More than half of social media content today is image-based, which poses a potential barrier to users with different degrees of visual impairments. Studies show that 91% of businesses use video content for marketing, but many of these videos fail to include closed captions, alienating users with hearing impairments.
This disparity highlights the urgency for implementing accessibility in your social media practices. This post will walk through strategies on how to make sure your content is not just seen, but also experienced by all audiences.
What is social media accessibility?
Social media accessibility refers to the practice of making social media platforms and their content usable by as many people as possible, including those with disabilities. It means ensuring that everyone, regardless of their physical or cognitive abilities, can interact with, understand, and contribute to social media. Just like other digital content, it should be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust, or, POUR.
To be perceivable, your social media content must be available to the senses – either through the browser or through assistive technologies. For users with visual impairments, this means providing text descriptions, known as alternative text (alt text), for images and graphics. Alt text allows screen readers to convey what the image shows to someone who can't see it.
For videos, it’s not just about what users can see, but also what they can hear. Providing captions makes audio information accessible to those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Similarly, audio descriptions of visual information in videos can help those who cannot see the video content.
Content should also be adaptable. In other words, when presented in different ways it shouldn’t lose its information or structure. Examples include allowing users to change font sizes without losing readability, or providing the same information that is in a video in a text format.
Social media platforms must be designed so that all functionality is available via keyboard. This means users should be able to browse posts, open links, and activate buttons using keyboard commands alone. This is important for people who have motor disabilities that prevent them from using a mouse.
Also, make sure to provide enough time for all users to read and interact with your content. Some users, especially those with cognitive disabilities, need more time to process information. Therefore, features like auto-advancing slides or timed quizzes should allow users to control the pace.
Avoid elements that are known to trigger seizures, such as flashing lights or rapid animations. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) specify that web content should not flash more than three times in any one second to prevent risks for users with photosensitive epilepsy.
Understandable information and user interface
Content should be clear and straightforward, avoiding complex language or instructions that could be confusing. Use plain language that can be easily understood by a wide audience, including individuals who may have cognitive disabilities or those who are not fluent in the language.
The user interface — which includes buttons, links, forms, and other interactive elements — should also be designed in a way that is easy to navigate. Users should be able to anticipate what each interface element does and how to interact with it. For example, a button should look like a button and indicate what will happen when it is clicked.
Reliable content and interpretation
Content should be constructed in a way that it can be accessed and understood consistently, no matter what device or assistive technology is being used. This means following standard web practices and using clean, well-structured code that adheres to universally recognized guidelines, such as WCAG.
This makes content more likely to be displayed correctly and function properly across different platforms and devices.
Significance of inclusive social media
Accessible content is not just a nice-to-have but a must-have for businesses and marketers who aim to be relevant, responsible, and successful in today's diverse and interconnected world. Here's why you should prioritize making your social content more accessible:
- Broader audience reach – When content is accessible, it means that more of the population – nearly 1.3 billion people worldwide with disabilities – can engage with it, increasing potential market reach and customer base.
- Legal compliance– Many regions have laws and regulations requiring digital content to be accessible to people with disabilities. For instance, the U.S. Department of Justice asserts that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to digital content. Non-compliance can lead to legal repercussions and fines.
- Enhanced brand image – Demonstrating a commitment to accessibility reflects positively on a brand’s image. It shows that a business values all customers and is committed to equality and diversity. This can strengthen brand loyalty and reputation.
- Improved user experience – Accessible content almost always results in a better user experience for all users, not just those with special needs. Features like subtitles or clear navigation can enhance the entire user experience, providing higher engagement rates.
- SEO benefits: Accessible content is more easily discoverable by search engines. Features like alt text for images and transcripts for videos can improve SEO, making content more likely to appear in search results.
- Competitive advantage – In increasingly saturated markets, offering accessible content can differentiate a brand from its competitors. It can be a unique selling proposition that appeals to socially conscious consumers.
Tips for creating accessible social media content
Now that you know what accessible social content looks like and why it is important, here are some steps you can take to make your posts accessible across different platforms.
Alt text for visual content
Images and graphics are integral to social media, but they can exclude those using screen readers unless they have alt text. Alt text should concisely describe the image’s content and function. For instance, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook all allow you to add alt text to images before posting. Be descriptive but succinct, and ensure the alt text adds context to the post.
Captioning and subtitles for videos
Video content should include captions or subtitles. Closed captioning can be added to videos on YouTube, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Ensure the captions are synchronized with the audio and include other relevant sounds that are part of the message.
Voice and audio descriptions
For videos, go beyond closed captions and offer audio descriptions for users who are blind or have low vision. This narration describes important visual details that cannot be understood from the audio alone. You can add audio descriptions within the video itself or provide a separate audio track that can be played alongside the video.
Hashtags should be clear and easy to read. Capitalize the first letter of each word to improve readability and assist screen reader interpretation. For example, #DigitalAccessibility is easier to read than #digitalaccessibility.
Considerate color choices and text size
Text in images should be legible with a high contrast ratio between the text and the background. Ensure that text is not too small and is easily resizable, especially on platforms like Snapchat and Instagram, where text is often overlaid on images.
Avoiding sensory overload
To create a comfortable experience for all users, including those with cognitive disabilities or sensitivity to motion, don’t use rapidly changing images, intense flashing, or other overly complicated animations. When designing graphics, choose a simple and clean layout. If you post a video with quick cuts or flashes, include a warning at the beginning so users can decide whether to watch it.
Clear language and communication
Use straightforward language and short sentences to make your content digestible. Instead of using technical terms or industry jargon, choose words that are widely understood. If you must use specialized language, provide a brief explanation. This approach helps people with cognitive disabilities and those who are not fluent in the language you are posting in.
When sharing documents like PDFs, make sure they are readable by screen readers. Use headings, lists, and hierarchical formatting to structure the document. Adobe Acrobat offers an Accessibility Checker to identify and fix common issues. If you are linking to a document, also consider providing a plain text or HTML version for easier access.
Interactive content accessibility
When creating interactive content like quizzes, polls, or games, ensure they are accessible to everyone. For one, all interactive elements should be keyboard-operable and screen reader-friendly. Provide clear instructions and alternative ways to participate for those who might find the standard interaction methods challenging.
Consistent layout and design
Maintain a consistent layout and design across your posts to help users with cognitive disabilities navigate your content more easily. If you are using a template for your posts, for instance, keep the location of key elements like the title, body text, and call-to-action button the same.
Use of emoji
While emoji add personality to your posts, they can be confusing when read aloud by screen readers. Limit their use, and when you do use them, place them at the end of sentences or posts. Avoid using emoji to replace words, as this can make the content unclear for those using assistive technology.
Language matters in accessibility. Use inclusive terms and avoid those that might inadvertently exclude or offend people with disabilities. Rather than saying “Watch our latest tutorial,” which is visual-centric, you could opt for “Explore our latest tutorial,” which is a more inclusive invitation that does not assume the ability to see.
Testing with real users
One of the best ways to ensure your content is accessible is to test it with people who have disabilities. Gather feedback on how easy your content is to understand and navigate, and make adjustments accordingly.
Choose the path to accessible social media
Social media platforms are frequently updating their accessibility features, so stay informed about these updates and incorporate them into your content strategy. Remember, accessibility is not a one-time task, but an ongoing effort to improve and adapt as technologies and platforms evolve. By implementing the practices outlined above, you can make a significant impact on the inclusivity of your digital content.