Accessibility is a common theme on my blog and ramblings on social media. I use my platforms for what I hope is a resource of tips and advice.
I’ve tried to collect a lot of those musings and bring them together in what I can only describe as one rather lengthy blog post.
So I present to you, you’re a-Z guide for social media accessibility.
This list is no way exhaustive of every single tip or trick out there. The main purpose of this guide is to act as something you can refer to whenever you need it, a set of reminders if you will.
With all of that out of the way, let’s get into it then shall we?
A: Alt text
Alt text, sometimes referred to as an image description, is a written description of an image. It’s vital for screen reader users.
People tell me they’ve no idea where to start with writing alt text because they don’t know what to include. Something I always say: don’t panic!
When you’re writing alt text, think about how you’d describe a picturesque setting to a friend or family member over the phone.
You don’t need to include all the detail. Ask yourself: what are the main aspects of the image that people need to know about?
If there’s text within the image, write it all out in the alt text so it’s accessible for everyone. Don’t be lazy and skip it.
On the note of being lazy, don’t rely on automatically generated alt text to do your job for you. Nothing compares to alt text that’s written by a human being.
In most cases, you don’t need to write “image of” or “photo shows” as screen readers detect images and will let the user know. It may be relevant for some images such as diagrams, graphics or screenshots, but you can make that call depending on the type of image you’re sharing.
B: Brands and businesses, I’m looking at you
Every brand and business should be thinking about accessibility. It should be part of your organisation at every level.
In relation to your presence on social media, accessibility should be part of your social media strategy. Everyone that’s responsible for social media should have knowledge on accessibility best practices.
If disabled people can’t access what you’re trying to say, they’ll click off and may even unfollow, unlikely to return again. I’m sure that’s not what you want.
Consider your disabled customers. Show us that you care.
Videos you share that have speech should always be captioned.
Deaf and hard-of-hearing people of course want to be able to enjoy the content you’re sharing.
Captions also benefit people who are autistic or have a learning disability, and are a key part of any videos that aren’t in someone’s native language.
There are two types of captions: closed captions and open captions.
Closed captions can be toggled on and off, whereas open captions are embedded in the video.
Some platforms have automatic captions built-in, however they are often inaccurate. Take the time to caption your own videos. There’s lots of free tools out there that enable you to caption videos quickly and easily.
D: Don’t stop making your content accessible
Everyone can make a commitment to accessibility.
Whether you’re posting your latest snap on socials whilst out and about, publishing your masterpiece on TikTok, or sharing an important message with your followers, take some extra time to make your content accessible. I promise you it’ll be worth it.
If you tend to forget, you could turn on Twitter’s image description reminder, put a post-it note on your computer where it’ll catch your eye, or even set a reminder on your phones lock screen.
Accessibility is not a 9-5 job. Whether you work in social media as your day job, it doesn’t stop there. Make your personal posts accessible too.
It’s ok to use emojis, just don’t overuse them. Screen readers read out a description for every single one. Having multiple emojis read out loud is a frustrating, tedious experience for screen reader users. In some cases, it doubles the time it takes to read a post when having to listen to a mass of emojis being read out loud.
Limit your emoji use to one or two per post. You really don’t need more than that.
Try to put your emojis at the end of a post. Don’t jump on the popular trend of putting an emoji between each word in a sentence. You can get your message across without making it inaccessible.
As screen readers read out a description for each emoji, the set descriptions may be different to how you visually see them. Therefore, don’t use emojis to get your intended message across.
F: Fancy fonts
You might think fancy fonts look cool, but they aren’t accessible.
Most screen readers will read “bold” or “italic” before each letter, making it sound like nonsense. Some screen readers skip these altogether.
Fancy fonts can also be difficult to read, so stick to standard fonts.
I know you might want to create fun graphics to get people’s attention. Yet they still need to be accessible.
