Thomas Schedler
Thomas Schedler
Co-Founder & CEO – Sulu GmbH
Sulu's technical Master Blaster. Tries to keep our code on it's toes and to master Heston Blumenthal recipes on his very seldom free days.

Accessibility and Structured Content: Creating Inclusive Digital Experiences

For many companies, websites and platforms are not just digital advertisements. Often they are the primary means of communication, engagement, and commerce. For this reason, ensuring accessibility and creating inclusive experiences are not just a regulatory requirement, but a fundamental business necessity. But achieving accessibility can be a significant challenge for web developers, designers, and content creators, especially when considering the broad spectrum of user needs.

This is where structured content is key. Structured content enhances accessibility by promoting consistency for easier understanding, ensuring compatibility with assistive technologies like screen readers, and facilitating content reusability for varied user preferences. It also improves site navigation for those with cognitive or mobility issues.

This article explores the intersection of accessibility and structured content management, and how the fusion of these concepts can help tackle common challenges faced by web developers, designers, content creators, businesses, and website owners.

The Sulu content management system (CMS) is committed to enabling businesses to build inclusive digital experiences through its advanced structured content management system. With Sulu’s suite of features, users can create accessible and engaging sites, making a web that welcomes everyone.

Interested in testing Sulu’s structured content capabilities first-hand? Visit our demo project or try Sulu CMS today.

Understanding Web Accessibility

Web accessibility is a practice that ensures everyone, including those with disabilities, can access, understand, navigate, and interact with the web effectively. It requires that web content be designed and developed so that people with disabilities can perceive, operate, and contribute to it seamlessly. This consideration is not only vital for users with auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech, and visual disabilities but also beneficial for all users, including older individuals and people using mobile devices.

Web accessibility guidelines and regulations, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), have been established to provide a clear framework for creating accessible web content. These guidelines recommend design and development practices that ensure websites, applications, and digital platforms are usable for everyone.

Prioritizing accessibility in digital content creation provides several benefits:

  • Inclusivity and equal access: Accessibility practices create an inclusive digital environment that offers equal access and opportunity to everyone, including individuals with disabilities.
  • Enhanced user experience: Accessible websites frequently offer better user experiences because they are typically easier to understand and navigate.
  • Legal compliance: Compliance with accessibility standards helps to avoid potential legal issues related to discrimination against people with disabilities.
  • Broader audience reach: With accessibility, businesses can reach a wider audience, including the millions of users with disabilities.
  • Brand image and reputation: A commitment to accessibility can enhance a brand’s image, demonstrating social responsibility and inclusivity.

Now let’s look at implementing accessible content in practice.

Key Principles of Accessible Content

Incorporating accessibility into your digital content requires careful planning and design. Here are the key principles you need to follow:

  1. Semantic HTML structure: Semantic HTML tags give your content structure and provide context to the information being presented. These tags tell browsers and assistive technologies about the type of content contained within the tags, such as headings, paragraphs, and lists. They can also add alt-text descriptions for images to aid visually impaired users.
  2. Accessible alternatives to non-native formats: While formats like PDFs can provide rich and versatile content presentation, they can sometimes pose accessibility challenges. Providing accessible alternatives, such as HTML versions of the content, can ensure that information is readily available to all users.
  3. Easy navigation with keyboard and assistive technology support: Your digital platform should be navigable using just the keyboard, as some users with mobility issues may not be able to use a mouse. Similarly, support for assistive technologies such as screen readers or text-to-speech software is critical for users with visual or auditory disabilities.
  4. Clear and purposeful content presentation: The way your content is presented can greatly influence its accessibility. Using clear, concise language, ensuring a high contrast ratio between text and background, and organizing content logically can enhance quick understanding and ease of use for all users, especially those with cognitive or visual disabilities.

These principles help establish a foundation for creating accessible digital content. They are best implemented within a structured content framework and complement the ideas of structured content perfectly.

The Role of Structured Content

Structured content refers to information that’s organized, categorized, and formatted in a way that’s predictable and easy to understand. It’s like breaking down a large book into chapters, sections, and subsections, each with a clear title or label, making it much easier to navigate, read, and understand.

Consider an unstructured approach where content is dumped onto a webpage in large blocks of text without any clear organization or formatting. For any user, especially those with cognitive or visual disabilities, navigating through this information can be overwhelming.

Contrast this with a structured approach: the same content is broken down into clear headings, subheadings, lists, and tables, each with semantic HTML tags. A screen reader or assistive device can then use these tags to help a user navigate the content more effectively. Moreover, by bringing consistency to content presentation, structured content simplifies understanding and navigation for users, including those with cognitive disabilities.

In essence, structured content is a powerful tool that enhances accessibility and usability, paving the way for more inclusive digital experiences.

Now it’s time to look at the technical details of how to implement structured content.

Best Practices for Structured Content Creation

When it comes to building web pages with structured content, here are the key principles you should follow:

