How to Make Online Communities More Accessible

Accessibility is about building equitable spaces where we can all participate. Today, we explore the latest assistive technology and best practices to make your community more accessible.

Table of Contents

If you run an online community, then you want to provide your members with the best possible experience. Content is king, but a certain degree of virtual accessibility goes a long way too.

However, before we get into how to make your community accessible, we should be upfront about one thing. This is a pretty big topic. Also, we’ll disregard the traditional definition of “accessibility” – virtual accessibility is not just about people with disabilities.

Building on that, we’ll talk about specific ways to make your community easier to use. These include providing alt text on images. Or ways to structure information on pages so they are logical and easy to follow for everyone.

Ensuring the universal accessibility of online communities will become essential for social inclusion.

What Does Accessibility Mean in Online Communities?

Virtual accessibility is one of the most important aspects of a community. It’s not just about making sure that everyone can use the website or app. But also ensuring that everyone feels welcome and comfortable once they become part of the group.

Virtual accessibility is an essential aspect of improving the lives of those who are part of online communities.

Therefore, accessibility means making sure that all people have equal access to your online community. This includes people with disabilities, people with visual impairments, and even people who are new to technology.

So it’s all about making sure that whatever you’re creating is available to as many users as possible!

This doesn’t mean that everything has to be perfect for everyone at all times. It just means trying your best.

Related 👉 Is Your Community a Safe Place?

How to Make Online Communities Accessible

To make online communities accessible, make sure that the content is easily readable by everyone. Also, you can use descriptive titles for photos, videos, and blog posts. So people know what they’re looking at without having to rely on images alone.

4.4 million people use screen readers in the US. Provide proper alt text descriptions in images so that technologies such as screen readers can read them aloud. For example, if you have a photo of someone smiling, write “Man smiling” as the alt text. Alt text needs to be short and to the point in describing the image!

Stark 🖤

Stark is a free community for developers and designers who are creating accessible UX projects. It mainly works in a Slack group. Join the community >>>

You can also adopt virtual accessibility guidelines to make communities more accessible. There are some key points that almost all existing accessibility guidelines share.

Among them, is the importance of communities working with a range of assistive technologies. What’s best is to set a proper target size. Interactive elements like buttons and link touch target sizes should be at least 44px by 44px target size, making them easily tappable.

Also, make sure you design for personalization. One size doesn’t fit all. Provide options to switch to high contrast or color blind modes. A choice to opt-in or opt-out will enable users to select the best solution for their needs.

Stark community tips
According to Verizon Media, 69% of video content on the Internet is watched without sound. Credits: Stark

To summarize, in their study Developing Online Community Accessibility Guidelines for Persons with Disabilities & Older Adults, Bo Xie & Paul T. Jaeger state four concepts that can be used to ensure effective virtual accessibility standards in online groups:

#1: Time

Make sure to allow sufficient time for users to complete forms. This will avoid negatively affecting those who have to take more time or are working slowly due to a disability.

#2: Asynchronicity

Assure that your community has asynchronous interaction formats. So that users have the option to participate in ways other than in real-time conversations. Features such as chats that occur in real-time can be difficult for members with a range of disabilities. In short, asynchronous features allows each user to participate at their own pace!

#3: Multimedia

Communities can be designed with speech/text recognition features. And can make use of audio or video recording techniques. So that members have the option to engage in conversations and discussions through audio or video.

#4: Built-in-accessibility

It would be great if these accessibility features were built-in directly into the platforms communities use. That way, users with disabilities would be able to be more actively involved in the groups’ activities.

Accessibility in Online Learning

Online learning is a great way to give students who can’t be in the same room the experience of a classroom. But even though virtual classrooms are becoming more popular, there are still some challenges when it comes to accessibility.

Related 👉 Growing a Community Organically [Interview With David Berkowitz]

However, there are plenty of ways you can make your online course more accessible. You can use tools such as screen readers and alternative text so that students who’re blind or visually impaired can navigate the course material as easily as their sighted peers.

You can also ensure that all images have alternative text so that they can be used without first downloading them. Also, make sure that all videos are captioned so that students who’re deaf or hard of hearing can follow the content.

Accessibility Tips for Events

Particularly in online communities, accessibility also means making sure everyone can participate equally in discussions and events. If you’re planning a virtual or hybrid event, one of the easiest ways to make your event more accessible is by making sure that your website and social media pages are easy to navigate. Here are some tips:

💡 Ensure that you have clear and simple navigation on your platform, website, or app. So it’s easy for people to find what they are looking for.

✨ Add a “Skip to content” link at the top of your page. This will allow users who use screen readers to get to the main content on your page quickly.

🙌🏾 Make sure all of your links are clearly labeled. And that they don’t use jargon or images instead of text (e.g. instead of writing “Click here”, write “Click this link”).

💜 Provide alternative formats for documents such as PDFs and PowerPoint presentations. This way, users with dyslexia or visual impairments can access them easily.

You could provide a transcript or captions for video content too. This can be done by using YouTube’s automatic captions feature. Or hiring someone to transcribe audio recordings.

Also, both in virtual and in-person events, you could offer sign language interpretation for speeches, talks, and live-streamed events. In addition, make sure that people with hearing impairments have access to headphones. On the other hand, if you’re planning an in-person, you’ll have to make sure the venue is wheelchair accessible.

Building Brand Accessibility

One of the biggest challenges that brands face in the digital age is making their brands inclusive and accessible. This includes making sure that anyone can access your brand’s information, and promoting dialogue with your customers.

It means that your brand should be accessible through different channels, whether that’s social media or a website. It has to be a part of people’s lives. So they can always go back and connect with it whenever they want or need something from you.

Related 👉 Community Can Help You Increase User Retention: Here’s How

A great way to start building virtual brand accessibility is by using clear language in your content. Make sure that all of your content is written in plain English so that people with a variety of learning styles will be able to understand what you’re saying.

You could also provide alternative methods for communication. If someone can’t access email or chat programs, let them know how they can get in touch with someone at your company.

Last but not least, make sure all forms are accessible. When creating forms online, make sure all fields are clearly labeled and easy to read.

Creating an accessible community can be a challenge. But it doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive if you’re willing to invest time and effort into learning how to do it right.

The good news is that there are many resources available right now. And they can help you make your community and brand more accessible. Including plenty of free tools, plugins, and resources. So there really isn’t any excuse not to try! 👉 Check out them in the best accessibility communities

Victoria Mortimer

Victoria Mortimer

I'm a journalist with a Social Communication degree, community manager, and content creator with over five years of experience. Now, I'm working as an independent writer passionate about community building, entrepreneurship, and social media.