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Inclusive Content: Make it for Everyone

Focusing on readability, language use, and care in design helps meet the needs of all users. Designers’ choices may enable or disable users. The content may be good, but the choices for layout, fonts, and video/image handling can create barriers for many audience members. Structure, language, and format are the factors that may result in the inclusion or exclusion of audience members.

Understand your audience

Content design must start with users. Who and where is the audience? What do people think about the range of subjects covered by your content? Do audience members feel represented? Understanding your audience is the first step toward effective content - and that takes research.

Measures to make a website accessible and inclusive don’t end once physical disabilities are accommodated with devices. Screen readers are invaluable, but vision impairments and other physical barriers are only one of several factors to consider, and people with learning disabilities and other neurodivergent users can also be excluded. The principles that lead to inclusive, accessible, and usable content for those with accessibility concerns apply to everyone.

Here are some principles and suggestions you may wish to incorporate when building or revamping websites and digital content:


Headings allow all users to connect with your content more easily. Web surfers make quick decisions about sites, and many make decisions based on headings alone. Clear, descriptive headings that allow visual or audible scanning benefit everyone. Headings serve as a narrative, letting users easily understand your content. In addition, correct HTML tagging of headers can also improve your search engine optimization because tags allow robots to index your pages.

Handling images and video

If your site includes images, use alternative text and complementary content. These written descriptions communicate the image's meaning (graphs and charts in particular) if it can’t be accessed because it doesn’t load or the user is visually impaired. The complementary description gives details related to the image and enriches users’ experience, sighted or not. If an image is just decorative, your site code should tell screen readers the image can be ignored. Text descriptions can be confusing if the image has no particular relevance. Alt text and complementary content should be succinct, as overwritten descriptions are counterproductive.

For video inclusivity, use captions and transcripts. This helps those with impaired hearing and allows all users who can read to access the content - for example, people in public places who forgot their headphones. Another reason to use transcripts is that reading is faster than listening, so those pressed for time can jump to the transcript.

Language and readability

In general, use respectful, positive, enabling language and avoid presenting people with physical, intellectual, or mental health challenges as victims. Know the correct terminology for the individuals and groups that comprise Canada’s diverse population.

Jargon and idioms

These exclude people who are not “in the know,” including anyone unfamiliar with the terms and/or those for whom English or French is a second or third language. Regarding language, approximately 21% of Canadians have neither English nor French as their first language (2016 Canadian Census). If your content is loaded with jargon and idioms, you may have excluded as much as 20% of your possible audience before your site is launched.

Grammar choices

Avoid abbreviations or acronyms, or explain them at your first use. They are opportunities for confusion. For example, “PM” stands for postmeridian (3 pm), prime-minister, production manager and more.

Use numerals consistently for numbers rather than jumping back and forth between 30 or 40 and thirty and forty. Designers and users will thank you.

Avoid negative contractions. Research indicates that negative contractions, such as shouldn’t or don’t, are more challenging to read and understand, particularly in the fine print. Spell out the words for maximum accessibility.

Clear, simple writing

Simple sentences are easier to scan and understand, thus helping the cognitively and visually impaired and everyone else take in information more quickly and efficiently.

The same goes for diction; choosing simpler words includes and enables users. Demonstrating your impressive vocabulary can be alienating, and looking up words breaks the reader’s flow. If a technical or medically specific word is needed, explain it the first time it appears.

American Sign Language (ASL) and other languages

Each language or group of languages has a particular grammar and structure. In the case of ASL, profoundly deaf people may have only ever communicated through ASL, and complex writing presents barriers to understanding. The same applies to languages other than French and English; the aforementioned 21% of Canadians for whom neither of the official languages is their mother tongue may also find complex sentence structures challenging to decipher.

Design – Space, Colour, and Fonts


Page-long chunks of prose may be full of brilliant ideas, but many people won’t read them. The implicit message is that it will be a challenging read. The same content laid out with plenty of white space appears to be simpler and easier to understand, and for websites and apps - it is. This is another example of an inclusive design decision that is better for everyone; screen readers work more efficiently, and the mobile experience is superior. Using headings to organize the content and tell your story, shorter sentences, and shapes, like bulleted lists and deliberate variations in line lengths, make your content more easily accessible for the visually impaired and everyone else.


Using colour to convey meaning without a written explanation risks communication failure, and not just for users of screen readers. People perceive colour differently. Charts and graphs must have clear legends and/or keys to read independently of any colour-related communication.


Your chosen font is not fixed. Internet browsers allow people to change fonts and font sizes as they wish. Confusion may ensue if your content is not designed and formatted to adjust to these adaptations. Dyslexic users are a good example. Special fonts that are easier for dyslexic users may change the format and layout. Design that values inclusivity will factor in user font adjustments.


Looking at the content presentation from various points of view should be standard practice. Imagining how others may see, hear, or navigate through your content will make your work more accessible, more inclusive, and therefore readier to reach the largest possible audience; the exercise will also improve the overall quality of your work.