  1. Utilizing HTML5 elements and ARIA markup for defining content structure: HTML5 introduces a variety of elements that help define your content’s structure, such as <header>, <footer>, <article>, <section>, and <aside>. Employing these elements helps distinguish different areas of content, improving understanding and navigation for users. This can be supplemented by ARIA, a set of attributes you can add to HTML elements that further make content accessible via assistive technologies.
  2. Add metadata to images: Image metadata plays a crucial role in accessibility, especially for visually impaired users who rely on screen readers. For example, structured metadata on a painting’s image can provide details like the artist’s name, year of creation, and location, creating a rich audio description for screen reader users. Incorporating license information in the metadata also fosters inclusivity by informing users about image reuse rights. Google provides a guide on how to include metadata in images.
  3. Applying semantic HTML tags for improved screen reader comprehension: Semantic HTML tags imbue your content with meaning. Tags like <h1> for main headings, <h2> for subheadings, and <p> for paragraphs help convey the hierarchy and context of your information, which is vital for users utilizing screen readers.
  4. Designing navigation menus with proper markup and keyboard support: Navigation menus should be correctly marked up using unordered lists (<ul>) and list items (<li>). It’s equally crucial to ensure keyboard support, enabling users who can’t use a mouse to navigate through the site.
  5. Creating clear heading structures and descriptive link text: Heading structures should be logical and clear. Each page should have one <h1> tag, with other headings (<h2>, <h3>, etc.) following in order. Link text should also be descriptive, providing users with a clear indication of where the link will lead them.
  6. Ensuring clarity and focus in page titles and content: Page titles and content should be clear, concise, and focused on the topic at hand. This clarity aids users in quickly understanding the content and its relevance to their needs.

Thankfully, these practices can be easily implemented with the right tools. Content management systems (CMS) that support structured content, like Sulu, can streamline the creation process, ensuring consistency and accessibility.

Let’s have a look at Sulu’s structured content features in more detail.

Benefits of Sulu’s Structured Content Features

Sulu CMS is not just an advanced content management system. It’s an enabler of accessible, inclusive digital experiences. A structured content approach, like the one Sulu employs, results in easier navigation and a better overall user experience.

One of Sulu’s main strengths is its block-based approach to content modeling. This approach allows developers to provide editors with customizable building blocks. These blocks can be combined in various ways to build pages that align with specific goals — while always maintaining a clear structure. An intuitive drag-and-drop interface makes content modeling straightforward, even for non-technical users.

Here are the main features of Sulu that can contribute to building accessible web pages:

  • Templating: Every page in Sulu has a dedicated page template, which controls both the page’s structure (via an XML file) and how the structure is rendered (via a Twig file with HTML code). Sulu employs Blocks to maintain separated, re-combinable content. Each Block comprises diverse content types or fields defined by the developer, giving content managers the freedom to organize Blocks as they see fit. Blocks and Templates can be used to define meaningful sections of content that assistive technologies can easily navigate.
  • Multilingual content management: Sulu’s core includes robust multilingual capabilities, accommodating all languages and character sets, even those read from right to left. Sulu allows you to specify alt text for images in different languages, ensuring that screen reader users across different languages have a localized description of the image. Sulu fosters inclusivity by allowing more people around the world to access and understand your content.
  • API-first approach: Sulu’s API-first approach offers developers an array of features that enable seamless content manipulation and integration with external systems. Developers can use the content API to ensure that all the content available on the website is also available on other platforms, like mobile apps or IoT devices. This means a blind user using a screen reader on their phone would have the same access to content as a sighted user browsing the website on their computer, thereby ensuring an equitable digital experience.

In essence, Sulu’s structured content features are integral to creating a more accessible, user-friendly digital environment, resonating with diverse user needs.

Let’s examine a couple of real-world examples where structured content has been successfully employed to enhance accessibility.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has long been a leader in digital accessibility. The BBC website uses structured content to ensure inclusivity for its vast global audience. Clear heading structures, semantic HTML tags, and keyboard-friendly navigation are just a few examples of how the BBC enhances its content’s accessibility. The corporation also offers alternative formats of content, such as text, video, and audio, catering to diverse user needs.

The Government of Canada’s official website serves as another example of how structured content promotes accessibility. The site employs semantic HTML tags, logical heading structures, and accessible navigation menus to deliver a smooth user experience. The design emphasizes clarity and simplicity, enabling all users, including those relying on assistive technologies, to easily access the information they need.

These case studies serve as benchmarks for organizations aiming to make their digital platforms more accessible.

Now let’s look at some tools and resources that can assist in creating accessible content.

When developing accessible and structured content, having the right tools and resources at your disposal can significantly simplify the process.

If you want to learn more about accessibility, you should check out these resources:

  • Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG): WCAG is a universally recognized set of recommendations for improving web accessibility. They provide a detailed understanding of what constitutes accessible web content.
  • MDN Web Docs: MDN Web Docs is an excellent resource for learning more about HTML5, semantic HTML, and other structured content best practices.
  • A11y Project: The A11y Project is a community-driven initiative that offers a collection of resources to help make web accessibility easier, including checklists, tips, and techniques for creating accessible content.

If you’ve started implementing accessible content and want to test how effective you’ve been, these tools can help:

  • WAVE (Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool): WAVE evaluates web content for accessibility issues, providing clear feedback and suggestions for improvement.
  • Axe by Deque: Axe is a powerful tool that helps developers find and fix accessibility issues during the development process.
  • Google Lighthouse: Integrated into the Chrome browser, Lighthouse provides an automated audit for accessibility, performance, and other aspects of web content.

Furnished with these resources — and especially if you’ve got a powerful structured content CMS like Sulu — you’ll be well-prepared to create structured and accessible content that caters to a broad spectrum of users, improving their overall digital experience.

Web accessibility isn’t merely a nice-to-have — it’s a necessity. It’s essential to ensure that everyone, regardless of their abilities, can interact with, understand, and benefit from web content. By prioritizing accessibility and structured content, we not only fulfill regulatory guidelines but also extend our reach to a more diverse audience, reinforcing the message that everyone is welcome while winning new customers.

Web accessibility is intimately connected to structured content. The best practices and tools we discussed in this article can guide you toward creating more accessible and structured content. 

Sulu CMS can be your partner in this journey. We’re not just ticking boxes — we’re creating spaces where everyone can participate, engage, and contribute. With its focus on structured content and user-friendly features, Sulu equips you with the right tools to create an inclusive web presence.

Don’t just create — create with purpose and inclusivity. Start your Sulu journey today.