What is Readability? And How to Make Documents Accessible

Article Featured Image

The internet is everything these days. It's the gateway to the digital world that is far beyond the four walls of your home. It provides access to information, goods, services, and even social interaction. Unfortunately, that access is limited for some people. According to research, approximately one out of five Americans are unable to use digital products because of a disability. Web accessibility might be a hot topic right now, but that doesn't mean everyone is on the bandwagon. Of course, what others are doing is the least of your concerns. As a business owner, you should be focused on making sure that your website follows the standards of web accessibility.

Readability is defined as the ease with which a person can understand a piece of text. If people find that your sentences are easy to understand, then your content can be considered highly readable. Readability is considered low when people find themselves rereading your sentences before being able to absorb your meaning. There are different factors that can affect readability, including word familiarity, length of sentences, type of font, etc.

Obviously, to ensure a website's compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), you want to make sure that everyone, including readers with disabilities, can understand the information presented. For example, people with a lower secondary education reading level as well as those who use a screen reader need to be able to engage with your content.

But that's not the sole reason you should prioritize readability. Making your web content readable ensures that people won't feel like they're passing through a thick fog just to get the idea you're trying to convey. Instead, they can quickly and easily digest what you're saying. As a result, there’s a higher chance that these visitors will convert into paying customers. Remember, humans have a shorter attention span than goldfish. Readability ensures that you capture their attention before they have a chance to turn to your competitor.

A readability score will tell you just how easy or difficult it will be for your target audience to comprehend your content. Usually, the score will indicate the grade level a person must have to be able to understand the text. There are plenty of readability scoring methods, such as the Simple Measure of Gobbledygook (SMOG) level, Flesch reading ease score, the Flesch-Kincaid grade level, the Gunning fog index, and the Fry graph readability formula. While they each have their own formulas, many of them use the same factors to calculate the score, such as the number of characters or word length, the number of syllables, and the word count in the passage.

Readability is one of the many factors affecting web page accessibility. A website is considered accessible when everyone, including people with disabilities, can use it, navigate it, interact with it, understand the content, etc. You won't be able to find a website that doesn'feature paragraphs of content. If your content has low readability, you create a barrier that prevents some users from being able to engage with your website.

In addition to that, both accessibility and readability contribute to websites' usability. Web usability measures how user-friendly a website is. If you want to provide the best user experience for your visitors, you need to make sure that your website is accessible and readable

What are accessible documents?

A document is considered accessible if it is easily readable for both sighted readers and those with visual disabilities. Creating an accessible document requires good readability. Accessible documents must also be legible, meaning they can be physically read by sighted readers. In addition, they must be scannable. A reader must be able to do a quick scan of the document to understand the information it contains. Moreover, an accessible document is searchable. A digital device can be used by the reader to search for words within the document.

It's easiest to make your document accessible during the first stages of creating the document. Below are some guidelines that you can follow to ensure that your document is easy to read and understand.

Use headers.

Headings and subheadings provide screen readers an outline of your content, enabling users to understand how the information is organized. It also enables them to quickly navigate to the content that interests them.>

Use bullet points.

Lists are another way to organize your content. As with headings, screen readers understand the organization of content. When it reads a list, it informs the user that it is reading a list and how many items are in the list. As a result, users can decide if they want to continue reading the list or to skip it altogether.

Use meaningful hyperlinks.

Make sure that the text you use in hyperlinks is concise, descriptive, and meaningful. The text should be understandable even out of context because people using screen readers should be able to decide which links to follow without having to read the surrounding text.

Add alternative text on images.

Not all of your users will be able to physically see images. Adding alternate text allows users with screen readers to get an audible description of what is being shown in the document.

Use strong color contrast.

A high contrast between the foreground and the background of your document can help increase readability, especially for users with visual impairments. According to the web accessibility guidelines, the recommended color contrast ratio is 3:1 for normal text less than 18.5 pixels and 4.5:1 for 18.5 bold pixels or 24 pixel non-bold text.

Create accessible tables.

Make sure that tables used within your documents are simple and correctly formatted. Screen readers must be able to clearly identify the headers for columns and rows. Avoid complex tables, and don't merge cells. In addition, make sure to add captions to help screen reader users understand the information displayed in tables.

There is a lot of information on how to ensure that your website is accessible and readable. Become familiar with the guidelines provided in WCAG 2.1. To help you get started, below are some of the best practices to ensure accessibility and better readability.

  • Create transcripts for podcasts.
  • Enable users to resize text by using relative text styles.
  • Always identify the language used in the text.
  • Use plain language—words that are familiar to readers. Avoid jargon.
  • Write in active voice.
  • Ensure legibility by choosing a clean typeface and a line height that is at least 1.5 times the size of your font.

Empower your customers by making sure that your content is accessible and readable to the broadest audience possible. Providing equal access to your information, products, and/or services is not just a win for your business. It's a win for all.

David Gevorkian is founder and CEO of Be Accessible.

SpeechTek Covers
for qualified subscribers
Subscribe Now Current Issue Past Issues