4 Essential Features Of Social Media Accessibility

So much communication and outreach happens online these days, and it gives the opportunity for businesses and individuals to connect on a whole other level than before. Especially through social media, it has become easier to find information and engage in instant dialog with pretty much anyone and anything. But it is not an even game for all, as no social media channel is one hundred percent accessible due to limitations on the actual platforms. You can, however, do a lot to make sure your own pages and channels are as accessible as possible and allow people with different disabilities equal access to your information. We have gathered four essential features that can help you become more accessible and inclusive on social media. They cover written posts, images, videos, and other visual content and will contain information relevant for the most popular social media channels - Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

1. General Best Practices for All Social Media Accessibility

There are a few things that are always good to keep in mind when creating accessible social media channels for all brands and businesses. These mainly revolve around clear communication and making your business and content available through other means as well as the chosen social media platform. These are:
  • Always provide contact information such as email and telephone number for your business or organization on your social media page.
  • It is a good idea to make your social media content available through other channels to avoid some of the accessibility issues you could encounter through the platform designs. This could be making an email recap of all posts and shared content.
  • Most social media platforms provide accessibility information and hotlines for their users. Making these links and contact information available on your page provides extra help for your users in case they run into platform-specific issues.
  • Always keep all posts, information, structure, and design as simple as possible to help your users as much as the platform allows and to make the experience as smooth as possible for all. 

2. Always Use Text Alternatives for Images, Videos, and Other Visuals

It is the first rule of the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) to provide alternatives for visuals so people with visual impairments and users of screen readers are able to access your content. Social media content is no exception even though it can be simpler to control the use of text alternatives on your privately hosted channels - such as your website. Most of the same rules apply in both instances:
  • Images: When uploading images that are not purely decorative (like profile pictures) to social media, it is important to remember to add a description of the image that can be read by screen readers (alt text). Most channels have now made this a possibility when creating your posts to account for the many individuals with visual impairment who use social media. For a guide to creating alt text on specific media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter & LinkedIn) please refer to this complete list by DigitalMaas.
  • Graphs and other media: Sometimes the images you want to post on social media contain more information than is usually best practice to put in an alt text. These could be infographics, graphs, and charts. Here you can use the longdesc tag to make users aware that a more comprehensive explanation of the image is coming and allow them to skip it if they feel like it is irrelevant to them.
  • Videos: The two most important considerations of accessibility when posting videos to social media are to provide a text transcript of the video content and close caption the video. This accounts for the two main accessibility issues connected to moving images and live sound - people who have a hard time seeing and hearing the content. As with many considerations of accessibility, this is also a way to improve the general user experience as many will have sound turned off in public or are unable to watch the video from start to finish on the move.
Generally, images - both still and moving - are a large part of social media and should be made accessible to all. Therefore, individual social media channels often offer automated options for alt text and captions, but be wary of these as the quality is not up to standards yet. Always manually review any automatically generated written content to make sure it is as accurate as possible.

For more information on alt text specifically, you can check out our quick and easy guide to good alternative text.

3. Writing Text for Accessible Social Media Posts

As with many considerations of accessibility, writing good and accessible text for social media is, first and foremost, a matter of simplifying your content and style which will ultimately benefit all users. But there are a few concrete things you should consider that will help you achieve a style that can be read by all - human and machine - with ease:
  • Always use camel case in hashtags: Using camel case or caps when starting a new word (#AccessibilityForAll instead of #accessibilityforall) makes it easier to read your hashtags both for users with visual impairments and for screen readers. While users with full use of sight will probably be able to figure out your meaning, a screen reader will read the tag as one long word making it practically unintelligible in most instances.
  • Be considerate when using emojis: The little pictures and faces that pretty much accompany all posts these days are a great way to convey emotions and add something extra to your post. However, extensive use can be distracting and does not translate well on screen readers. First of all, you should find out what the emoji you are using actually means in text, as this is what a screen reader will read aloud when describing the emoji. This can be done by a simple search on emoji databases like emojipedia. Further, you should consider only using one emoji of the same kind and limit the general amount to only essential ones.
  • General language considerations: The golden rule of clear social media content is to always be as explicit as you can in your text. This means you should spell out acronyms the first time they are used unless they are very well known and avoid the use of slang if you are not sure all users would be familiar with the term. This is also a consideration of your audience and how familiar they are expected to be with your content - eg. niche communities can be more implicit than Government pages and still achieve perfectly accessible content. But it is always good to be on the cautious side to not alienate new users or any other people not in the know. 

4. Posting Links, Calls-To-Action, and Shared Content

A lot of social media content, especially from businesses and organizations, aims to lead users off the actual social media page and onto their privately hosted pages or to content related to their services. That is why it is essential to remember to make these features accessible too.
  • Linking best practices: Of course, always make sure the content within your control is accessible or at the very least, make a note of possible accessibility issues on the page. Also, if the link goes to something other than a text page, provide a warning about visual content coming and if possible a brief explanation of the content.
  • Use clear CTA: Most social media platforms have generic CTA buttons that can be hard for people using assistive technology to access and understand, so make sure you explain what will happen if they press the more generic “read more” and “learn more” CTA, or simply provide your own more elaborate explanations when necessary.
  • Consider the message of your content: As an added feature of inclusivity, it is always good practice to consider what the content you are posting or linking to is actually saying. Is it an inclusive message or does it alienate certain groups - eg. saying “We Stand With”, could be considered offensive by some? Further, when linking to content, make sure you know what the company or organization you are promoting stands for before sharing their content. 

This guide covers the essentials to get you started with accessibility on social media and is tailored to work for the most used channels. If you are interested in one specific channel or more in-depth information on specific parts of accessibility, refer to the individual platforms’ own pages on accessibility. Find more information on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. Further, this specialized list also covers accessibility on more niche social media like Snapchat, blogs, and Pinterest.