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Becoming More Accessible on Instagram: What Creators Should Know

Nov 4, 2021

Facebook’s Instagram has roughly one billion monthly active users, according to statistics website Statista. It’s one of the largest social media platforms, and it’s a powerful tool for brand engagement.

And while Instagram is primarily an audiovisual platform, it’s widely used by people with vision- and hearing-related disabilities. Content creators should consider all of their users when publishing on social media. The best practices of digital accessibility can help creators deliver a better experience for all of their followers.

In this article, we’ll look at three ways to improve the accessibility of your Instagram posts. For more tips, be sure to check out our other articles on social media accessibility.

Add alternative text to your Instagram photos

Alternative text (or alt text) provides users with important context if they’re unable to perceive an image visually. Many people browse the internet with screen readers, which convert on-page text to audio or braille, and screen readers require accurate alt text to function as intended. Alt text is also useful if an image won’t load due to a slow connection or if the user has disabled images intentionally.

In 2018, Instagram introduced automatic alternative text. The feature uses artificial intelligence to recognize objects and generate descriptions of photos. Of course, object recognition technology — while helpful — isn’t perfect. You’ll want to review the alternative text for each photo before publishing. 

Fortunately, this is an easy habit to establish. Here’s the process for adding or changing alt text on Instagram’s mobile app:

  • To add alternative text, select “Advanced Settings" after uploading your image, then select “Write Alt Text.” 
  • To change the alt text on a published photo, tap “Edit" on the photo, then “Edit Alt Text.”
  • After adding or editing alt text, tap (or click) “Done.”

Make sure you understand the basics of writing great alt text: Your goal is to concisely describe the image without adding unnecessary descriptive text. Don’t start image descriptions with “photo of" or “image of,” since screen readers will automatically identify photos.

Read: 5 Steps for Writing Alt Text for Accessibility

Make sure your Instagram videos have closed captions

Closed captions are sometimes referred to as “subtitles.” Strictly speaking, the terms are not interchangeable — but captioning can increase your reach by accommodating people who cannot perceive audio content. This includes people with hearing conditions, as well as Instagram users who browse the app with their sound turned off. 

That’s not a small group: One study from Verizon Media found that 92% of US consumers view videos with sound off when using their mobile devices. 50% of respondents viewed captions as “important.”

Unfortunately, Instagram doesn’t currently support common closed caption formats for most videos. You’ll need to pre-render your captions directly onto your videos; these “burned-in" captions improve accessibility, but they’re not quite as useful as optional captions. Speech-to-text service Rev provides an excellent tutorial for adding burned-in captions.

The good news: Instagram Stories makes this process easier. To add captions to Stories, tap the sticker icon, then tap the “Captions" sticker. Instagram automatically transcribes audio — but you’ll want to review the auto-generated captions for accuracy before publishing.

Read: What Website Developers Need to Know About Closed Captions

Write clear descriptions of your Instagram content (and don’t overuse emojis)

Clear, simple language can help people with disabilities enjoy your content. When writing descriptions — and comments, and any other text on Instagram — keep these tips in mind:

  • Avoid jargon. Provide definitions for acronyms and any other words that aren’t commonly used.
  • Don’t overuse emojis. As we’ve pointed out in other articles, screen readers will read the alt text of emojis, and too many emojis can create a frustrating experience for screen reader users.
  • Don’t overuse hashtags. Write hashtags in camelcase (capitalizing the first letter of each new word). 
  • If you use hyperlinks, explain what your followers can expect to find when visiting the linked website. Avoid linking to websites with major accessibility issues.

We also recommend posting your content across different social media channels. While Instagram has taken noteworthy steps to improve accessibility, some people with disabilities may prefer to avoid certain social media platforms entirely. If your brand publishes similar content across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other platforms, you’ll avoid leaving people out of the conversation.

To reach the largest possible audience, consider adding a page to your website that summarizes your recent social media posts. Of course, you’ll need to make sure that the page — and the rest of your website — conforms with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The Bureau of Internet Accessibility offers a free WCAG 2.1 Level AA compliance summary to help you get started.

Use our free Website Accessibility Checker to scan your site for ADA and WCAG compliance.

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