Reducing digital exclusion in online content creation

30th Oct 2020

Website owners and content creators are becoming more aware of the environmental impact of our digital lives. But what about the social impact? It’s not always about what you’re saying online that has implications, how you say it matters too. The reason for this is because not all web users have the same access to online information and resources. Low connection speeds, limited data allowances and disability can mean that some people are excluded from certain content. It is important to know if your content is helping or hindering.

What type of content excludes users?

Slow-loading websites which have not been optimised for efficiency and contain unnecessarily large photos, videos and files can cause problems for website visitors with low connection speeds and limited data. Working through all of those heavy web pages uses up data allowances and some visitors may run out of time or resources before they reach what they really need.

Accessibility and inclusion online are vital for disabled people. Some websites and website content can cause real problems for disabled website users and the assistive technology they might employ whilst online. It is now a legal requirement in the UK for public sector websites to be built and managed in a way that is accessible for disabled users. We have been building websites this way for many years (because why wait for the law to tell you not to discriminate?) and much of what is involved is technical. However, there are ways to manage and publish your website content that makes sure it is accessible to disabled people.

Why digital inclusion is important

  • People on lower incomes anywhere in the world are more likely to be using services with low connection speeds and reduced data allowances.
  • Some households may be sharing a device between several people, which spreads data resources even more thinly.
  • People with disabilities may have a greater need to access online services because physical or face-to-face services are not accessible to them.
  • Shopping online has been found to be 13% cheaper than shopping in-store. This can make a huge difference for people on lower incomes.
  • Now more than ever people are more reliant on online communication with family and friends. Their data is probably best used for a chat with a loved one than streaming an embedded video.
  • Not being able to access the Internet fully means that it is harder for people to develop essential skills in today’s world. This, in turn, causes further negative effects in all areas of life including health, social isolation, education and jobs outcomes. As Good Things Foundation explain; Those who are already at a disadvantage through age, education, income, disability, or unemployment are those who are most likely to be missing out, further widening the social inequality gap.

How can website owners and content creators make a difference?

Be mindful of the things we post online. Take some time to learn about what it means to optimise your website and what makes it accessible or inaccessible to disabled people. There may be things that only your web designer can address but there are certainly ways in which you can manage other aspects, especially your content:

  • Re-size and reduce the file size of photographs before publishing them to your website. Photographs shouldn’t be uploaded directly from the camera several thousand pixels wide and at print quality DPI. Firstly re-size them appropriately for their use (header image, gallery photo, thumbnail etc) and make sure they are suitable for screen PPI, no more. Pic Monkey has some useful guides on optimising photographs for print and for the web.
  • If you’re using WordPress for your website remove idle plugins. Even plugins which aren’t in use will load with the rest of the website, like a digital rubbish bag weighing you down.
  • Video is the most data-hungry of all online content. Is a video necessary when text would quickly and easily get the message across?
  • Does your content get to the point? Does a website visitor have to go through other marketing information before getting to what they really need?
  • Add ‘Alt text’ to your images – These are descriptions of images for visitors who cannot see them but may be read by assistive technology. The facility to add Alt text should be built into your website editor.
  • Don’t use images to convey text information. Text reader software cannot access this and make it available to the website user. If you do put informative text inside an image, add this as actual text too.
  • Use accessible, contrasting colours for backgrounds and foregrounds, especially if the foreground colour is to be used in text. Some colours are not contrasting enough to be accessible to people with vision impairment. Here is a useful colour contrast checker tool.
  • Always provide transcripts with video or audio content for deaf or hearing impaired people.
  • Use headings to create content structure and never for decoration. Headings used appropriately (i.e. heading 1 first, followed by heading 2s and so on) are useful for non-visual users to skip through your content quickly to find what they need. If headings are used purely because the larger text looks nice and not to form a structure then this will be unhelpful and cause the content to be inaccessible.
  • Put link text in context. When creating links, instead of creating the link using just the word ‘here’, add the link to text which describes what the link is for – e.g. ‘see our calendar of events here’. Again, this helps visitors who are using tools to skip through content to easily find exactly what they need.

These are just a few examples of things all content creators, publishers and managers can do to support digital inclusion. Optimising a photograph may seem like a small thing to do, but like all actions of individuals, collectively they can make a huge difference. The best thing about these changes is that not only do they have social benefits but they have environmental ones too and they improve your SEO! Search engines much prefer quicker, well optimised, well structured websites. It’s a win-win situation all round.

There are wider and more complex details in the design and development of websites but these are for your web designer to address.

Below are some useful resources if you’d like to read up on these topics further:

Making the Web Accessible – The World Wide Web Consortium, Web Accessibility Initiative

ONS – Exploring the UKs digital divide

Good Things Foundation

The Guardian - Digital divide 'isolates and endangers' millions of UK's poorest

GOV.UK - Making online public services accessible

Android Central - How much mobile data does streaming media use?

Wikipedia - List of countries by Internet connection speeds