Being accessible online is important for every facet of your digital strategy. While many organizations are on the right track to making their websites accessible and inclusive, the potential issue with social media is that many platforms aren’t necessarily up to accessibility standards. And since you’re not the owner of these platforms, your organization is confined to how accessible the platform is itself.
However, there are ways to be more accessible and reach the widest audience possible.
Some organizations might be reluctant to put time into social media accessibility since these efforts aren’t required under WCAG 2.1 accessibility standards (the foundation for many accessibility laws). But if you know that your users are engaging with your social channels, why not make your content as usable as possible?
Here are some tips for being more accessible, more inclusive, and overall more usable for your followers.
How to Be More Accessible on Twitter
Twitter has greatly increased accessibility options for users across all platforms in the past several years, especially when it comes to posting images. This is a big consideration for businesses, since research shows that tweets with images receive 150% more retweets than tweets without images.
The Twitter Help Center provides step-by-step directions for adding descriptions to any image you post, a huge consideration for low-vision users and those who use assistive technology. Twitter originally rolled out descriptions in 2016 as a mobile-only option, but now offers platform-specific solutions for its Android and iPhone apps as well as for twitter.com. In addition, the help center provides instructions for using Twitter with assistive tech like VoiceOver for Mac, JAWS for Windows, and NVDA for Windows.
Uploading an accessible image to Twitter is a simple process. Twitter even explains the reason for adding an image description: "Describe this image for the visually impaired."
For Android users, go to the menu or profile icon at the top of your screen. Tap Settings and Privacy, then tap Accessibility under the General menu. Check the Compose Image Descriptions box to activate the function. The next time you attach an image to a tweet, tap Add Description, enter your text, and tap Apply.
The process is similar for iOS. Go to the User Menu at the top of your screen, then navigate to Settings and Privacy. Double-tap Accessibility and turn on the Compose Image Descriptions switch. The next time you attach an image to a Tweet, double-tap the Photo Library and select an image. Return to the Tweet composer screen, locate the image, and swipe up or down until you hear the Add Description to Photo alert. Enter your text and double-tap Apply.
The process for enabling descriptions on Twitter.com for the desktop varies depending on which screen reader and operating system you’re using. The Twitter Help Center offers detailed and up-to-date directions for each.
Another great resource is EasyChirp, an app that allows you to tweet an image with a caption and long description from your desktop or laptop computer, as well as mobile devices.
Here are additional tips on how to make Twitter more accessible.
How to Be More Accessible on Facebook
As the world’s most popular social network, Facebook has a huge responsibility to provide an accessible environment for its billions of users. The Facebook Help Center features extensive accessibility information for its users, including step-by-step instructions for using keyboard shortcuts, screen readers, closed captions for video, and more. Facebook’s built-in navigation assistant is one of the network’s biggest accessibility assets. This tool is designed to help users of screen readers and other assistive technology navigate Facebook.
Facebook allows users to provide descriptions for all images and videos, making it easy to offer text-based captions for screen readers and other assistive technology. With video playing an increasingly prominent role on Facebook, enabling captions is a key consideration. Facebook makes it simple to add captions to videos via the SubRip (.srt) file format.
To get started, click Photo/Video at the top of your timeline or News feed, then click Upload Photos/Videos. Select the video you want to share on your computer and click Post. Once you get a notification that your video is ready to view, click Options, then Edit This Video. You can then click Upload SRT Files and Choose File to upload an .srt file with your desired captions. Click Save and your fully captioned video should be ready to share.
It’s also useful to know that even if you don’t provide alt text on an image, Facebook can handle it for you. In 2016 the company introduced an algorithm that recognizes common objects and concepts in photos and generates tags that make the images more accessible for low-vision users. Of course, if you want to make sure your images are identified properly, adding descriptions by hand is still the recommended method, but it’s good to see a social media platform taking a proactive approach to accessible content.
To add alt text to a Facebook image, click "Edit" and then "Change alt text". Not sure what to put as your alt text? Facebook automatically generates alt text for images as seen in the image below. Pretty neat!
Here are some additional tips on how to make Facebook more accessible. You can also follow the Facebook Accessibility page on Facebook to be the first to know about new updates.
