Best Practices for Accessible Digital Marketing Materials
There are lots of different types of content you might create as marketing materials—this resource discusses some best practices for making accessible PDFs, videos, emails, presentations, and posters, as well as offering general guidelines that can be applied to most other materials.
Before reading this, you might want to read:
Best Practices for Accessible Digital Marketing Materials (including newsletters, email blasts, videos/webinars, slides, and posters)
As someone working in publishing, you are almost certainly creating a lot more than just books. From videos of author interviews to catalogues, posters, newsletters, and more, there is a tonne of digital marketing materials… and there are ways to improve and enhance the accessibility of each one! This resource will go through most of them, but check out the Next Steps section below for information on accessible websites, image descriptions, and more.
Accessible marketing is all about creating content that everyone can enjoy. If you make accessibility a priority from the beginning, everyone will be able to access and understand your message!
When crafting your marketing materials, you should consider the following general guidelines because they can be applied to all areas of accessible digital marketing.
Use Plain Language
When writing marketing materials, use plain language. Plain language ensures that your audience can read and understand your message easily. Aiming for a Grade 8 reading level is a great rule of thumb.
Use Headings for Structure
Use proper heading structures when creating content. Level 1 headings should be used for major sections, Level 2 headings should be used for subsections within major sections, and Level 3-6 headings should be used for minor areas within subsections, as needed.
A proper heading structure lets people who use assistive technologies (like screen readers and braille displays) navigate the content. If you do not have headings, they will be presented with a wall of text.
An example of good heading structure:
- Heading One: Our Fall Newsletter
- Heading One: Contents
- Heading One: Letter from the Editor
- Heading One: Our Fall Events
- Heading Two: September Events
- Heading Three: Meet & Greet with The Author
- Heading Two: October Events
- Heading Two: November Events
Use descriptive link text that describes where the link takes users accurately. Assistive technologies can move between links, so they will provide context for the reader if they are informative. For example, if you link to this resouce, you could use the link text “Accessible Marketing Materials.”
Do not use text like “click here” or “more,”. This does not describe where the link will take the user, and actually violates the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
In general, always use left alignment for your text. Centre alignment can be used for headings.
Use accessible sans serif fonts in your marketing materials, including “Arial,” “Calibri,” “Verdana,” and “Helvetica.” The font size of your content should be 12 points or larger (except for presentations, which should be 20 points or larger).
When you want to emphasize text in bold or italics, use the style pane (in Word) to add “emphasis” (italics) or “strong” (bold) to your text.
Add alt text to any image in your marketing materials unless they are decorative. Alt text describes the image for people who use assistive technologies like screen readers. If you have charts, maps, or diagrams, you will need to include a long description.
Many email services provide you with the option to add alt text to images if you embed them in the email. You can also add alt text to images in presentations (PowerPoint, Google Slides, and Keynote).
Do not present text as images. All text should be written out and readable by assistive technologies.
Ensure that any colours you use for text, images, or background meet the minimum colour contrast ratio of 4.5:1 (4.5:1 for 18pt size and lower; 3:1 for larger size text). This provides enough contrast for people with low vision to differentiate between the text and the background.
Additionally, do not rely on colour alone to convey meaning. People who are colour blind will be excluded from understanding your content if you provide information using only colour.
There are two ways to create accessible PDFs:
- You start with an accessible document (like a Word document) that you export as a tagged PDF.
- You create an accessible PDF in Adobe.
The first option is the best (and easiest) one. If you structure a Word document (for example) using the general guidelines listed above and save it as a “Tagged PDF,” your PDF will be generally accessible. There may be some things that you need to add or improve in the PDF, but for the most part it will be good to go!
There are tools you can use to help you check if your document is accessible (depending on the software you use):
- You can use Word’s “Accessibility Checker” to ensure that a Word document is accessible before exporting it as a PDF.
- Adobe Acrobat Pro has the option to “Full Check/Accessibility Check” your document.
