Increase Your Audience Size Through Accessibility (Blog World 2010)


This post is a summery of the presentation “Increase your audience size through accessibility” delivered by Allison Sheridan at Blog World Expo 2010.

Imagine for a moment that your site were to be damaged one day. From that day forward, roughly half a billion people who currently have the potential to access your site would be met with a garbled website or nothing at all when they navigated to your website. Would you work to fix it?

Believe it or not, your website is probably already broken. An estimated 314 million people are vision impaired and 278 million are hearing impaired and when they navigate to your site, many of them are turned away because you haven’t taken the time to make your pages accessible to them. If you want that audience, you need to make the changes below, and fast, because you are losing more of this potential audience every day that your page says broken.

Accessibility in Podcasting

Podcasting opened up a new world for the blind by offering fantastic audio content on so many subjects for free. But how you display your podcast can mean the difference between a large bump in users or the isolation of your hearing and vision impaired users. Fix the two following things you and will make a world of difference in the experience of your users.

  1. Format. If you are not offering your podcast in MP3, you are losing everyone with a screen reading program. Screen readers cannot open anything in AAC format, despite the improvement in compression. So if you must have AAC format for audio quality, provide a link also for MP3 downloads so that you don’t loose your vision impaired audience.
  2. Transcripts. Podcasts can be scripted or improv, but if you don’t provide a transcript or outline somewhere, you will lose your hearing impaired audience. Products like Dragon Naturally Speaking, Express Scribe, and Nuance.com can provide tools to transcribe your podcast quickly and easily and are less expensive then traditional transcription services. Posting a transcript also has the side benefit of making the content of your post searchable in Google. All around it is a good thing to do.

Accessibility in Traditional Blogging

Traditional text based blogs are great for the deaf, but can prove challenging for the blind who rely on screen readers. Fix the following things, and see your user appreciation grow.

  1. Heading Tags. Don’t denote important sections of a post with bold or italics. Doing so means nothing to screen readers. Using traditional XML heading tags allows users with screen readers to skip to important sections without a second thought and allows for a quick tradition should you ever transition your blog to another theme.
  2. Alt Tags. We have known for years that alt tags in images were important, but very few people pay attention. Not only are the alt tags for images read by screen readers, they also appear should one of your link images break. Being descriptive in your alt tags will prove beneficial and your readers will appreciate it.
  3. CAPTCHA. If you are using a CAPTCHA to prevent spam on your site, make sure it is accessible. Visual only CAPTCHAs make it impossible for your vision impaired users to register or leave comments on your website without assistance. A simple way to fix this is by using the free reCAPTCHA from captcha.net or implementing better spam filters and doing away with CAPTCHA all together.
  4. Embedded Videos. While large video sites like YouTube are accessible to screen readers and allow those with screen readers to play, pause, and refresh videos, many of their embedded videos are not accessible (this includes embedded YouTube videos). Until this problem is fixed, providing small text under your embedded videos with a direct link to the video site will suffice. You can even hide this text by matching the text color to the color of your background, that way only individuals with screen readers will see it.

So why should you go through all this trouble? Because your audience will appreciate it. Being accessible will not only help to grow your audience, but it will increase the relationship you have with your current vision and hearing impaired users. Getting one letter from a vision or hearing impaired fan of your site is all that it will take for you to see how beneficial these simple changes can be.


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