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Social Media Accessibility: Quick Tips for Improving Your Reach

Aug 25, 2021

According to Pew Research, 72% of the American public uses some type of social media. Businesses and nonprofits need to actively engage with social media users to build their brands, and an accessible approach can be tremendously helpful. 

About 1 in 4 American adults live with one or more disabilities, and social media platforms aren’t always accessible. Major sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn have gradually added accessibility features, but content creators still need to think carefully about the disabilities community when posting.

In this article, we’ll discuss some simple ways to make social media posts more accessible to people with disabilities. This isn’t a comprehensive guide to social media accessibility — each platform has unique features, so we recommend researching individual platforms as part of your social strategy. With that said, following these tips will help you build your audience while avoiding some common issues.

When adding images, be descriptive.

Images can help people form a connection with your brand, but not everyone can see images — and if an image doesn’t load properly, your image-based post might confuse your audience. Alternative text (or “alt text") describes the function and appearance of an image. Many social media platforms allow creators to input alt text, and adding a brief description of each image can make your feed more accessible.

Creators should understand each platform’s alt-text capabilities. Twitter allows creators to add alternative text after uploading images. Facebook’s automatic alt text generates this information automatically, but you’ll still want to review Facebook’s alternative text to make sure it’s accurate and descriptive). That’s especially important if your content contains text; automatic alt-text generators might not be able to “read" your image properly, so get into the habit of editing the alt-text field. 

If you’re unable to add alt text, you can describe the image in the text of your post. Make sure that your text post contains any relevant information included in the image. 

Read More: 8 Common Image Alt Text Mistakes to Stop Making

Describe links (and make sure they lead to accessible content). 

Hyperlinks should always have a clear purpose. Don’t leave out context in order to meet character counts — your readers should be able to understand how your hyperlink functions. For instance, “click the link below to purchase the product" is more descriptive than “click below.” Descriptive text can prevent confusion and help users decide whether they want to navigate to a new website.

Other tips for using hyperlinks in social media posts:

  • Avoid using “URL shorteners,” which send traffic through a third-party site. These tools limit the size of URLs, but they can cause confusion for some people with disabilities by giving inaccurate information about the target URL.
  • Consider rewriting URLs to make them clear and understandable. Keep URLs as short as possible and include relevant keywords to help people know what to expect when visiting the page.
  • Make sure your hyperlinks point to accessible pages. If you haven’t evaluated your site for accessibility, consider a Web Content Accessibility Guide (WCAG) audit, which can help you find and fix issues. 

Some social media platforms allow creators to eliminate URLs from their text posts while keeping the link intact. Creators may be able to rewrite hyperlink descriptions, which appear separately from the primary post. These features can be helpful for improving social media accessibility. However, be sure to review your posts before publishing. If your hyperlinks could create confusion, leave them out.

Read More: Quick Guide to Accessible Hyperlinks

Make your hashtags accessible (and use them sparingly).

Hashtags can make browsing easier, but they can also be distracting for people with low vision or neurocognitive differences. Avoid using hashtags in the middle of a post; keep them at the end, and make sure they’re relevant to the subject. 

Capitalize each word in the hashtag to make it easier for users to read and interpret. For example: #ThisIsAnAccessibleHashtag. This practice is often called “camel case,” and it allows screen readers to identify words individually. It’s also helpful for people with dyslexia and other conditions.

Read More: Make Your Hashtags Accessible

Post content across different social media platforms.

Some social media platforms may be more accessible for people with certain disabilities. Facebook, for instance, is the only major platform that automatically enforced proper heading structures, according to Yale’s Usability & Web Accessibility Guide

Improper heading structures can create barriers for some people who use assistive technologies to browse the internet. Additionally, sites have different policies for captioning or providing hyperlinks, which can make certain platforms more frustrating for certain users with disabilities.

If your business posts the same content across platforms, you’ll avoid leaving people out of the discussion. However, your content may need to be modified; for instance, if you’re posting video content across several platforms, you may need to render on-screen captions (or “burned" captions) when posting to a platform that doesn’t support caption files.

Of course, some people choose to avoid social media entirely. Consider providing your social posts on a dedicated page of your website. By providing a summary of your recent posts, you’ll give your users more ways to interact with your brand.

Provide closed captions and transcripts for videos.

Closed captions help everyone perceive video content — not just people with disabilities. Your audience might not be able to listen to sound if they’re browsing your feed at work or in a public place. Some people simply prefer to keep audio off, so adding captions or transcripts can keep them engaged.

According to internal tests from Facebook, ads with captions had an increased video view time by an average of 12 percent. About 80 percent of mobile users reacted negatively when videos played sound when they weren’t expecting sound. The takeaway: Captions are great for growing your audience, and they’re a crucial accessibility feature.

On Facebook, creators can add captions after uploading media through the process outlined here. Twitter allows creators to upload subtitles as .SRT files. Instagram is currently rolling out an auto-caption feature, and creators can edit the text to ensure accuracy. 

In addition to closed captions, creators should consider providing transcripts for videos. Some assistive technologies may have an easier time reading transcripts, particularly when captions are on-screen, without associated text.

Think about your social media posts from your audience’s perspective.

Social media accessibility is a complex topic, and over the next several months, we’ll publish additional blogs with tips and guidance for specific platforms. However, if you’re looking for ways to improve your content on social media, the foundational principles of WCAG are extremely helpful. 

To get started, consider your audience’s perspective. Look closely at your social profiles and ask questions:

  • Can your audience find your contact information to report issues?
  • Do your posts use abbreviations or jargon, and if so, do you provide clear explanations?
  • Do visitors receive notifications when video or audio content plays automatically?
  • Have you tested your social media content for conformance with WCAG?

By providing your audience with options — and treating accessibility as a priority — you’ll be able to grow your brand without leaving people out of the conversation. The foundational principles of WCAG can be extremely helpful here: Content that is perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust is considered to be reasonably accessible. Those principles can be an effective starting point for driving engagement and improving your relationship with your followers.

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