Social media is an important marketing tool, but for many people—including the disabled community—it can also offer access to a unique support system and accessible information and resources. As we’ve written before, though, social media platforms themselves haven’t always prioritized accessibility, meaning it’s been up to creators, brands, and everyday users to keep disabled audiences in mind. Thankfully, since our last blog post on the topic, we’ve seen a tidal wave of new technology, initiatives, and in-app features designed to help disabled individuals access and better interact with content, including yours.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four adults in the U.S. lives with some type of disability. And while this doesn’t mean 25 percent of the American population share the same specific needs, there are a lot of tips, tricks, and reminders that you can keep in your back pocket to make sure your social media presence is reaching the most inclusive audience possible. Here are just a few of our favorite social media accessibility features.
Ditch the flashing visual effects.
In late 2020, TikTok worked with epilepsy advocates to develop and unveil a feature that recognizes unsettling, flashing, and potentially triggering video effects. This feature allows users with epilepsy to opt out of all videos that could trigger a photosensitive seizure—and it also warns creators when their content will be flagged. In order to reach a broader and more inclusive audience, though, it would be a good practice to just ditch the flashing images altogether.
If you’ve been making video content for awhile, you might already be well aware that adding closed captions is one of the best ways to make TikToks more accessible to Deaf and hard of hearing audiences. And, as of April 2021, it’s easier than ever: The app rolled out a feature that will automatically caption your videos. Just click the “Captions” button while editing your video, and tweak the text as needed. Of course, it’s also important to make sure your captions are readable—you can choose the caption placement, color, font, and size with the “Text” tool.
Text-to-speech is your friend.
When making TikToks, it’s imperative to consider users who can’t hear—and also users who can’t see. If your video is text-heavy and you’d prefer not to read it aloud yourself, TikTok’s built-in text-to-speech feature will narrate your captions, making your content accessible to audiences with dyslexia and other learning disabilities, along with blind and visually impaired users.
If your TikTok is mostly visual and doesn’t have much text, don’t worry! You can still reach the latter group. Briefly describe its content in the video description, or in a pinned comment—many smartphone users who can’t see rely on reading apps like VoiceOver, which will narrate any text on the screen.
Never forget alt text.
Speaking of VoiceOver, get in the habit of adding alt text to photos shared across social media platforms. Twitter makes it easy: Once you upload an image, just click on the pic and press “Alt.” Some social scheduling sites, including Buffer, also let you add alt text to scheduled tweets. What do you write, exactly? A detailed, one-sentence description that includes any relevant keywords (like your brand’s name, or a new campaign!).
Avoid decorative fonts.
You might have seen or even visited one of the many fun, silly font websites that generate words to copy and paste into a tweet. As cool, casual, and trendy as they may look, they aren’t VoiceOver-friendly. And while text narration apps can identify emojis, it’s best not to go overboard—no one wants to hear the words “clapping hands” repeated a dozen times in a row.
Use #CamelCase instead of #snakecase.
Narration apps can also pick up on hashtags, which is great: Hashtags are a perfect way to draw attention to your tweets, cash in on trends, and gain momentum online. But what narration apps can’t read are #hashtagslikethis. Capitalizing the first letter of each word is a surefire way to make sure everyone can hear what you have to say.
Add alt text and captions to your Instagram posts.
Unlike TikTok and Twitter, Instagram offers more opportunities for longer-form posts, videos, and series of photos. You can use this to your advantage by putting as much text as you can in the post’s caption, rather than in the post itself. Sometimes, you might need to share a text-heavy post or infographic, and that’s okay—you can reiterate the relevant information in a caption.
Then, just as you would with a tweet, you’ll also want to add alt text to every post. While you’re editing a photo, head to “Advanced Settings” and type a brief description.
Caption your Insta Stories.
Earlier this year, Instagram rolled out a new feature that transcribes Instagram Stories. After uploading any video with sound, click the sticker button and look for “Captions.” From there, you can edit the text, and also change the font and color. (Again, make sure the caption is readable! Sans-serif fonts, like Arial and Helvetica, are scientifically proven to be the most dyslexia-friendly.)
Again: alt text, alt text, alt text.
Facebook automatically adds alt text to photos, but it’s always better to add your own. To do this, upload an image, click “Edit,” and then press “Override generated alt text.” You can also go back to your last few published posts, click “Edit,” and change the alt text as needed.
Livestreaming an event? Have a transcription plan in place.
This also goes for livestreams on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Clubhouse. Automatic captioning, while better than nothing, might be faulty, so your safest bet would be transcribing the livestream as soon as possible. Plus, as an added bonus, a transcribed speech or interview will help your content reach a broader audience.
The bigger the image, the better.
Even without accessibility in mind, you probably know that larger images lend themselves to higher quality. This is especially important when you’re considering visually impaired audiences, and it’s especially important on Pinterest, which is such an image-heavy site: Does someone have to strain their eyes to read your image? Is there enough of a color contrast?
Text size is important, too.
In 2018, Pinterest’s engineering team published a list of best accessibility practices—and also revamped their own design. They’ve made it easier for visually impaired users to adjust font size, but it’s still helpful to make your text as large and as clear as possible. (Bonus points if it’s bolded!)
Maximize color contrast.
Whether you’re captioning a TikTok or creating an Instagram infographic, aim for a significant color contrast. (The Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh’s Innovation Studio has a more detailed guide to maximizing contrast.) One specific tip: Green-red colorblindness is more common than any other color combination, so try to avoid contrasting shades of the two, especially if you’re using green and red, respectively, to indicate pros and cons.
And, most importantly, use as many platforms as you can to spread a message, post, or campaign.
While there’s a lot you can do to make your own content accessible, the truth is, many of these apps still have a long way to go. The audio platform Clubhouse is still working with advocates and organizations to improve closed captioning; Twitter recently launched a new design with increased color contrast, but many disability activists argue that the contrast is too maximized, and actually triggers eye strain, migraines, and tension headaches. It’s important to keep in mind that disabled people aren’t a monolith, and apps that are accessible to one person might be unusable to another.
And hey, at this point, you’re a pro at optimizing content for different platforms—Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, you name it. Don’t be scared to spread your message across sites to reach the largest, most inclusive audience you can.
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