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Accessibility Guidelines for Digital Content

We write for everyone

We strive to make our content accessible to everyone. This includes users with visual, hearing, cognitive or motor impairments, as well as those with learning difficulties.

Standards of accessibility change with technology: we must take responsibility for keeping up with these changes and adjusting our standards accordingly.

Follow the rules in this manual and the HSE principles. They are designed to help content meet accessibility standards.

Questions to ask

1. Does this make sense to someone who doesn’t work here?
2. Can someone scan this quickly and make sense of it?
3. If someone can’t see the colours, images or video, or hear the audio, can they still understand this page?

Accessible PDF

A PDF is only as accessible as the document it’s created from. Read how to make accessible Word documents, and how to convert Word documents to PDF.

Alt text (for images)

Alt text is used as an alternative to an image for people who use screen readers. (It is not the same as a caption.)

The point of alt text is to give people who don’t see an image the same information as if they had.

Don’t make alt text a literal description of the image: rather use it to explain what point the image is making.

If you’re using an image of a chart or graph, provide the same information in the alt text.

For functional image (like a start button), the alt text should say in words what the image says.

Be specific. ‘Share button’ is not useful. Explain what you can share and where.

If the image is purely decorative and gives no information at all, you probably should not use it on the website. In instances where this does happen, don’t just leave the alt text empty. Use an empty alt attribute (alt="") in your <img> tag.

For all alt text, follow the rules for language in this style manual. Be concise, clear and straightforward.

Directional language

Don’t say ‘links on the right-hand side’, ‘image above’, or in any other way try to indicate a direction using words.

Headings and subheadings

Headers should always be nested and consecutive. Never skip a header level for styling reasons. 

• H1 = title of page
• H2 = subheadings
• H3 = sub-subheadings

Don’t go beyond H3.

Read more about headings and subheadings


Don’t embed text in an image. Screenreaders can’t read it.


People use screenreaders to scan and navigate pages.

Write descriptive link text – never say ‘click here’. Explain exactly where the link is going.

Give details of the size of the PDF as well as the number of pages.

For example, 'get some tips on how to prepare a healthy lunchbox (PDF, 1.46 MB, 3 pages).'

Read more about links


Information given in a video should also be available in another format. Include a transcript or closed caption for all video.


A-Z of accessibility
Web style guide accessibility site
18F accessibility guide