Do you want a larger audience to consume your social media content? Wondering how to create content that’s more accessible to people with impairments?
In this article, you’ll discover tips and tools to make your social media content accessible to everyone.
Why Accessibility Matters to Marketers
A lot of people assume that accessibility is impossibly specialized and not for them—the developers will take care of it, the social networks will take care of it, or people with accessibility needs will figure something out on their own. But that’s not the case.
Accessibility online is a complex patchwork of website design, browser features, accessibility tools, and yes, the ways that individual users share content. You can make a difference in terms of accessibility by applying just a few rules and tools to your social media content.
To put it another way, if you aren’t using these rules and tools, you’re shutting out a very large number of people from your brand. According to the UK government, at least one in five people has a disability, impairment, or long-term disability. That’s 20% of your potential audience right there. You can’t afford—ethically or in business terms—to neglect accessibility online.
The good news is that on social media, some of the work is already done for you. Platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter have begun to introduce more accessibility features to provide easier access to text, images, and video. While you’re on those platforms, you don’t have to worry about developer details like whether the page navigation is marked up correctly.
Here’s what you do have to worry about: The media and design of your content also affect accessibility, sometimes in quite unexpected ways. If you’ve never had to think about accessibility before, you may be missing some very easy fixes. In the sections below, I’ve outlined some basic tips and tools for posting accessible text, images, video, and links on social media.
Note: This advice is designed to make your social media content more accessible. It won’t be perfectly accessible because social networks are still not perfect and it’s difficult to anticipate every accessibility issue that someone might have. But this is a good place to start.
#1: Make Text Accessible
Today, we tend to think of social media as pictures and videos but it all started with text. Here are a few ways you might be sharing text on social media:
- Facebook page updates
- Text in Instagram or Facebook Stories
- LinkedIn posts
- LinkedIn articles
- Comments on Facebook or Instagram posts
- Twitter replies
- Direct messages
- Social ads
- Profile bios
Every time you share a piece of writing online, you need to think about its accessibility in two ways. First, is the text visually accessible? And second, is it easy to read?
Let’s start with the first point. When I say “visually accessible,” I mean, quite literally, can people see it? It’s more difficult to read text that’s in an unusual font, very small, or in a color too close to the background color.
Here’s a quick pop quiz: Spot the issue with each one of these Instagram stories I’ve drafted.
There’s a reason that most social networks use a sans-serif font by default. They’re usually easier to read. If you want to use non-standard fonts or characters, you have to copy and paste text from a converter, like this one.
Neat, huh? Unfortunately, this is horrible from an accessibility point of view. The converted text is already less clear than a standard sans-serif font. But it gets worse. In some fonts, the converted words are no longer words. Instead, each letter has been converted into a Unicode symbol.
To illustrate, the first letter of the converted text—that beautiful Gothic capital “T”—is called a Mathematical Fraktur Capital T in Unicode. And to a screen reader, it’s not a “T.” It’s symbol “U+1D517.”
So if you use a screen reader, you won’t hear the phrase, “This is a text converter for social media.” You’ll hear “U+1D517 U+1D515 U+1D526 U+1D530…” Well, you get the idea.
Most screen readers also struggle with emojis, non-standard characters, and some punctuation such as ampersands. Just like the fancy Gothic text in the example above, they’ll either read out the Unicode for each character or skip it altogether.
Of course, you can still use emojis (they’re fun!). Just make sure that you don’t use them to replace key words. To visualize this, this tweet is okay:
You might also notice that I’ve only used each emoji once. I did that so screen reader users don’t have to hear the same Unicode read out three times in a row.
This next tweet—however nice it sounds—is a disaster. Anyone using a screen reader will have to fill in the blanks for themselves, with possibly questionable results.
Finally, don’t lose sight of that most basic rule of copywriting: Keep it simple. Short text posts can actually be harder to write than long articles because you have to pack so much into just a few characters. Avoid ten-dollar words, unnecessarily complicated grammar, and idioms or in-jokes that might be hard to understand. Clever writing can be fun for the writer but it’s not always a great experience for the reader.
#2: Make Images Accessible
We’re always being told that social media is visual. Most of its content, interaction, and appeal revolve around photos, infographics, images, and memes. However, if you’re a person who can’t see, or can’t see very well, this isn’t ideal.
Whenever you share an image on social media, you should make sure that:
- It’s easy to see and understand.
- There’s an alternative medium for people who can’t see the image.
Let’s start with “easy to see.” Most of this is common sense. Any photos you share should be well-lit, from a clear angle, and without too much background noise. If you share illustrations, computer-generated images, or edited images, you’ll also need to think about color palettes and combinations.
My absolute favorite tool for this is a free website called Who Can Use. You can plug in the hex numbers for any color combination and the site will show you how it looks to people with different visual impairments. It also gives you the percentage of the population for each impairment. You may be surprised by how many people don’t have 20/20 Technicolor vision.
Another helpful tool is Color Safe. This is another free app with a similar approach. You tell the app your background color, font size, and a few other design details and it suggests accessible color combinations.
Next, let’s talk about alternative media. If someone can’t view an image, they should be able to access the information it holds in another way. This is why we have alt text.
You can now add alt text to images on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram. (LinkedIn and Facebook even have tools that automatically generate alt text if you forget but writing it yourself is preferable.)
