Digital Accessibility on Social Media

Image for main promo. Topic is Digital Accessibility on Social Media - #TwitterSmarter chat with Alexa Heinrich - February 4, 2021

You’d do everything you can to help your wheelchair-bound friend attend a concert with you, won’t you?

So why is it that we don’t do the same online? People don’t often discuss accessibility in digital spaces. And that’s exactly why we wanted to talk about it. We invited digital accessibility advocate and social media manager Alexa Heinrich to help us understand how better we can create social media content that’s inclusive to everyone. It was a brilliant and thought-provoking conversation. Here’s a summary of our chat.

Topic: Digital Accessibility on Social Media
Guest: Alexa Heinrich
Format: Eight questions directed at the guest. Everyone’s welcome to share.

Q1: What do you mean by digital accessibility?

Digital accessibility is making sure that your content online is readable and accessible to everyone, regardless of their physical and cognitive ability. It’s about equipping your content with enough information so that people with different needs can also resonate with it.

In other words, as Justin put it, making your content accessible refers to eliminating barriers. It’s a good way to approach your content creation—instead of thinking about all the extra things you have to do to make your content accessible, consider problematic elements that you can remove so that your content remains accessible.

Q2: Why is it important for your content to be digitally accessible?

Our guest pointed out that a staggering 65% percent of the population experiences sensory disability. What’s more, you have to remember that not all disabilities are obviously transparent or permanent. That means we may all have some form of trouble accessing online content at some point in life. When you look at it from that perspective, you realize that by not making your content digitally accessible, you’re isolating a majority of the population at any given time.

That’s why it’s important that your content is digitally accessible—it shows your audience you care about them, and it also helps you reach a wider audience you didn’t know you had.

Alyx from Charlie Appel Agency gave us a great example of why your content should be accessible. Consider a physical office space. In addition to stair cases, the building will also have ramps, elevators, and enough space for wheelchairs to navigate. Even though we go to extreme lengths in real life to ensure our spaces are accessible, we often forget that it’s the same online. That’s why digital accessibility matters—it’s the sensible way of making sure everyone can participate in everyday activities.

Q3: What are some ways to create accessible content on social media?

Some of the obvious ones are the most important. For example, as Alexa mentioned, always use the camel case in your hashtags. This means you capitalize the first letter of every word in your hashtag. For example, #TwitterSmarter and not #twittersmarter. Similarly, use captions in your videos and alternative text in your images.

And most importantly, even though we all love emojis remember that a screen reader will read out your emojis to people who can’t see. So if you add five emojis, the reader will manually read out the type of emoji, making it clunky for the listener. If you have to use emojis, use them sparingly and at the end of your tweet.

Gabriela shared some more great tips to help readers comprehend your content. For example, in a busy feed, tweets are always fleeting. To make it easier on your audience’s eyes, use big fonts in your images and videos. Similarly, instead of a large chunk of text, space out your tweets in multiple lines to help people easily read your message.

Stephanie made an excellent suggestion about identifying people in your audience who experience disabilities and actively following them. Ask for feedback and they will tell you what you’re doing well and what you’re not. This way, you’re constantly learning how to make your content better accessible.

Q4: How does inaccessible content affect your marketing efforts?

By posting inaccessible content, you’re effectively reducing the size of your audience. Considering that a majority of the population uses some form of assistive tech, unless you’re sensitive to their needs, your message may not even reach them.

As Anna pointed out, it’s also important to recognize what it means to have a disability. Not only does the term include people who have permanent physical conditions, but it also includes people who don’t have the cognitive ability to adopt the ever-changing tech world. It could be you and me in thirty years, trying to understand how modern conversations occur. The 65% we discussed in a previous question includes all of these people—even your friend who happens to have a serious black eye and needs special glasses for a few weeks. Don’t limit your perspective on who needs accessible content—it’s all of us.

Above all, as Shana pointed out, if your content is inaccessible, you won’t know who you’re turning away. As a brand, if you’re known to be inaccessible, aside from people who require accessible content, you’ll also alienate their friends and family. No one would vouch for a brand that makes no effort to support their loved ones.

Q5: Are there any laws or guidelines for digital accessibility?

At the moment, there aren’t any strict guiding principles for digital accessibility on social media. However, a long-term resource for accessibility on the web is the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) guidelines.

As our guest predicted, it’s highly-likely that existing guidelines for physical spaces will soon translate to include online spaces and social media. It’s always better to be prepared in advance than to be surprised later on.

Our friend from GiveWP shared another great resource to help ensure your web content is accessible. Check out WebAIM. You can learn more about how to create web pages that comply with various requirements as well as conduct a site audit to identify any issues.

Q6: Share some tips for writing good alt text for images.

Alt text refers to an alternative text you add to any images you upload on social media. Most of us know this text is important because it helps search engines recognize your image, and provides context to your viewer when the page is loading slowly.

Adding an alt text is good SEO practice. However, it’s even more important from an accessibility point of view. As our guest explained, your alt text should be a description of the image. It should be clear and to the point. Describe what’s in your images, including any text you’ve added to it.

A screen reader will use this text to explain your image to a person with accessibility issues, and so it’s vital that you be as clear as possible. Similarly, avoid acronyms and abbreviations because the screen reader may not read this as you expect—expand on any short form. You might also want to consider using phonetic spellings for hard-to-pronounce words such as names and highly-technical medical terms.

The alt text is not a place to showcase your writing flair. There’s no place for fancy language. Be as specific as possible, and consider adding more context to help your audience connect with your image. For example, as Rachel said, instead of a “photo of a woman and her child,” consider something like, “a close-up of a new mother holding her baby in her arms.”

Q7: How do you add closed captions to videos?

YouTube is handy for adding closed captions. You can do what our guest does—upload your video and leave it as unlisted. Unlisted videos don’t necessarily show up on YouTube Search, so once YouTube has automatically added captions, you can go back and edit those captions for accuracy before publishing the video properly.

You can also then download your captions as an SRT file and use it when you upload that same video on other social channels. This eliminates the need to create captions from scratch every time.

If you’re not a fan of YouTube or have found its auto-captioning problematic, consider Christine’s recommendation—Quicc. She prefers it over YouTube because it needs fewer edits.

Janet’s favorite tool is PlayPlay, another tool that automatically adds captions is pretty accurate too.

Q8: How can you test your content for accessibility before posting it?

The easiest way to test your content is right within your palm. Have a look at the accessibility features built into your phone like VoiceOver and TalkBack. Run your content through them to catch most of the basic accessibility issues with your content.

Alexa also told us she has a separate Twitter account and Facebook page to test out content before she posts them to her actual pages. This way, she’ll see how her content appears to others on a live channel, and fix any issues, without having to publish it her real profiles. Also, have a look at this checklist she created.

As Karl said, the best way to test your content is to run it through a screen reader. To do that, you need to first familiarize yourself with such technology and understand how they serve your audience. That said, don’t rely entirely on screen readers and ignore the value of human feedback—talk to people within your audience who use accessibility technology. The key to creating highly accessible content is acknowledging that you have a lot to learn and that it’s a continuously evolving process.

Well, folks. That’s all from me this week. For more insights on our chat with Alexa, check out this Twitter Moment that Joana put together. If you enjoyed this summary, you’d love our live chat. Come join us on Thursday at 1pm ET on #TwitterSmarter. We’re a highly-chatty bunch and always love to hear from our community. Hope to see you then.

About me, Narmadhaa:

I write all the things—technical and marketing copy to fill the pocket; haiku and short stories to fill the soul. A social media enthusiast, I’m a member of the #TwitterSmarter chat crew, and always happy to take on writing gigs.

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