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6 Practical Tips for Social Media Accessibility

Not everyone who engages with your post on social media actually sees or hears it.

2.2 billion people globally have a vision impairment or are blind, according to the World Health Organization. In addition, there are about 466 million people in the world who experience hearing loss or are deaf. If you’re not taking steps to make your social media more accessible, you’re excluding a significant percentage of the population from engaging with your content.

Creating accessible content means you need to be intentional about inclusion. Here are six tips to help you get started.

Always add alt text

If you aren’t using alt text with your images and GIFs, a screen reader can’t interpret them. Alt text assigns a visual description to the graphic, which is read aloud by screen readers. The alt text should describe what’s going on in the image so someone using a screen reader can understand it. If there’s text in the graphic, that should be included too.

Some social platforms limit the number of characters for alt text (e.g. LinkedIn limits it to 120 characters, while Twitter’s limit is 1,000). In general, you should aim to keep alt text under 125 characters because many screen readers cut off at that point.

Avoiding text-heavy graphics is typically a good idea since graphics with flattened text are problematic for accessibility. All of that text should be added as alt text so it’s accessible by screen readers, but a text-heavy image likely has too many characters to fit. Instead, it’s usually better to link to a webpage or some other location that has all of the text in a format that’s accessible to screen readers.

This is one example of how to handle a text-heavy image:
Tweet thread from Innocent Drinks linking to Facebook page for accessibility

The steps to adding alt text vary slightly by social platform:

  • Facebook
    On desktop, click Edit on the image. Click Alternative Text and enter the alt text, then click Save. On the mobile app, tap in the top right of the photo. Tap Edit Alt Text and enter the alt text, then tap Done.

  • LinkedIn
    On desktop, click Add alt text on the image and enter the alt text, then click Save. On the mobile app, adding or editing alt text is not currently available.

  • Twitter
    On desktop, click Add Description below the image and enter the alt text, then click Save. On the mobile app, tap +ALT on the image and enter the alt text, then tap Done.

  • Instagram
    On the mobile app, tap Advanced Settings > and tap Write Alt Text. Enter the alt text and tap Done. The mobile app also allows you to update existing posts to add or edit alt text.

Be mindful of emojis

A screen reader automatically reads emojis so, depending on how emojis are used in a post, it can be jarring to listen to.

For example, take this string of emojis: ❤️👍😍🎉🌞🎇

A screen reader would announce this as: “Red heart. Thumbs up. Face with heart-shaped eyes. Party popper. Sun with face. Fireworks sparkler pictorial card.”

That’s a lot to try and make sense of. Especially if there’s text surrounding it.

A better option is to use a string of the same emoji and stick it at the end of the text.

So, this: ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

…is read by a screen reader as this: “Six red heart.”

It’s also important to note that you should never use an emoji to replace a word in your post. The best way to handle this is to place the emoji at the end so it’s clearer for those using a screen reader.

Instead of this: Time for 🍰 and 🍦!

Write it like this: Time for cake and ice cream! 🍰🍦

An even better option is to consider skipping the emoji altogether. In many cases, you probably don’t need emojis to get your point across and your emoji-free message would be easier for a wider audience to understand.

Emojis in lists

When creating lists in a social post, it’s generally best to avoid using emojis within the list items. Put an emoji at the end of the list instead. It’s less confusing when encountered by a screen reader.

In the example post below, a screen reader would announce the list as: “Hot springs. 28 34 Com/Att. Hot springs. 318 Yds. Hot springs. 4 TDs.”
Tweet from ESPN with an unordered list starting each line with an emoji

Emoji or ASCII art memes

Using a large amount of emojis or symbols to create some sort of design in a post (like the examples below) can be fun, but it’s not an accessible form of communication for people using screen readers. A better alternative is to create the meme, take a screenshot of it, then post the image along with alt text so it’s accessible by everyone.
Tweet from Domino’s Pizza with an emoji meme

Tweet from OREO with an ASCII meme

Unicode characters

The same goes for posts using unicode characters (like in the example below). These characters aren’t accessible by screen readers. If you must use them, take a screenshot and post that image along with alt text.
Tweet from Chipotle with unicode characters

Include video captions

Whenever you post a video, always make sure it has subtitles, as shown in the below example, so it’s accessible by those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. This is becoming a more common practice since many users (even those with average hearing) watch videos with the sound off on social media.
Tweet from Kapwing with video captions

Use camel case for hashtags

An all-caps or all-undercase hashtag might look nice. But it’s difficult to differentiate the words for your followers with average vision — and for those using screen readers, it’s almost impossible to understand it correctly.

Capitalizing each word in the hashtag helps those with average vision and it ensures screen readers say each word correctly. Without camel case, screen readers will attempt to read the hashtag as one long word. In the example below, the screen reader not only mispronounces the uncapitalized hashtag, it also states that the hashtag is mispelled because it’s trying to read it as all one word.

Put hashtags and links at the end

It’s usually a good idea to place any hashtags or links at the end of a post as shown in the example below, rather than mix them in among other text. Hashtags or links in the middle of a sentence or paragraph can be confusing when announced by a screen reader.
Tweet from Starbucks with hashtags at the end

Give context for links

When a link is presented without any intro, it can be difficult for people using screen readers to know what the link is for. Include some context to announce the link, like the example below shows, and make it apparent what the link leads to.
Tweet from Adweek giving context to announce a link

How has your business adapted your social media strategy to be more inclusive and accessible? We’d love to hear about it. Give us a shout @workifyco.

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