Build in accessibility from the start
We write for all Californians, not most Californians.
We must create content that:
- Is easy to consume across different devices and bandwidths
- Works with assistive technology
- Addresses access challenges
- Embraces California’s diversity
Accessibility goes beyond the technical components of a website. It’s about including everyone who has a right to information. That’s everyone who lives in California. Our content must respect the variety of their experiences.
State law requires that state websites be accessible. Content writers are responsible for maintaining some of these standards. An accessibility audit service (like SiteImprove) will check your website against accessibility standards and identify where you can take action.
Why this is important
Californians use a range of devices and have varying levels of education. Government content often assumes that people have access to fast devices and understand complicated language and internal jargon. This creates a barrier for many people, including those who most need the services the government offers.
Content designed for people on a variety of devices from a range of backgrounds is easier for everyone to access, understand, and use.
When a reader feels that the content is “for them,” this builds trust and empowerment.
How to do this in your writing
Well-designed content is naturally accessible. Following the other content principles (like using plain language and being concise) will do a lot to make your content accessible. You can get the rest of the way there through a few extra steps.
Write for California’s rich tapestry of communities
Keep the following Californians in mind when you write:
- People with limited financial resources
- People with limited internet access
- People who live in difficult situations (like domestic violence)
- People struggling with mental health issues (like depression or suicide)
- People who are unhoused or without a fixed address
- People with disabilities
- People of all gender identities
- Communities of color
- Tribal communities
- People of all ages
- People with limited or no English fluency
- Rural communities
We can lower barriers to accessing services and increase trust in content by considering the experiences of these communities.
Be specific about program details
When discussing benefits and services, state:
- Minimum requirements
- Any income restrictions
- Eligible groups that might feel excluded
- How their personal information is protected
- Whether it’s available regardless of immigration status, including:
- Which immigrants are eligible
- If it counts under the public charge rule
Avoid content formats that are not accessible
Documents that require third-party software are not accessible. This includes:
- Word documents
- Excel spreadsheets
- PowerPoint slides
- .zip files
PDFs are viewable in a browser, but are still difficult for people to use. They:
- Are not searchable through the site search
- Are more difficult to open on a mobile device
- Require people to download them to view
- If people download them on a mobile device and do not have unlimited data, this can cost them money.
- Often do not perform well on low-end devices
- Cannot be automatically translated
- Hide content from the reader unless they are downloaded
- Are meant to be printed, not read on a screen, and cannot be easily resized
Do not make PDFs and other files the only way you provide a piece of information. It’s OK to have the content on a webpage and offer a PDF with the same info people can download to share or print.
Write descriptive link text
Link text like click here, read more, and more are not useful to people who use screen readers. Write link text that gives readers a sense of what they’ll find if they select the link. Make your link text different for each URL you use. Using the same link text for multiple URLs confuses people, including those that use screen readers.
Add alt text to images
Screen readers look for alt text. Add useful alt text to images so screen readers can describe images to people who use them.