General content guidelines

Format

  • Wherever possible, publish as an HTML webpage. It’s the best way to reach as many people as possible. If you do need to publish a document, it should be in addition to an HTML version.
  • Documents like PDFs make your content harder to find, use and maintain. It can be difficult for users to customise them for ease of reading, and often they do not work very well with assistive technologies like screen readers.

Structure

  • Break up your document to make it more readable. Use bullet points, numbered steps and subheadings.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Content

  • Write in language that’s as simple as possible. This makes your document accessible to people with cognitive impairments and learning disabilities.
  • 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.

Images

If you’re using images to convey information, think about how you’ll make the content accessible to people with a visual impairment. Two things you should do are:

  • 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).
  • Provide (or give the person converting or uploading the document for you) alt text (‘alternative text’) for the image which should be a meaningful description of the image. This can include links to more accessible content or other references.

See also

Advice from WCAG on complex images e.g. charts, diagrams, maps and illustrations

Links

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”.

Tables

  • Only use tables for data. Keep tables simple: avoid splitting or merging cells.

Forms, complex documents and other formats

Video Content

Video content must have closed captioning available as well as an alternative format, for example, transcripts and/or an audio-only track, from September 2020.

Further guidance will be made available over the coming months.

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:

  1. published before 23 September 2018
  2. 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
  • 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 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