July 26, 2020, marked the 30th anniversary of the passing of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities in the public sphere. While we’ve worked to increase accessibility and encourage inclusion of folks with disabilities, our everyday life has changed drastically over these past three decades.
Our increased dependence on the virtual world makes eliminating barriers online just as important as removing physical obstacles, even on social media. To that end, here are some ways to make your social media feeds more welcoming and easier to navigate.
Show And Tell
If you’re anything like me, you pore over photos looking for just the right graphic for your feed. You want it to match your written content and flow with the rest of your images. Important considerations, for sure, but it’s equally important to include details for your blind or visually impaired followers, too.
You can do this by giving as much attention to alternative text (or “alt text”) as you do to the image itself. Alt text can be read by assistive technologies, ensuring everyone visiting your feed understands the intent behind your content.
Ask yourself: what am I trying to convey with this image? Answer with a brief explanation using simple, direct language. Avoid using the word “image” or a full file name with extensions, as screen readers will read that and create redundancy and confusion.
Both Facebook and Instagram add machine-generated alt text automatically and give you the option to edit it for accuracy. Consider the sharing aspect as well: including image descriptions in captions or comments will allow that content to be shared when reposted. Twitters users can access alt text generation in your settings, and LinkedIn allows you to add descriptive text to images yourself.
Videos can generate amazing engagement and interest. By adding closed captioning, you can also capture the interest of your deaf or hard-of-hearing followers, and make your video content more accessible for all. We’re not always in a place where turning up the volume makes sense, and some folks might prefer the readable option. (An interesting stat: adding captions can increase views by 12%!)
Keep the same considerations in mind for your videos as you would for your images: give clear explanations with precise language. For pre-recorded videos, having a transcript ready to go makes captioning easier.
YouTube does offer auto-generated, editable captions. You can upload your video there, make appropriate changes, and export your subtitles file (also known as an SRT file) for use anywhere. (Worth noting: YouTube will discontinue community contributions to captions in September 2020.) iPhone users can take full advantage of the Clips app built into the iOS to create captions as you speak that can be edited later. Other options include Kapwing, Clipomatic, and paid transcription services like Rev.
Be equally mindful of your written words, especially if you post shareable content. If your caption includes a hyperlink, use a URL shortening tool to reduce the number of characters. Add bracketed text to indicate when links lead to [AUDIO], [VIDEO], or [PIC]. Best practices for this additional written content includes sharing mentions, descriptive hyperlinks, and/or hashtags at the end of the caption (or tweet, for my Twitterers).
It’s especially important to tend to your hashtags! Many of us simply follow the hash mark with a multi-word tag in all lower case letters. Next time you take a good look at a hashtag, think about reading it out loud as one entire word… because that’s what screen readers will do! Sometimes that can have unintended consequences that are humorous at best and completely unintelligible at worst. To avoid said consequences, and to increase readability, use camel case (also stylized as camelCase) when necessary, using capital letters to delimit each individual word.
These suggestions are by no means exhaustive, but hopefully they give you places to start making your social media content more accessible and inviting to all.