How to Be More Accessible on Instagram
Instagram overall provides a good experience for users with disabilities. Since it is an image-sharing social media platform, when people provide detailed descriptions of what there are posting, then the image has in a sense has “alt text”.
Both Android and Apple mobile phones have general settings where people with disabilities can update accessibility preferences. The zoom-in feature can help those who have a hard time seeing the photos in the size of the application.
So what’s the best approach as an organization? Ensure you add descriptive text to the images you’re posting. Instagram gives you a good platform to be as accessible as you can, because you have no character limit. A good rule of thumb is to describe images as precisely as possible, but also keep the message easy to understand and concise.
While you can't add alt text to Instagram photos yet, you're encouraged to be as descriptive as possible in your caption or even provide an alt text in the caption itself. Instagram also offers a zoom function that serves visually impaired users.
For Instagram videos, the caption space can be used to provide a transcript, including quotes, dialogue, and descriptions of the action.
To learn what it’s like for someone who is blind, you can watch a video of Tommy Edison and how he personally uses Instagram.
How to Be More Accessible on LinkedIn
LinkedIn may not command as many headlines as Twitter or Facebook, but the business-oriented network has been an important player on the social media scene for a long time. LinkedIn’s website and content perform well from an accessibility standpoint, and their internal team has shown dedication to creating a more inclusive environment.
Even so, the site currently offers little information for users wishing to add descriptive text or other accessibility considerations to their own posts. For the time being, the best approach is probably to make sure that the captions for your image and video posts include a precise and concise description of what’s being shown, similar to the Instagram approach above.
How to Be More Accessible on Snapchat
You might not expect it for such a visual medium, but Snapchat offers some useful features for users with low vision. The app interacts well with assistive tech like VoiceOver and TalkBack, which means that making good use of captions is very important. As with Instagram, make sure your captions are precise and descriptive as well as understandable.
In 2016, DigitalGov created a step-by-step guide on how to be as accessible as possible with Snapchat stories, much of which remains relevant today. For instance, they recommend storyboarding your Snapchat story, just like you would with videos you post on Vimeo and YouTube so that you take accessibility into account up front. This allows you to download each file of your Snapchat story and record audio for each snap. Uploading the snap screenshot images with audio on one of your video channels, YouTube or Vimeo, can provide a more accessible version of your Snapchat stories.
DigitalGov serves as great inspiration for making Snapchat stories accessible. By downloading your stories, you can re-upload them to YouTube, add captions, add a transcript, and you've already opened up your Snapchat content to a wider audience.
How to Be More Accessible on YouTube and Vimeo
Whether you’re putting together a tutorial, trying a new marketing approach, or sharing a keynote speech from your latest conference, videos play a huge role in many companies’ social strategies. There are many video services and social channels out there, but YouTube and Vimeo are likely the most widely used by organizations.
Ensure all videos have closed captions, an audio description, and a full transcript (when possible because a transcript is useful for both those with hearing and visual impairments). While YouTube provides a feature that automatically captions videos less than 10 minutes in length, you should be cautious to make sure the transcript is accurate. Google provides easy instructions for adding captions and subtitles to all videos.
Vimeo also provides built-in options and easy instructions for adding subtitles and captions to any video, and also allows users to purchase subtitles and transcription services from any of three trusted providers: 3Play, Rev, and Amara.
Keyboard traps are another important thing to keep in mind when posting to a social video channel. A keyboard trap “occurs when a person who uses a keyboard cannot move focus away from an interactive element or control using the keyboard alone.” In other words, a user can enter a video player using a keyboard, but cannot get back to the original page. Since being able to navigate a page without using a mouse is essential for maintaining an accessible site, avoiding keyboard traps is a major consideration.
Good accessibility policy for your social channels doesn’t vary so much from the same accessibility best practices you (hopefully) already employ on your website. You want to provide the best user experience for web visitors of all ability levels. Social media may require a bit of a learning curve, but the end goal is the same.
Want more tips on social media accessibility? Check out DigitalGov’s resource center and tips specific for each channel. Want to dive into the topic of digital accessibility and learn how your skills measure up? Take our accessibility quiz!
*This blog was updated June 14th, 2018