They need to be easy to read, that’s why colour contrast is crucial. If you aren’t sure what colours to use, tools such as WebAim’s Contrast Checker can help you find out what works well and what doesn’t.
Use large text, rather than small text because you want to cram everything in.
For maximum accessibility, text should be on solid backgrounds.
When you’re using hashtags, don’t forget to capitalise the first letter of each word. It ensures that they are read out correctly by screen readers, and makes them easier to read. This is known as Camel Case or Pascal Case.
I: Inclusive language
Using inclusive language goes much deeper than being the right thing to do; it gives people a sense of belonging.
If you aren’t sure how your community identifies, take the time to find out. For example, the language surrounding disability more often than not takes a social model approach. However, everyone has their own preferences. Some people may use disability first language, whilst others may use identity first language. The same goes when talking about other communities.
On the topic of inclusive language, respect people’s pronouns. Sometimes the smallest gestures make the biggest difference.
J: Jumping on trends shouldn’t come at the cost of accessibility
I get it. You want to get involved in the latest trend. You want to share your thoughts and have some fun. Accessibility shouldn’t be forgotten in the process.
Take a couple of minutes to check that you’ve adhered to accessibility best practices.
Disabled people want to be involved in the latest conversations, we don’t want to be missing half the story.
K: Keep learning
Social media platforms are always adding new accessibility features and improving existing ones. Do what you can to keep up to date with new features and important updates.
Don’t stop learning about accessibility. Keep expanding your knowledge.
The placement of links within posts is really important. Links should always be at the end of your post. This means that screen reader users don’t have to listen to a long URL being read out loud to find out what else you have to say. It also makes your call to action clear.
M: Memes and gifs
When we talk about adding alt text to images, we don’t always bring memes and gifs into the conversation.
Add alt text/image descriptions to memes and gifs in the same way you do images. Everyone should be able to understand the inside joke!
For gifs without alt text, screen readers will read the filename which usually gives no context.
N: Negative attitudes towards accessibility
People think accessibility doesn’t matter. They argue that they don’t need to make their content accessible for a myriad of reasons.
Let me tell you this: accessibility matters.
Accessibility is everyone’s responsibility.
We need to get rid of these negative attitudes. Everyone benefits from accessibility, so why are we adopting such thinking when the positives are endless?
O: Other formats
There are times when the alt text character limit on social media platforms won’t cut it. Take an important announcement for example.
Make the information available in other formats such as sharing a link in the post to a webpage where the information can be found as accessible, readable text.
Providing other formats gives people a choice.
P: Plain language
People should be able to understand the information you’re sharing. They shouldn’t be left feeling confused or asking themselves “What are they talking about?”
Your posts should be clear and concise. You don’t need to use complicated words that no one will understand. You wouldn’t use them when talking to a friend, the same goes for social media.
Think about how you’re writing – use the correct punctuation and avoid block capital letters. Accessibility over style!
Q: Quote tweets
When you’re quote tweeting, take a moment to work out whether the original tweet is accessible. If it includes a video, does it have captions? Do any images have alt text?
If not, ask yourself how you can make it accessible.
You could write an image description in the copy of your tweet, provide a video transcript or find a way of adding captions and resharing the video.
Whilst you’re there, you could politely prompt the original poster about the importance of making their content accessible.
These tips don’t just apply to quote tweets, they can be replicated on all other social media platforms.
R: Remember that everyone accesses social media in different ways
What works for one disabled person might not work for another.
If you’re told that something you’re sharing isn’t accessible, take note of the feedback you’ve received and act appropriately. Be polite and respect the fact that someone has reached out to you in the first place.
Despite their popularity, stories aren’t the most accessible aspect of social media. There are ways you can ensure all of your followers can keep up-to-date with the highlights from your day though.
When you’re sharing video content to your story, don’t forget to add captions as previously mentioned.
At the time of writing, there’s currently no way of adding alt text to Stories. Instagram does use automatically generated alt text to create its own image descriptions. However, this is notoriously inaccurate and unreliable.
