UX Writing and Accessibility

Accessibility isn't just a buzzword. It takes up a good chunk of a UX writer's time, and rightfully so.


When I first started out, I thought I was writing "accessibly" because I was avoiding words like click. While this is definitely a good practice that is inclusive of those who use screenreader, it's only one element of many.


Before we get into the best practices of writing accessible copy, let's be honest: accessibility isn't convenient. It's easy to overlook and fall into the logical fallacy of wondering if the effort is worth only helping a few people.


This article won't endeavour to argue for why accessibility matters, as that can easily fill a whole book. But as a sparknotes version: designing and writing with accessibility in mind doesn't just help those who "need" it, it benefits everyone. Look at the slanted curbs at crosswalks; while they were primarily designed for wheelchair users, they're also used by strollers, bikes and scooters.


If you're not convinced that your writing should keep accessibility in mind, a quick web search of accessible design will provide a ton of reading material.

 

So: let's get into some practical ways your writing can be more accessible.


Keep it simple

We've talked earlier about why UX writing needs to be concise and clear. The same principle applies to accessibility. While this is good practice for those with cognitive disabilities, it also makes your product easier to understand for people who are distracted (how often have you tried to book tickets on your phone while walking towards the metro?). It can also make your product easier for users who do not have native-level English.


In most cases, keep your copy at or below an 11th grade reading level. Apps like Hemingway can help you check this, but note that terms specific to your product may skew the results. For example, a financial app shouldn't avoid terms like assets and capital gain; it's all about context.


This also means using italics, all caps, and emojis sparingly.


Avoid certain terms

As mentioned before, words like click and type aren't inclusive of every user interacting with your product. While there are no comprehensive lists of terms to avoid, there are a few main guidelines to keep in mind.

  • Use they instead of he or she, even in the singular tense

  • Avoid regional terms and slang

  • Use consistent terminology

  • Avoid symbols like ampersand and repeated exclamation points

  • Avoid terms like click, type, and see

Include meaningful links

What's more frustrating than clicking on a button and not being taken to where you were expecting? When writing copy for CTAs and links, actually tell the user where they're going. Don't say learn more when you can say check out this help article.


Hierarchy, hierarchy, hierarchy

Most users read less than half the words on a given page. Putting copy in the right place will ensure that the most important info is front and center.


This makes it easier for those who use a screenreader to get around the site, but also for everyone who is looking for specific information. Use headings, group content into related chunks, and showcase the most relevant info at the top of the page.


Hierarchy is also related to navigation. How easy is it for users to find the page they're looking for? You can find out more by making a site map, or holding usability studies.


Alt and aria text

While alt and aria text is often handled by developers, it's becoming more common for UX writers to be involved.

  • Alt text: Text describing what is in a photo, chart or illustration

  • Aria text: Text explaining certain elements (buttons, headers, etc.), primarily used by screenreaders

If you're asked to contribute to this copy, provide relevant information. For example, if a photo is showing a dog, is it important that it's a chihuahua? Depends on the context. Share what's needed for comprehension.


Keeping it in mind

The best way to write accessibly is to keep accessibility in mind. You'll make mistakes, and that's okay. It's a process, and no site is perfect. But if you add the question "Is this copy accessible?" to your mental checklist, you'll catch more issues, and make your site easier to use for a lot of people.

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