Becoming More Accessible on Twitter: Avoid These Accessibility Barriers

October 20, 2021

With an advertising audience of 353 million users, Twitter is one of the world’s largest social media platforms — and an incredibly powerful marketing tool for businesses and non-profit organizations. 

When developing your social media strategy, you’ll need to consider how your users perceive and interact with your content. Digital accessibility is a crucial factor: While Twitter has introduced a number of new features to improve accessibility in recent years, much of the responsibility falls on individual content creators. 

As part of our series on social media accessibility, we’re providing a few quick tips for improving accessibility on Twitter. 

Add descriptions (alternative text) to your images

Alternative text (or alt text) describes the function and appearance of images or other non-text content. Twitter users frequently add images to their Tweets — but if those images don’t contain alt text, they can frustrate people with vision disabilities and people who browse with images disabled. 

Many low-vision users access Twitter with screen readers. A screen reader is software that converts visual content to audio or braille; these tools require accurate image descriptions to provide a complete browsing experience. Fortunately, Twitter’s interface contains tools for adding and updating image descriptions.

Here’s the basic process for adding alt text to your Twitter images:

  • Attach a photo to your Tweet. If you’re new to the social platform Twitter provides a detailed guide for adding photos here.
  • Select the “Add Description" option.
  • Twitter limits image descriptions to 1,000 characters. This should be more than enough space to describe most photos — make sure to avoid common image alt text mistakes when adding your description.
  • Repeat the process for every image in your Tweet. 

Remember to add text to animated GIFs. Limit the number of GIFs you use in your Tweets, especially when responding to other users; while GIFs can drive engagement, remember that some people can’t perceive them visually — if your GIF can’t be described with well-written alt text, consider leaving it out of your post.

Twitter also supports subtitles for videos, which can increase user engagement significantly. The process for adding subtitles is described in detail on Twitter’s media resources page.

Read: 5 Steps for Writing Alt Text for Accessibility

Avoid overusing emojis and hashtags in Tweets

Emojis and hashtags can be useful tools for connecting with your audience — but overusing them can introduce accessibility concerns. 

Many people use screen readers to access social media. Screen readers convert text to audio or braille output. If the software encounters an image, it will generally read the image’s alternative text. 

If a tweet is loaded with emojis, the reader might be confused by the message (or frustrated by the decision to include unnecessary icons). Make sure you’re aware of the alternative text for your emojis, and wherever possible, try to limit yourself to one or two emojis per post. 

Hashtags can also create readability issues, particularly if they’re poorly formatted. Screen readers can accurately read hashtags, provided that they use camelCase — the first letter of every new word is capitalized. For instance: #ThisIsAHashtag. Keep your hashtags at the end of your Tweets — don’t intersperse them throughout your text.

Avoid abbreviations and acronyms

Twitter limits posts to 280 characters. To get around this limitation, users often write with acronyms and abbreviations for well-known phrases. Some screen readers have trouble reading internet shorthand — a common phrase like “plz RT, SMH" will be read as written (instead of as the intended message,  “please retweet, shaking my head.") Additionally, Twitter users who don’t visit the platform regularly may not understand your message.

Likewise, acronyms can be confusing when they’re not clearly explained. Look at each Tweet and consider your audience. Ask yourself questions: 

  • Would the Tweet make sense if read aloud? 
  • Could you break up the Tweet into several posts to add clarity?
  • Are you using any terms that are specific to your industry, and if so, can you quickly define those terms for a general audience?

Avoid posting images of text on Twitter. This is another common tactic to get around the 280-character limit, but images of text might lose clarity when the user zooms in — and without an accurate image description, people who use screen readers or other assistive technologies might not be able to perceive them.

Provide options for your Twitter followers

When possible, post the same content across different social media platforms. We also recommend posting social content directly on your website; social platforms can create various barriers for people with disabilities, and your users will appreciate options. Ensure that your website conforms with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (and if you’re not sure whether your site is reasonably accessible, our free compliance summary can help you take the first steps).

Most importantly, make a good-faith effort to create content that all of your users can enjoy. Remember, every person occasionally makes mistakes — if you forget to add an image description or you use too many emojis in a post, your audience will forgive you. If you’re considering people with different abilities when writing your social media posts, you’re taking the right approach.

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