As much as we love to scroll through the internet on our free time, we need to understand that not everyone can see all the news, memes and updates from friends and family on social media because of accessibility issues.
Many people with disabilities spend most of their time on social media, often using it to forward their advocacies or connect with their communities. Some users who are reliant on assistive technology, like the screen readers VoiceOver on iOS or TalkBack on Android, may struggle with navigating through content online. It’s important to note that accessibility may vary per platform, but there are existing features or practices you can do to make your content more inclusive.
If you’re a content creator or the head of a small business who mainly relies on social media, you may want to consider how accessible your platform would be to reach a wider audience. Here are a few tips to help you make your pages or personal accounts more inclusive.
Limit emoji use
Using emojis is like a second language for almost everyone on social media. While some of us think that flooding our posts with emojis will accurately represent our feelings (hello fan accounts, I’m looking at you), your blind followers might not appreciate it as much—screen readers will read them like going through a checklist. So if you don’t want your followers to hear “smiling face with heart eyes” ten times before they actually hear your message, be the responsible fan and use these emojis sparingly.
Add alternative text to images
Alternative text or alt text helps those who have a hard time seeing images on your website. These are read by screen readers once users tap or click the images on your page or account. After composing the alt text, read it aloud to check if it’s understandable—screen readers are often straightforward in reading the text so you’ll want to type it in the way you want to address your audience. Some platforms automatically add alt text to your photos while others may require you to manually configure your account’s settings.
However, including alt text should be more than just simply stating the obvious. It’s one thing to say “image of a chart” and another to say “this chart illustrates that the number of streams that this music video gained increased by ten percent in the past week.” It’s important to clearly describe the images you use so that your audience can fully understand the message you want to get across. Also, alt text doesn’t always have to be formal and serious—you can make jokes and be more personal with your description if you want to be friendly, like writing, “A selfie showing my cute new mullet haircut in front of my garden.”
Provide closed captions in videos
Just as how we get to thank subtitles for helping us appreciate K-drama and K-pop videos, closed captions in videos assist in making dialogues and audio more understandable. Although these terms are often used interchangeably, subtitles differ from closed captions with the purpose of mainly translating the video to the viewer’s language. Closed captions are the textual representation of audio in a video file—they not only transcribe what’s spoken in real-time but also include non-speech elements like the speaker ID and sound effects relevant to the video. These are helpful to viewers who are hard of hearing or rely more on visual cues. You can check out different guides online to help you provide closed captions like the BBC Subtitle Guidelines or 3PlayMedia’s Ultimate Guide to Closed Captioning.
Be careful with your color and font choices
Colors and fonts can either help or block users from noticing the details and understanding the message of your images. A lot of creators use infographics to forward their advocacies and it would go a long way if they took into account the way their designs would be received by their audiences. People who struggle with distinguishing colors or with reading may not understand the information presented, especially the included text if you use harsh contrasting colors and the font style is hard to read.
One way or another, your followers will provide feedback on your content and sometimes these can be about inaccessibility. This would be a good opportunity to engage with your audience and to understand what they want to see or what they don’t understand from your page. If you’re a social media developer or manager, one option is to hire diverse creators who are knowledgeable with social media accessibility so there’s proper representation within the team. Provide outlets for constant feedback and make sure that your followers can easily find your contact information.
No social media platform is one hundred percent accessible yet. However, social media managers, content creators and, heck, anyone online can do a lot to make their content more inclusive. There are several tools and tutorials online that list the different software and apps you can install to assist you in creating and posting more accessible content. It also wouldn’t hurt to check the settings of platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube if it already has built-in accessibility tools. It may sound like a handful to someone who doesn’t have a disability, but making the effort to use alt text, provide closed captions and consider inclusive design shows your audience that you care about them and that you want everyone to engage in your content.