Creating Accessible Content for People Who Learn Best by Reading and Writing

September 8, 2020

Do you enjoy reading or retain information well after reading a book? What about when you take notes or write an essay? If so, you may be a reading/writing learner.

There are numerous styles of learning and many of us grasp information using more than one. In our four-part series, we’re focusing on four primary styles of learning and examining the digital accessibility considerations for each.

Part one focused on Creating Accessible Content for Visual Learners. Here in the second article, the focus is on tips to consider for making content more accessible for those who learn best by reading and writing.

Get your point across with plain language

If you’re creating content geared toward reading/writing learners, you’re likely going to supply a lot of text on the page. It’s important that text uses plain language to accommodate people with some cognitive, learning, and neurological disabilities. Plain language is more than writing in a way that is easily understood. It can also include considerations for the organization and structure of information.

Plain language avoids unnecessary words and jargon, unless you’re writing for specialized audiences. For example, why write "utilize" when you can write "use?"

Plain language guidelines include considerations for writing for the web such as the organization and structure of content. For example, you can break information up by:

  • Liberally using whitespace, avoiding the dreaded “wall of text” so that your information is easily read.
  • Using lists and bullets.
  • Using shorter and more paragraphs than you might in printed content.

Websites have an advantage over print in that they have endless organizational options and space to customize content.

Consider the best font type, size, placement, and color for your audience

Font matters for creating visually appealing content but it should also be easy to read. The best fonts to use for PDFs, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, are Times New Roman, Verdana, Arial, Tahoma, Helvetica, and Calibri. All of these are sans-serif fonts, with the exception of Times New Roman, which is a serif font.

Serif fonts are regularly used in print, but their "ticks" and "tails" can make them more difficult to interpret and they take up more space on the screen. Whereas sans serif fonts are typically simpler, cleaner, and easier to read.

When choosing font size, consider your audience. If the content is designed to appeal to reading/writing learning styles, it can easily be made accessible. Most websites will be pretty legible if they display text sizes of 12 to 14 point. You can improve legibility for users who need extra assistance by increasing the size, or by enabling the text to be resized or "zoomed in."

WCAG success criterion 1.4.4 Resize Text requires that content can be zoomed to 200%. When text is magnified or pages are reoriented (e.g. changed to portrait or landscape), make sure no information is lost.

When possible, your text should be written as text and not included as part of an image. Screen readers and other assistive technologies can’t read the text inside images. You’ll need to include alt text instead. Plus, images aren’t as easily resized or reoriented as text.

Keep in mind that the color of your text is also important. You’ll want good color contrast to accommodate visually impaired people. Make sure your website doesn’t prevent readers changing the color of text.

Further reading: Best Fonts to Use for Website Accessibility.

Consider line and paragraph spacing

The spacing of text on the page can be just as important as the font and words for some readers. To accommodate some users with dyslexia or a visual disability, consider 1.5 line spacing, double spacing, or working to find the right buffer that makes the content most-easily readable. Use italics or all caps sparingly and keep the text consistently aligned to the left so that it can be easily read.

Use descriptive (and properly coded) headings

Headings are great for providing information that's easy to find and digestible.

Headings (like the ones in this article), allow learners to extract meaning from each section of website content, summing up information or what to expect from the following information in a few words. Keep headings simple yet descriptive using plain language and use them frequently when writing for the web. Questions can also be good choices for headings because they grab a reader’s attention and, at the same time, get them thinking about the information ahead.

Headings also organize information on the page and act as visual cues that direct a reader to sections of content.

Creating accessible headings requires more than writing a succinct description of paragraphs. They need to be recognizable to assistive technologies, too. This means that they can't simply look a certain way, like bigger or bolder, but they have to be coded as headings in a logical order (from H1 to H6). The headings in this article are all H2s, or heading level 2, because following the article's title (which is the most important for understanding the purpose of this page, so it's an H1) and in relation to the rest of the content, they're all of relatively equal importance and weight. They also each introduce a new concept and aren't nested within another. But, if one of these sections had a subsection, it would be introduced by a heading level 3, and so on.

Screen readers need to be able to recognize the changing structure of information and subjects. Headings tags help support this function. An added benefit is that tagging improves SEO. Tags enable search engines to better understand the most important content on your website.

Further reading: SEO Is Changing: Exploring the Link Between Accessibility and Search Rankings.

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