The second option, creating an accessible PDF in Adobe, is more complex and will take longer to complete. If you start with an inaccessible document, you must manually add accessibility features (or use the “Accessibility Check” option) to the PDF. This involves:
- Ensuring that screen readers can access the text by overriding any security settings.
- Converting images of text to text using OCR. PDFs that present images of text (such as a scanned book page) are inaccessible for assistive technologies.
- Tag the document with the proper reading order, including headings and text.
- Specify the document’s language and/or sections of text so that the screen reader will correctly pronounce each language. If you have multiple languages in your document, you need to tag each option with the language.
- Add a title to your document.
Adobe provides a great guide for you to create and verify PDF accessibility in Adobe Acrobat Pro (see External links below), which will walk you through how to complete the above actions and more.
If you have videos in your marketing materials, adding closed captions, audio descriptions, and transcription will help make this information accessible.
- Closed captioning provides people with hearing disabilities with the text spoken in the video.
- Audio descriptions describe the video for people who are blind or have low vision. They are given the information they need to understand the content.
- Transcripts are written documents of the spoken audio from the video.
We suggest creating captions, audio descriptions, and/or transcripts manually or editing them if they are auto-generated. For example, YouTube and Zoom create automated captions for videos, but they generally need to be edited for accuracy.
If you add videos to your content, they should not auto-play (i.e., start to play when someone opens the page), and the controls should be keyboard accessible. Using auto-play can be confusing for people using screen readers. They will hear both the video audio and the voice of their screen reader until they can navigate to the video controls (with their keyboard) to turn it off.
Emails and Newsletters
Many different email services and/or clients have different functionality. You should follow the general guidelines above when creating emails (for marketing) and newsletters:
- Use plain language and avoid large “walls” of text.
- If you have a large amount of text, use heading structure to organize it.
- Use a sans serif (e.g., Arial and Calibri) font at least at size 12 points (or larger).
- Left-align the text—don’t centre-align or justify your paragraphs.
- If you use colours, ensure that the text and background ratio is at least 4.5:1 and don’t use colour only to convey meaning.
- The link text in your email and newsletter should be descriptive and accurately describe where the link will take them.
When creating marketing presentations, here are some tips for making them accessible (in addition to the general guidelines above):
- Keep it simple! When creating slides, use simple layouts and consistent formatting throughout the presentation. For example, headings should be in the same area of the slide (for each level) and use the same font for all.
- Add headings to organize your slides. For example, use a level 1 heading for each section and level 2 heading for the slide titles.
- Give every slide a unique title.
- Use bullets to organize your information instead of large chunks of text.
- Use easy-to-read fonts (like the sans serif for “Verdana”) and a font size of at least 20 points.
- Add alt text to images.
- Add captions and video descriptions to videos.
The most popular presentation applications have (for the most part) unique accessibility features:
PowerPoint has an “Accessibility Checker” you can use to help ensure that a presentation is accessible. The checker points out missing alt text, low colour contrast ratios, etc. It also lets you know if the reading order of your slides is correct. Each slide doesn’t necessarily have a logical reading order (it changes depending on how you have created and edited the slides). For example, people using assistive technologies may read the slide (page) number first and the title last. You can use the “Accessibility Checker” to correct the reading order so that it is correct and accessible.
Google Slides allows you to turn on automatic captions that display the speaker’s words live at the bottom of the presentation. Additionally, Google Slides lets you view your presentation in HTML (instead of separate slides). This could be helpful for those who use assistive technologies as HTML can be an accessible format.
Keynote is not very accessible and, beyond the tips described at the beginning of this section, does not currently provide users with additional accessibility features.
If you are creating digital posters for your marketing materials, follow these general guidelines:
- Use plain language and present data in simple tables.
- Use a proper heading structure.
- Use a sans serif font.
- When using colours, ensure that the text and background ratio is at least 4.5:1 (or 3:1 for font over size 20pt) and don’t use colour alone to convey meaning.
