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Use Accessible Language

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Create accessible content.
  • Explain the potential impact of using sensory and directional language.

Keep Content Clear and Concise

All content should be easy to read. This means providing enough information to convey what is needed without including unnecessary information. Here are some best practices to keep in mind when crafting your messages.

Keep It Simple

Write short, clear sentences and paragraphs. Avoid long sentences with complex punctuation and unnecessary details.

Avoid Jargon, Buzzwords, Idioms, and Slang 

Using words or phrases that are likely common to a specific group, profession, or language makes it difficult for users without this specialized knowledge or experience to understand. Examples: Smoke test, boil the ocean, and doing the heavy lifting.


Explain the meaning of abbreviations and acronyms on the first use, and then include the acronym in parentheses. For example, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). After providing the explanation, you can then simply use the acronym.

Define Your Terms

Consider providing a glossary for terms readers might not know.

Let’s examine a Dreamforce session description as an example of content that is readable and understandable. It contains all the pertinent information without unnecessary and distracting content. The clear, concise wording helps readers know what to expect and determine whether they want to attend the session. For example:

Fireside Chat: Arianna Huffington and Marc Benioff

Join returning Dreamforce speaker Arianna Huffington, who said in a TEDWomen 2010 talk that today’s women need to address their sleep deprivation to be good leaders. As the founder of the Huffington Post, founder and CEO of Thrive Global, and author of 15 books, she’ll share humorous insights on health and leadership with Marc Benioff.


Avoid Directional and Sensory Language

To maximize the experience for visually impaired users, avoid terms that require the user to physically see the layout or design of the page in order to understand the content. This includes words that refer to color, size, shape, or location to enhance comprehension. You can use these descriptors, but don’t rely solely on this type of language to be understood. 

Let’s say that you are describing two icons:

Incorrect: “Active status is indicated with a green icon, and inactive status is indicated with a red icon.” 

In this example, the description does not provide enough information for colorblind users who cannot distinguish a red icon from a green icon, nor does it help screen reader users.

Correct: “Active status is indicated with a green plus sign icon, and inactive status is indicated with a red X icon.”

The additional descriptive language complements the color-specific information and provides the necessary meaning for colorblind users and screen readers.

Shape and location descriptions can cause accessibility issues. Avoid descriptors such as:

  • Round, square
  • Right
  • Left
  • Above
  • Below
  • Bottom
  • Top
  • Upper
  • Lower
  • Beside
  • Corner

If you find yourself using potentially problematic words, or you encounter them in existing content, here are some suggestions that can help you figure out what to do.

Ask yourself if the text that contains the word(s) needs to be used. For example: “Click the Properties tab. This tab is located at the top of the window.” Is the second sentence even needed for sighted users? If not, remove it.

Reword the content, if possible, without altering the meaning of the sentence. For instance, “located in the section on the right” can also be worded “located in the Information section on the right.” Synonyms can be helpful, as long as you use the simplest language possible to convey the correct meaning. Here is a list of common words you can replace sensory words with (depending on context):

  • Top: beginning, start
  • Bottom: end
  • Above: previous, or can often be removed
  • Below: following, or can often be removed
  • Right (location): can be removed or replaced with UI control name

If the user does not have to rely solely on sensory information for this text to be understood, you can technically keep it in. Just make sure that the language you use is as clear and concise as possible.

Here are some examples of sentences that contain accessibility issues, followed by suggested edits.

Text Examples Containing Accessibility Issues

Example Text Containing Accessibility Issues Suggested Resolutions

In the left pane, click Install and then click Next in the right pane. 

Remove references to the left and right panes. If the panes have titles, you can use the titles instead of saying left or right.

Add the following statement to ensure that proxy servers do not modify the agent described in the above statements.

Either remove the phrase that contains the word above: Add the following statement to ensure that proxy servers do not modify the agent.

Or rewrite the sentence to something like: Add the following statement to ensure that proxy servers do not modify the agent described in the statements in the previous step.

If you are setting up an account using an iPhone or an iPad, verify that you are running iOS 12 or above.

Replace above with later: If you are setting up an account using an iPhone or an iPad, verify that you are running iOS 12 or later. 

Complete the task below to configure the server.

Say something like: Complete the following tasks to configure the server.

Click the New button at the top of the ports table.

Spatial references are difficult since blind and low-vision learners won’t be able to orient themselves on the page. 

Replace the phrase with “at the beginning of the ports table.” A blind user using a screen reader can find the beginning of a table.

Select the checkbox beside the cluster you want to restart and click Stop.

First, a blind person can’t see what’s next to something else. Second, if the screen is magnified, the resolution is low, or you don’t use a stylesheet, the controls you see on the screen can end up in a different place for the user. 

In this case, rewrite to: Select the checkbox for the cluster you want to restart, and click Stop. Or: Select the checkbox for the appropriate cluster, and click Stop.

From the top navigation bar, select your name and then select Done.

Change top to site: From the site navigation bar, select your name and then select Done.

Click the home link at the top of the page.

If you’re describing items on the screen in terms of location, such as a link or group of links, try to find the name of an adjacent UI item. 

Or see if you can create a name for those links that describes the characteristics they have in common. In this example, you can write: Click the home link in the main menu.

Let’s Sum It Up

Using clear and concise language in content provides benefits for all users. In particular, refraining from sensory and directional wording can avoid problems for visually impaired users. 

When using color descriptions, make sure you provide additional detail so that visually impaired users get enough information. This information does not prevent all accessibility issues, but by addressing these basic principles, you can ensure greater accessibility of your content to everyone.

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