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Updating your web content in an global pandemic

Text reading "Accessibility needs don’t go away in an emergency""

Making your content accessible is more important, not less so, during an emergency.


There’s an awful lot of new content going up just now, and a lot of it really is emergency content. It has redefined the phrase ‘this has to go up today’.

Most of the UX books out there are light on advice as to when the world shuts down completely and every aspect of our lives has been utterly turned on its heads.

You’re in a hurry. You don’t have time to make sure you’re keeping to good content guidelines. Surely your content doesn’t have to be perfect? It just needs to do the job.

That’s true. But remember that you are not your audience. Your content needs to do its job for everyone.

Accessibility needs don’t go away in an emergency

Accessibility and inclusivity should always be at the core of your content, and it’s important to remember that these issues can become even more of a problem at a time of crisis.

  • Visually impaired people can’t suddenly see better.
  • Sensory overload can be reached much more quickly.
  • Stress takes up cognitive load.

When is it ok to cut corners?

If you are short of time and really do need to get some content up quickly, here are a few tips.

1. Use common words. Use short sentences, even if it sounds too simple.

Plain English is more important than ever.

Users must understand what you’re saying.

Make your language plain and precise.

Don’t use more words than you need. Don’t use words that are more complicated than you need.

If you make a sacrifice here for the sake of time, make it the beauty of the language and not how easy it is to understand. It’s nice to make things beautiful. It’s essential to make them clear.

2. Use alt text, or don’t add an image.

If you don’t have time to add alt text, maybe you don’t need the image. If it is just decorative, remember that your alt text doesn’t need to be expansive.

3. Add subtitles, or don’t use a video

It’s great to give a talking head update during a time like this, to give a personal touch. But people might have their partner trying to work in the same room and no headphones that work. They might be trying listen to it with their cabin-fevered children screaming along to Joe Wicks in the next room. They might not speak English well.

They need subtitles.

4. Separate out your links and use meaningful link text.

Inline links make it harder for people with dyslexia and a range of other impairments to read your content. They make it harder to navigate your content. They are difficult to write well when you’re in a hurry.

Your links should always sit on their own line, and the link text you use should make it clear where the link goes.

If you need to, sacrifice snappiness in favour of clarity when it comes to links.

5. Use long pages if you must, but still make them clear.

We often advise that if a page is too long, it should probably be more than one page. Splitting your content makes it easier for users to navigate, and means it’s easier for search engines to index it.

However, designing and creating a set of pages can be more time-consuming, so sometimes an emergency update does have to be just one page. But in this case, it’s more crucial than ever to make these pages clear.

  • Signpost what’s on your page as much as possible up the top. Consider adding a quick list showing what’s on the page.
  • Subheadings should make it crystal clear what the paragraph below is about. Always tag and nest your headings properly.
  • Don’t overwhelm the page with lots of stand out features like images and feature boxes (even expanding/contracting ones).
  • Keep it to the point.

Stay safe.


This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on the University of Edinburgh Website & Communications blog