- Ensure that there is adequate spacing between the text and that the poster is not too busy or cluttered.
- Use alt text to describe images, graphs, and tables.
- Do not present the poster text as an image. The text should be readable by assistive technologies like screen readers and refreshable braille displays.
- If you have a video in your digital poster – include captions, audio descriptions, and/or transcripts.
Understanding the Importance of Image Descriptions
Introduction to Image Descriptions
Including image descriptions in your ebooks and digital content hugely increases accessibility because it ensures that all readers have access to the same content. This Introduction discusses the importance of image descriptions – to your…
Subject(s): Image Descriptions
Resource Type(s): Foundations and Rationale
Enhancing the Accessibility of a Website
Introduction to Website Accessibility
There is a lot of in-depth information available about how to make websites and digital content accessible. This resource discusses 8 recommendations which serve as a great start!
Subject(s): Strategic Planning, Website Accessibility
Resource Type(s): Foundations and Rationale, Standards and Best Practices
Checking the Accessibility of a Website
Checklists for Website Accessibility
This resource offers two checklists for web accessibility one: a simplified one, which will help ensure that a site has paid close attention to accessibility standards, and a more advanced one based on the WCAG…
Subject(s): Website Accessibility
Resource Type(s): Checklist
Understanding Web Accessibility Requirements and Standards
Web Accessibility Standards, Requirements, & Legislation (including WCAG)
The standards for web accessibility are complex, it’s true. This resource discusses the rules in Canada, and breaks down exactly what is needed to meet the all-important Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Even when simplified,…
Subject(s): Website Accessibility
Resource Type(s): Standards and Best Practices
Reviewing the Accessibility of a Website
Reviewing Website Accessibility
This resource gives a brief overview of the existing options for reviewing the accessibility of a website, including using checklists, running automated checking tools, and hiring people to audit a site.
Subject(s): Website Accessibility
Resource Type(s): Standards and Best Practices
External Links to More Information
Modern Marketing is Accessible Marketing
This ebook from Microsoft discusses making marketing material accessible to people with disabilities. It includes 10 principles that can help make content work well for people with different types of disabilities. Topics include using semantic structure, using fonts and text layout that is easy to read, alternatives for images and video, not relying on colour, ensuring content can be accessed with a keyboard and making event spaces accessible. Features in Microsoft Office to help make documents accessible are outlined.
What is accessible marketing and why should it form part of your marketing plan?
This post covers accessibility in the development of marketing materials. Methods discussed include using inclusive language, considering accessibility at the beginning of a project, not making assumptions about the audience, getting professional help, and getting user feedback.
Accessibility in the Digital Age: A 2022 Guide
This guide discusses the importance of accessibility in digital marketing, provides tips to ensure digital properties are usable by all audiences and explores accessibility in broader terms.
Use Plain Language
This brief article discusses the importance of using plain language and offers tips on writing with clarity.
The Marketer’s Guide to Accessibility
This TPGi webinar discusses how to make your marketing materials accessible.
Create and verify PDF accessibility
This step-by-step document provides information on how to check to see if your PDF is accessible and how to fix it if it is inaccessible.
Making Audio and Video Media Accessible
This World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) resource provides information on creating accessible audio and video.
Accessible Graphic Design
This resource provides information on how to create accessible graphic design, helpful for creating posters.
Make your PowerPoint presentations accessible to people with disabilities
Guidelines and tips that explain how to create accessible PowerPoint presentations. The recommendations include using the built-in accessibility checker will let you know what needs to be added to your document (e.g., adding alt text and specifying the reading order of items in a slide).
Make your document or presentation more accessible
This resource provides information about how to create accessible Google Slides. The tips include information on presenting slides with captions and saving your presentation in HTML.
Keynote: Accessible presentations
Produced by Apple, this document discusses making your Keynote presentation more accessible (e.g., adding headers).
Content Source Acknowledgement
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