If you’re sharing something important, add it to your grid as well so that you aren’t relying on everyone finding out through your story.
If you aren’t sure whether something is accessible, test it before posting.
If you don’t know how something sounds with a screen reader, give it a go yourself.
There are lots of tools right at your fingertips. Most smartphones, computers and tablets have built-in accessibility features which you can make use of. There’s VoiceOver for Apple products, TalkBack for Android devices, and Narrator for Windows.
I must stress that screen readers will change the gestures you’re used to, so it’s best to get the hang of it first. Do your research before giving it a go.
We regularly talk about usability in terms of website accessibility. It can also be applied to social media content.
Usability refers to the quality of a person’s experience, and the effectiveness of completing a task.
If a person is able to take something away from your content because it is accessible, they will stick around. If your content isn’t accessible, then they are likely to unfollow.
V: Video descriptions
Adding video descriptions to videos you share gives blind and vision impaired users access to the visual elements. Video descriptions are like alt text for images – they’re a written description of what’s going on.
They should be placed at the end of a post, after the main caption. For Twitter, you could create a Twitter thread which includes the video description.
Video descriptions are also a good way of making any content accessible that you’re resharing from others.
W: Why accessibility matters
To sum it up in a nutshell: everyone should be able to access the online world. People shouldn’t be excluded because they use assistive technology. They shouldn’t feel like they are being left on the side-lines.
Accessibility goes beyond the right thing to do. When something is accessible, it shows that you genuinely care about disabled people.
X: Excluding disabled people is not okay
I’m aware I’ve slightly broken the alphabet rule here. But it’s pretty much impossible to think of a word beginning with X that relates to accessibility. We’ll have to allow this one okay? Anyway, I digress…
No one should be excluded from the content you are sharing.
You shouldn’t see accessibility as an ‘waste of time’, ‘too time consuming’ or ‘not your responsibility’.
Everyone should care about accessibility.
People shouldn’t feel like they can’t get involved in the conversation. They shouldn’t feel like they’re being left out.
Y: Your followers matter
You might not think that you have disabled followers.
Let me pose the following question to you: how do you know?
Not everyone wants to talk about their disability on social media.
You should always be striving to make your content accessible. It tells us “I see you, I want you to feel included”.
Whether you think what you’re sharing is important or not, make it accessible so your followers can make up their own mind. Chances are, we probably want to know about the latest film or TV show you’re obsessed with, the latest picture of your pet, or what you’re doing on a Sunday afternoon. Not forgetting any important announcements!
Z: Zero tolerance to a lack of accessibility
If I come across an inaccessible post, I won’t share it. I don’t want to subject my followers to something that isn’t accessible. I know that it can often be a case of not being aware. I completely respect that.
When people are aware and still choose not to prioritise accessibility, that’s a different story.
Everyone should be thinking about accessibility. The “I don’t need to” attitude isn’t good enough.
We can all play a part in making the world more accessible for everyone, that includes online spaces.
Accessibility is your responsibility. It’s my responsibility. Collectively, it’s our responsibility.
There we have it. We got to the end!
If somehow you’re still reading, thank you for investing the time into your own accessibility journey.
I hope this list acts as a resource that you can bookmark and peruse when you wish.
Mister Kayne says
This is brilliant, great work and appreciate your patience in putting it all down in a post. Although I had very little patience in reading through all; what I read took care of most of what I want to convey to the world at large on accessibility. With ALT Text I will return to this post or ask you to edit the post to include the resources on how to add ALT Text on popular social websites like Twitter, LinkedIN and Facebook they have listed the steps in their help section
Thanks so much!
Diana Grobler says
Excellent Holly this is really well put together I will definitely be recirculating this blog
Thank you, Diana.
This is so helpful, thank you very much. I will use what I’ve learnt from now on, as best I can.