Free Tools For Accessible Writing

Did you know that I write two newsletters each week? Well, that’s not entirely honest. I send two newsletters a week — I often write them a few weeks in advance. There’s Eat Your Words, which you’re currently reading (thank you), and This Week In Writing for The Writing Cooperative. Today is a super rare occasion where the two newsletters collide.

In late August, I sat down and wrote five issues of This Week In Writing. Everything sending through the rest of September is already scheduled and ready to go. One of those issues, the one sending Tuesday morning, is all about accessible writing.

Angela Phan wrote a fantastic article about how to write for accessibility. She shares a few ways writers can ensure their content is written so those with visual impairments can also enjoy the content. While next week’s issue of This Week In Writing invites a greater discussion on accessible writing, today, I want to share what I’ve done since reading Angela’s article. Namely, I redesigned my entire website.

Several years ago, while working on a printed newsletter, a coworker told me not to use red paper because older eyes couldn’t read text on it. Truth be told, reading printed text on red paper is difficult at any age. Still, the idea of color contrast was always part of my consideration when building a website or presenting my writing visually. However, I didn’t realize there’s an international standard color ratio to aim for.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) recommends a color contrast of at least 7:1 for enhanced contrast on a web page. When I checked the various color combinations of my website, they all fell well under the target ratio. So, I got to work adjusting colors accordingly.

Accessibility doesn’t end with color combinations; it also requires valid code, so screen readers and audio guides present information without gaps. Leaving out an image’s alt tag or a link’s title may result in incomplete information for audience segments. Using a few free tools, I educated myself and updated my website to provide fully accessible writing.

Free Tools For Accessible Writing

Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool (WAVE)

WAVE is more or less a one-stop shop to check a website for accessibility issues. The tool checks for code errors, contrast errors, misused features, and more. It also explains why standards are important and highlight the issue in the web code to make corrections.

Using the tool to evaluate my website, there are currently two contrast errors and nine alerts. While it seems like a lot, it’s significantly lower than when I began updating the site. Some alerts are unavoidable issues related to the WordPress theme.

Use WAVE to check your website. Not only does it highlight issues, but it also provides information about why they’re issues for people with visual impairments. If you don’t have a website that needs updating, play with the WAVE tool to learn about accessibility tools and see your favorite website’s rate.

Coolors Contrast Checker

Remember the ideal WCAG contrast ratio of 7:1? The Colors Contrast Checker evaluates the contrast ratio and lets you play with color options until you find the ideal combination. Currently, my website has a contrast ratio of 8.06:1, well above the desired ratio.

The highest possible ratio, pure black text on a pure white background, is 21:1. If you’re not familiar with color HEX codes, the Coolors tool might seem a little difficult to play with. Thankfully, you can play with the sliders to get an idea of color combinations to avoid. Black text on a red background, for example, scores 5.25. Like I said earlier, not ideal for anyone.

SEO Site Checkup

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a way to ensure your website meets code and search standards. While conforming to SEO standards is not completely focused on accessibility, the SEO Site Checkup tool does highlight issues that may impair someone’s usage of the page.

Running my website through the check nets a 96/100 score, the tool reports three failed issues and one warning. One of the three failures is not running Google Analytics on the website, which I consider a win. After all, I try very hard not to spy on you.

While the SEO Site Checkup tool is free, you can only check one website per 24-hour period without registering for an account. If you want to test other websites to compare results, plenty of other tools are available with a quick search. I rely on this one because the results are detailed and clear, and it does not require me to create an account (assuming I only want to check my site once).

PageSpeed Insights

The final tool I used when redesigning my website for accessibility is Google’s PageSpeed Insights. Like the SEO Checkup, page speed isn’t an indication of accessibility. Though ensuring a quick and responsive website means regardless of a person’s internet connection, they can receive the content quickly and efficiently.

Quick sidebar, yes, I realize the irony of shunning Google Analytics while using Google PageSpeed Insights. Unfortunately, Google has the best tool available. Plus, it doesn’t run on the server and doesn’t take data from the site. So, it’s not tracking you, only the speed of loading the site.

PageSpeed Insights scores page loading on a 100-point scale and highlights issues that may cause slowdowns. My website scored a 95 on Desktop and 75 on Mobile page seed. These numbers are extremely high. For comparison, Amazon scores a 70 on Desktop and 59 on Mobile, while Apple scores an 86 and 53.

Conclusion

While I am not an expert when it comes to website accessibility, I learned a lot throughout this process. Redesigning my website showed that writing for accessibility isn’t difficult; it takes time and awareness. Not only is my website more accessible, but it also loads faster and looks smoother. I’m pleased with the results.

If you’re creating content online, you should make sure it’s fully accessible. If, like me, this concept never crossed your mind, then hopefully, today’s issue is a starting point. However, if you’re a pro at writing for accessibility, please let me know what I missed and how to improve. Let’s grow together.

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