Social media has become a huge part of everyday life for millions of people, from job searches to connecting with your loved ones, and more.
Platforms like Facebook and Instagram, though once associated with younger generations, have become mainstream and central to the communications of businesses, charities and government bodies everywhere.
In this guide, we’ll explain how people with visual or hearing impairments use social media, and what you can do to make your content more accessible.
In this article:
Analysis shows that there are currently more than 4.62 billion social media users around the world, which equates to 58.4% of the world’s total population.
At the same time, the WHO estimates that about 15% of the world’s population lives with some form of disability. So what does this mean for social media managers?
Social media content and experiences that are not accessible alienate people and mean you miss out on connecting with your full potential audience.
Given the audience numbers mentioned above, we’re talking about millions of people that could be excluded from social media content
Individuals with disabilities will often use tools to interact with social media. Some of which are:
- Screen reader software: Also known as text-to-speech (TTS) is a system that converts normal language text into speech, including emojis and images with descriptive text.
- Magnifying tools: These help people who are partially sighted by enlarging text and images.
- Braille displays: These tools provide access to information on a computer screen by displaying it on a piece of equipment that uses tiny retractable dots to display braille. Visually impaired computer users who can’t use a standard computer monitor can use it to read text output.
The social media landscape is constantly evolving and so do accessibility needs. Below is some guidance on how to make your social media posts more accessible.
Please note that this list is not exhaustive and we’ll be adding to this guide as we learn more about social media accessibility.
Make text accessible
Writing with clarity makes text more accessible and understandable – and that benefits everyone. So next time before you hit publish, think about how assistive tools will read your content. Here are some tips to make your copy more readable:
- Write in plain language: Avoid jargon, slang, or technical terms unless they are appropriate. Don’t worry. You can do this without compromising brand voice.
- Don’t overuse caps: as they can be difficult to read.
- Avoid writing “click here”: instead use more descriptive call-to-actions like “Sign up”, or “Subscribe”.
- Use an adequate font size: 16 pixels or above is recommended.
- Avoid special characters: assistive tools read special formatting very differently.
- Limit length of sentences: Lines that are too long can interfere with readability.
- Use inclusive language and avoid ableist terms.
Proper image descriptions provide a textual description of photos for people with visual impairments or low-tech users and will help the person paint a mental picture of the image you posted. You don’t have to go into a lot of detail – just pick a few keywords. You can describe photos 2 ways:
- Describe a photo in rounded brackets. It can be at the end of the post below the main text. For example: (ALT: A bowl of cereal with milk.)
- Describe a photo inside an image – if there’s a feature for that in a social media tool. On Facebook for example: To change this automatic text, choose one of your uploaded photos. Click the ‘edit’ button in the top right-hand corner, then select ‘change alt text’.
Some social media features offer an automatic alternative description for images but the best practice would be to manually describe a photo.
Proper captions and transcripts for videos and podcasts are a necessity for millions of people with visual or hearing impairments, as well as people with sensory processing disorders.
As mentioned before, try to avoid automatically generated captions. If you do, make sure to clean them up afterwards. Generally, it’s best to upload a .SRT caption file to a video in a social media post, as it’s easier for designers to edit if needed. It shows closed captions that can be turned on or off by a viewer. In addition, it allows you to change the font size, colour, weight and option for the background colour for better contrast.
Unfortunately, not all social media tools support a closed captioning feature. The alternative is to make a video accessible is to offer open captions by “burning” them in a video. Find out how in the video below:
If possible, also consider offering a text transcript to complement the captions. These transcripts include speech, speaker IDs, sound descriptions, and video descriptions.
Unlike captions, which are usually a transcript of spoken dialogue, descriptive language denotes the important sights and sounds that are not spoken. So consider producing a version of your video where you describe what’s seen on the screen. A quick test for this is to play the video with your eyes closed. Have you missed something because you couldn’t see? Then you might want to consider narrating.
You can also add a descriptive transcript, a text that can be read by a screen reader or screen-to-braille device.
For multi-word hashtags, make sure to capitalise the first letter of each word as this will help screen reading software detect multiple words. This is also known as CamelCase. If you don’t, the words in the hashtag are read as if they were one long word!
So for example, instead of saying #socialmediamarketing, use #SocialMediaMarketing.
And don’t forget: Try to put hashtags and mentions at the end. Punctuation marks are read aloud by screen readers and can therefore disrupt copy.
Use emojis sensibly
Text-to-speech software reads ALL copy elements – including emojis! That means people will hear things like “Smiling Face with Sunglasses”. Before using emojis, look up how it translates to text.
For the same reason, avoid emoticons, as well as “fancy text generators” that you normally don’t find on a keyboard.
Inclusive design: typography, design and colour contrast
People with vision-related impairments, dyslexia or other learning disabilities tend to find it easier to comprehend sans serif fonts.
Whilst not all platforms allow you to customise their account appearance, if you have the option, try to make both your posts and profile distinguishable and stick to the following criteria laid out by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines:
- A contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 for normal text and 3:1 for large text
- A contrast ratio of at least 3:1 for graphics and user interface components (such as form input borders)
Other design tips include:
- Avoid green and red or blue and yellow combinations, as they’re difficult to read.
- Text can be difficult to read on images, so consider using a solid background or opaque overlay.
- On graphs and charts, consider also using patterns to differentiate data.
- Don’t rely on colour to convey meaning
Shorten URLs and put them in context
Screen reader software reads text exactly as printed, meaning a typical URL would read out loud as, “H-T-T-P colon slash slash W-W-W dot _____ dot com.”
Some social media platforms automatically shorten URLs, others don’t.
A good shortener is TinyURL, because it retains the “dot com” and thereby clarifies that it’s a URL.
Avoid ableist language
Avoiding ableist language like “able-bodied” or “insane”. You can find a list of disability-related terms with negative connotations here.
If you’re looking for an image to include in your post, consider using a photo or artwork that includes disabled people.
And, if you can, hire photographers, artists, etc. with a disability, as they can best portray what it means to have a disability.
People with photosensitive epilepsy can have seizures triggered by flickering or flashing. It is therefore recommend to NOT use content that:
- Contains anything that flashes more than 3 times in any 1 second period or
- Flashes below the general flash and red flash thresholds
Social Media Accessibility: Key Takeaways
- Make text accessible: writing with clarity makes text more accessible and understandable
- Describe images: proper image descriptions provide a textual description of photos for people with visual impairments
- Add captions and descriptions to videos: captions and transcripts for videos and podcasts are a necessity for millions of people with visual or hearing impairments, as well as people with sensory processing disorders.
- Think about inclusive design: stick to the following criteria laid out by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines:
- Don’t forget: representation and language matters, so avoid using ableist language