Caption This: Accessibility on Social Media, and Why it Matters

social media accessibility

Everyone deserves fair and equitable access to the web and social media. Everyone from the US Government to Google to disability advocates agree on the importance of making sure that online experiences are inclusive, enjoyable, and accessible for all. If your website or social media accounts have been slacking on accessibility, it’s time to up your game to ensure that your online spaces are welcoming to all.

Why Social Media Accessibility Matters

Social media is about as ubiquitous as it gets, with a whopping 3.96 billion people logging on to tweet, share, comment, or like. In the US, 223 million people are on social, which is no small number. Another not-so-small number? The fact that 57 million Americans have a disability. This means that brands that fail to keep up with accessibility standards are thumbing their nose at almost 19% of the population.

Social media is where people go to get their news, engage with their community, learn new things, or explore brands or ideas. For able-bodied and neurotypical users, navigating the realm of social media is no big deal. For a person with a disability, it can be a huge challenge.

Let’s take a look at a few examples of how inaccessible social media can leave people with disabilities on the outer.

  • Meme culture. Memes are a huge deal on social but often rely heavily on images. When images aren’t captioned with alt text, visually impaired users only get part of the story. ASCII art memes are also a major problem for screen reading software.
  • Audio without captions. The rise of video means that more social than ever consists of clips of varying lengths. But a ton of video relies on voiceover and off-screen commentary – meaning that deaf or hard-of-hearing people miss out.
  • Overuse of “fun” fonts and emojis. Emojis scattered liberally throughout a caption or tweet can make messages incredibly verbose and hard to comprehend when a user is relying on a screen reader. Special characters are even worse – most are actually mathematical symbols and end up sounding like a complex calculus equation when read using translation software.
  • Inscrutable images and hashtags. That infographic you spent ages researching and designing? It’s just a blank square of nothingness without alt text. So is that missive you typed out in “notes” and posed to the socials. That super clever hashtag? Could easily just be a run-on stretch of gibberish if you forgot to add uppercase letters.

Building Accessibility into Your Social Presence

Disabled parking, accessible entrances, and ADA bathrooms are all a normal part of an everyday offline infrastructure that makes life easier and more accessible to people with disabilities. With a few tweaks to how you approach social, you can help ensure that social media is inclusive and accessible for all as well.

Here are some accessibility boxes to check when posting to social:

  • Always use captions and alt text. If you’re posting an image, write a descriptive caption or fill in the alt text field with information that clearly and concisely describes the image. Think about what critical information is conveyed in the image, such as mood, text, composition, or location, and be sure that your caption communicates this. (Bonus: alt text is search engine friendly too!)
  • Provide subtitles and transcriptions. Subtitling audio/video and transcribing podcasts is a boon for both deaf and hard-of-hearing people as well as hearing people who are watching without sound. Many platforms now auto-subtitle video, but AI is no substitute for human understanding, so always go through to correct any typos or mistakes. (Bonus: content designed for sound off is rated as 48% more relevant.)
  • Capitalize your hashtags. A hashtag that’s all lowercase becomes a garbled mess for screen readers. Add capitalization or break up your hashtag into multiple tags. If your hashtag is actually a snarky aside or similar, rethink whether it needs to be a hashtag at all.
  • Go easy on the emoji. Emojis are great for adding tone or color, but too many can clutter up the screen, ruin page alignment on high zoom, or make text unintelligible when using a screen reader. Avoid the meme approach that uses clapping hands or other emoji between individual words – you can find a better way to convey that tone!
  • Skip the Unicode. Sure, Unicode might add some superficial pizzazz to your posts or username, but screen readers struggle with it. Stick to standard Roman characters instead.
  • Avoid strobing lights, or warn people about them. Flashy SFX can look cool, but not if you have a seizure disorder. If you’re going to incorporate strobing lights into your videos, warn people so they can click away.
  • Be mindful of your color choices. Color blindness can affect how people see images on your social account. Try these color blindness simulators to confirm your images are conveying the information you want them to. A Color contrast of at least 4.5:1 is also recommended.
  • Avoid ableist language. Representation matters, so think about your audience and whether you’re making efforts to reach a wide, inclusive group. Avoiding ableist language and assumptions can go a long way toward promoting inclusion.
  • Learn from feedback. The way we use digital devices is always changing, and it’s easy to swing and miss. If you try something but don’t quite hit the mark, or if you stumble or fall short, learn from those mistakes and do better next time. And if someone with a disability gives you feedback, listen!

Need An Accessibility Audit?

If you need some help defining best practices or ensuring that your social media is as inclusive as it should be, talk to the team at StellaPop. We can take you through current recommendations and standards to help you reach your audience the way they deserve.

See Also:

Understanding and Improving Social Media Customer Service

Avoid Social Media Gimmicks for Long-term Growth

Data Gold Mines: Making the Most Out of Your Business’s Social Data

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