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Some unscrupulous people use alt text for an SEO boost and write things like “img 1 tues black boots sale.” This is not helpful. If you’re concerned about SEO, save it for the image caption. Your alt text caption should describe what’s in the picture without any editing or spin. And, of course, the same old rules about writing accessible text apply.
You also need to think about the difference between image text and live text. Live text is text that a screen reader can see; it’s live on the page. Image text is different. If you take a photograph of someone pointing to a sign, a screen reader won’t be able to read the sign. And if you Photoshop some text onto an image, that will probably also be invisible to a screen reader. So you’ll need to spell it out in the alt text.
Here’s how it’s done on LinkedIn. You have 120 characters to play with so don’t skimp on the explanation.
#3: Make Video Accessible
Video is where social media really starts to lag on accessibility. If you’re a sighted and hearing person, video seems so intuitive; it’s an easy way to communicate. You just whack on the phone camera and do your thing. Simple, right?
But if you can’t hear very well or have difficulty seeing, videos are a nightmare. They move too fast. You can’t see or hear the essential information. There are background music and visual effects that keep distracting you.
When it’s done well, video can still be a great medium. But you need to think about accessibility.
Let’s start with the visuals. Again, the basic rules should be obvious: good lighting, clear angles, and not too much background clutter. Try to avoid shaky camera-work or lots of overlaid effects unless they’re for a clear purpose. If you want to use strobe effects or anything similar, add a warning in the video, title, and description.
If you’re creating a talking head video, make it accessible for people who rely on lip-reading. Make sure the person speaking is facing the camera and their face is well-lit. Ask them to speak naturally, at a normal pace, and with no exaggerated facial movements. They should also avoid covering their face with their hands or clothes. (This is always a tricky one for me because I gesture a lot while I speak. If you’re struggling, get a Rubik’s Cube to fiddle with out of shot.)
Next, let’s talk about sound. If you plan to use background music as well as speech, make sure the sound is mixed correctly so that speech comes through clearly. Any kind of percussive background noise like construction, street traffic, or other conversations happening behind the speaker will make it difficult for hearing-impaired people to separate out the important sounds.
And, of course, you must have subtitles. There are plenty of automatic captioning and free subtitling tools out there. Facebook and YouTube offer autogenerated captions, which are useful in a pinch but not always accurate. (Plus, Facebook only seems to offer subtitles for page posts; I can’t subtitle videos on my personal profile.) It’s worth taking the time to write your own subtitles or edit subtitles from an autogenerator.
Apps like Clipomatic ($4.99 for iOS) or AutoCap (free for Android) will generate captions in real time with a choice of horizontal or vertical video format. This article from TechRepublic has a great breakdown of several different captioning tools. Most of these apps offer a range of cute subtitle formats. Choose one that works for your brand image but keep accessibility in mind. Another option for story posts is to add the key points of your video as a text sticker.
What about social networks that are almost entirely devoted to video, like Snapchat and TikTok? Well, the news here is… not as good. You can still add text stickers and subtitles to your videos if you edit them after recording. You can follow the same good practices of avoiding strobe lighting, making text readable, and filling in alt text whenever available. But quick live videos are very difficult to caption.
I recommend reading this article about how visually impaired people use Snapchat. It’s illuminating and may give you some idea of how to make your content more accessible. As far as TikTok goes, well:
One final word on the topic of videos. You should always offer a transcript. Not only are transcripts helpful for people with hearing impairments but also lots of people prefer them to video because they allow the reader to process information slower.
For longer or information-heavy videos, you should be sharing transcripts by default. Add them as a link in the comments or your bio and be ready to send transcripts via DM to anyone who requests them. This applies to podcasts, too.
#4: Make Links Accessible
Every good social media manager knows that ultimately you’re trying to drive the click. We don’t talk very often about links on social media because they’re less thrilling than witty text posts, images, or videos, but they’re essential to our work. And accessibility applies to links, too.
There are three important questions to ask whenever you share a link on social media:
- Is the link obvious?
- Is it clear where the link goes?
- Does the link lead to an accessible website?
By making the link obvious, I mean that you should signpost it clearly. Phrases like “click here” and “read more” will help screen reader users to spot when a link is coming up. It’s also a good idea to describe what the link is for and put it into context.
Compare these two examples:
In the LinkedIn post on the left, it’s not clear why there’s suddenly a link in the text. There’s no signposting; it could lead anywhere. But in the sample on the right, I’ve signposted the link, provided some context, and used a customized URL. There are no incomprehensible strings of numbers or weird characters.
Customized URLs are lovely and reassuring because you can make them describe exactly what the link is going to do. Quite apart from accessibility, it also looks professional and builds trust with your readers.
Wherever the link leads, that website should also be accessible. If you don’t know whether your site is accessible, try downloading a screen reader app and spending a few minutes playing with it.
There are loads of options for desktop. The most popular mobile screen readers are Google TalkBack for Android and VoiceOver for iPhone, which are integrated into the operating system. It takes a little while to become skilled with a screen reader but it should be immediately obvious if your website is impossible to use.
We all have a responsibility to learn about accessibility, promote it, and demand it where it’s missing. I hope you’ve found some ideas in this article that will help you create more accessible content. Remember, you don’t have to be an instant expert; you just have to make an effort. It could make all the difference for your followers.
What do you think? Are you inspired to make your content more accessible on social media? Which techniques will you try first? Share your thoughts in the comments below.