A Guide to Social Media Accessibility

Illustration of a smartphone with various social media icons coming out of it.

By Drew Dakessian

For decades, people with disabilities have been unable to navigate social media platforms due to a lack of accessibility. Unfortunately, many fail to realize that no matter how inclusive the content of their social media posts, the posts themselves could still be inaccessible, and therefore, aren’t inclusive of people with disabilities. The good news is, with the help of such features as alt text, captions, and CamelCase hashtags, businesses and private citizens alike can give their socials an accessibility makeover. 

Social Media Accessibility Features

Alt text

No discussion of accessibility in the digital age would be complete without mentioning screen readers and text-to-speech, programs that enable users to read text using a speech synthesizer or Braille display on a computer screen. These innovations, while essential, aren’t foolproof. When there is an image on the screen, a Blind or Low Vision person using a screen reader needs a description of what is being depicted in the image. One kind of descriptive text is alt text, a text replacement for an image conveying what that image contains. Facebook automatically generates alt text but often misses the mark. This is why it’s the creator’s responsibility to add alt text manually to ensure the accuracy of an image description on each social media platform.

Captioning, descriptive transcripts, and sign language

Videos posted on social media platforms should always include open or closed captions to accommodate people who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing. Open captions are captions that are automatically embedded onto a video, while closed captions can be toggled on or off. YouTube, Facebook, Instagram TV, and TikTok all offer auto-captioning. But as with alt text, the technology isn’t perfect. For that reason, as with images, the onus is on creators to provide captions to ensure accuracy. Keep in mind this guidance from the American Foundation for the Blind: “Closed captioning is fine, but consider open captioning.” Why? Because “open captioning is valuable to people who are viewing video content in situations where the video is muted by default.”

Another crucial component of video and audio recordings is an accompanying descriptive transcript, promoted by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the gold standard for online accessibility, as a means of accommodating people who are Deaf and/or Blind. 

Last but not least, the best social media videos feature a sign language interpreter. Arrange for an interpreter fluent in the sign dialect spoken wherever your target audience is.

Typography, design and color contrast

If being accessible is your goal, you must choose typography with care, opting for simple, easy-to-read fonts, making them large enough to be easily legible. People with vision-related impairments, as well as people with dyslexia and other learning disabilities, are generally better able to comprehend sans serif fonts.

Not all platforms allow users to customize their social media appearance, but if you have the option, strive to make both your posts and profile distinguishable — that is, ensure that whatever is in the foreground has a high contrast against the color of the background. Adhere to the following criteria laid out by the WCAG:

  1. A contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 for normal text and 3:1 for large text
  2. A contrast ratio of at least 3:1 for graphics and user interface components (such as form input borders)

To verify that your design is compliant, you can use the WCAG Contrast Checker.

Write hashtags in CamelCase.

Hashtags help users to be able to easily access content relating to a specific subject. But hashtags can also be completely illegible to a screen reader user if not formatted correctly because screen readers have trouble distinguishing between terms in a text set. But there is a solution: capitalizing the first letter of each word. This technique, known as CamelCase, indicates that a screen reader should read hashtags as separate words rather than just one long one, i.e., #DisabilityJusticeForAll would read as “disability justice for all,” whereas #disabilityjusticeforall would read as “disabilityjusticeforall” as one word.

Shorten URLs and put them in context.

Screen readers read text precisely as printed. Thus, a typical URL would come out, “H-T-T-P colon slash slash W-W-W dot _____ dot com.” Although Twitter automatically shortens URLs, you need to use a third-party URL shortener for other platforms. A good shortener is TinyURL; it retains the “dot com,” thereby clarifying to the reader that it’s a URL.

Another common problem is that screen readers may not read a link within the context of the rest of the page. As a result, you must introduce a hyperlink (“visit bit.ly/_____,” “go to tinyurl.com/_____,” etc.) and insert it near the end of the post. 

Use emojis and emoticons judiciously.

Every emoji has an assigned description. For example, if a screen reader were to encounter an emoji or emoticon of a smiling face with sunglasses, it would say, “smiling face with sunglasses;” That wastes time. Similarly, before you add an emoticon, remember that 😉 may look like a winking face, but a screen reader will interpret it as “semicolon hyphen-minus right parenthesis,” and read it back accordingly. (Incidentally, you should never use an emoji in place of a word.)

Avoid inspiration porn.

Accessibility is an invaluable aspect of digital disability justice. But it’s equally important to create and share content that accurately reflects the disabled experience without embellishing it. And that means social media users have to refrain from promoting inspiration porn — posts about people “overcoming” their disabilities, serving as an inspiration to non-disabled people. Regardless of whether they may go viral, such posts promote the notion that disabled people can rise above their impairments — and that should do just that. And if people with disabilities feel misrepresented in social media, they’re unlikely to find it accessible.

When your social media content is accessible, everyone benefits

People with disabilities aren’t the only ones who benefit from social media accessibility. Text written in CamelCase is universally easier to read; captions are helpful to those who are not Deaf or Hard of Hearing. Not to mention, making social media accessible makes good business sense: It expands the number of people you reach, which maximizes profitability. Finally, social media accessibility is a sign of respect toward disabled social media users. And that is reason enough to prioritize it.


Resources


Published: January 28, 2022

Drew Dakessian is a Freelance Writer for WID.

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