to have alt text (alternative text)
If you’re using images to convey information, think about how you’ll make the content accessible to people with a visual impairment or who use text-only browsers. Never use an image instead of text.
- Provide (or give the person converting or uploading the document for you) alt text (alternative text) for the image which should be a short meaningful description of the image. This can include links to more accessible content or other references.
- Make the same point in the text of the document (so people with visual impairments get the information they need - the image is there as an extra for people who are able to see it).
- Complex images (charts, diagrams, maps, and illustrations) can have longer descriptions and/or links to more accessible content or other references.
- If an image is decorative (i.e. there for purely aesthetic reasons) then it does not need alt text, instead the ‘Mark as decorative’ box can be ticked in the alt text tab when using Microsoft Office
The description of functional images should be the function e.g. next, back
- TIP: There is no need to include a 'Picture of' or 'Image of' as screen readers identify it as an image.
Groups of images
Sometimes groups of images are used together to represent one piece of information. For example, a collection of star icons that together represent a rating. In this case, only one of the images needs a text alternative to describe the entire collection, while the other images have a null (empty)
alt attribute so that they are ignored by assistive technology.
In other cases, a group of images may represent a collection of related images. For example, showing a collection of art impressions that are thematically related. In this case, each image needs its text alternative that describes it individually, as well as its relationship within the group.
- Advice from Scope on writing better alt text descriptions for accessibility
- Advice from WCAG on complex images
- In depth image description guidelines from the Diagram Centre - includes detailed guidance for maths, chemistry, graphs, relational and text-only images
Use meaningful links. It is particularly important for screen readers (which can scan links), that the link describes where the link goes e.g. “Understanding accessibility” and not “Understanding accessibility click here”.
Plain English and content
Write in language that’s as simple as possible. This makes your document accessible to people:
- with cognitive impairments and learning disabilities (such as dyslexia)
- who speak English as a second language
- who need information quickly (all of us!).
Where you need to use technical terms, abbreviations or acronyms, explain what they mean the first time you use them.
- Use descriptive section headings.
- Keep sentences and paragraphs short.
- Use a sans serif font like Arial or Helvetica
- Use a minimum size of 12 points.
- Make sure the text is left-aligned, not justified.
- Use sentence case. Avoid all caps, text, and italics.
- Avoid underlining, except for links.
- Do not use colour alone to get across meaning.
- Avoid footnotes where possible. Provide explanations inline instead.
Only use tables for data
- Keep tables simple: avoid splitting, nesting, or merging cells.
- Use table headers so that screen readers can identify columns and rows and so people can tab through your document.
- Avoid blank cells as this can mislead screen readers into thinking the table has ended.
- Microsoft support: Create accessible tables in Word
Using forms and spreadsheets
- Microsoft Forms, which is part of Office 365, provides accessible forms
- If you’re creating a web form please see W3C Web Accessibility tutorial on creating accessible forms.
- If you’re creating another type of office document (for example a spreadsheet or presentation), the Office 365 version of Office has a built in Accessibility Checker (available under the ‘Review’ tab). There’s more guidance on how to make documents accessible on the Accessible Digital Office Document Project
Recording audio and video content
The 2018 Digital Accessibility Regulations require that, from 23rd September 2020, all ‘time-based media’ (video and audio) must either provide a transcript or captioning or both (video only).
Media published before that date is exempt.
Exempt types of content
Some types of content and websites are exempt from the new regulations. But even if something is exempt, all UK service providers have a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010.
Documents like PDFs and Microsoft Office files need to be accessible if they’re primarily intended for use on the web.
There’s an exemption if they’re both:
- published before 23 September 2018
- not essential for services being provided
There are also exemptions from making content accessible if it’s:
- pre-recorded audio and video published before 23 September 2020
- live audio and video (up to 14 days use)
- office file formats published before 23rd September 2018, unless such content is needed for active administrative processes relating to the tasks performed by the public sector body
- using maps - but if the map helps users find a service you offer, you must provide directions in another way
- part of a heritage collection - for example, scanned manuscripts
- third party content that’s under someone else’s control if you didn’t pay for it or develop yourself - for example, social media ‘like’ buttons