What is Social Media Accessibility?
Social media has enabled users and creators to connect with enormous arrays of people outside of their immediate circle. Recent statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau show an estimated 40.8 million Americans1 (equating to 12.7%) live with a disability. As such, the importance of accessibility on social media to provide an inclusive experience for everyone is critically important.
Today’s social media content creators have a responsibility to factor accessibility into their work. Inclusive content brings social media to everyone and expands the overall reach of your media. Let’s take a look at social media accessibility, what it is, how to analyze existing media for it, and ways to improve it in future content.
What Is Social Media Accessibility & Why Is It Important?
Data shows that almost 7 in 10 Americans2 use social media to connect with one another. Social media accessibility is about making sure that everyone is able to access, use, and engage with social media. In terms of accessibility, social media content should be created and shared following best practices so those who may be Deaf or Hard of Hearing, blind, neurodivergent, or otherwise are able to engage without difficulty. Conversely, without paying attention to accessibility on social media, content creators risk missing out on large audiences or being seen as out of touch.
Creating content with social media accessibility in mind engages everyone and provides equal opportunity. It’s critical to avoid leaving out, neglecting, or disenfranchising groups of people based on how they interact with media.
Accessibility on social media also advances equality across all platforms. For example, if TikTok adds a new feature to improve accessibility that other platforms haven’t adopted yet, it’s certain other platforms will follow suit quickly. It’s a way to improve the experience on every platform for all groups, making sure they’re acknowledged and represented via accessibility features they may need.
Testing for Social Media Accessibility
Familiarity with platforms and their media features is crucial for social media accessibility. You can test for social media accessibility using a variety of methods including:
- Unplugging your mouse and/or trackpad and try navigating your content
- Using High Contrast Mode on Windows to interact with posts
- Turning off image loading to see if your content still makes sense or is readable
- Reviewing captions for accuracy (audio descriptions and video transcripts)
These methods of testing for social media accessibility give content creators insight into how those living with disabilities are interacting with their media. If you’re unable to navigate or engage with content easily, then neither can those who rely on accessibility features. Furthermore, you may check out social media content creators who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing, blind, or living with other disabilities to see if they have spoken about tips or tests for accessibility on social media from which you can benefit.
Ways to Improve Social Media Accessibility
Social media content creators should be constantly assessing their new and existing work for social media accessibility. Those just starting to create with this in mind have a responsibility to look at past work and identify areas that can be improved. You don’t need to completely remove media that may not be accessible to all, but there are plenty of simple adjustments you can make to optimize it for social media accessibility as much as possible.
For example, looking through previous posts, you may see opportunities to add captions to video content for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing or add alt text for those who may be using screen readers to help them engage on social media. Small changes like this make a profound impact on the accessibility social media posts provide.
New content being published should be created through the lens of accessibility on social media for all. It may include things like:
- Adding captions to video: Video captions and subtitles are critically important to improving social media accessibility. Using captioning apps for the Deaf or Hard of Hearing allows viewers to follow along without missing out on any part of the content they’re watching. It’s also beneficial for those without disabilities, as many viewers engage with social media without the sound turned on.
- Using plain language: Write or speak in clear, short sentences. This improves accessibility on social media for non-native speakers, cognitively impaired persons, those who may be Deaf or Hard of Hearing, and more.
- Creating audio descriptions: Audio descriptions are different from captions (which focus on spoken words) to allow those engaging with social media content to know what music or sounds may be included on social media posts. It adds depth to the experience and context for better social media storytelling.
- Transcribing video content: Content creators should transcribe video to text and post this transcription when possible. An example is posting a video transcription in the description of YouTube and YouTube Shorts media, or publishing a blog post with the transcript alongside a video on your website. Not only does it improve social media accessibility, but it makes content more searchable when timestamps are included.
- Adding alt text to social media imagery: Platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn allow content creators to add alt text to images, increasing social media accessibility for people using screen readers.
- Using CamelCase hashtags: These are hashtags where the first letter of each word included in the hashtag is capitalized. It’s beneficial for screen readers and helps them understand and convey what is written more easily.
- Limiting the use of emojis: Screen readers are able to read common emojis, but they are read as the action they indicate. This means emojis should be used sparingly, if at all. Using symbols such as “:)” are read as the punctuation marks they are, and should be avoided.
- Turning off autoplay: Social media accessibility is also affected by autoplay features on videos. Whenever possible, autoplay should be turned off. If not possible, content creators can add a few seconds of warning to the beginning of their video informing viewers that a video is about to begin playing.
Social Media Accessibility Resources
Social media content creators benefit from posting accessible media across platforms. To guide your future content and improve social media accessibility, check out these resources and guides:
- Video Accessibility Checklist for Content Creators
- Focus & Keyboard Operability
- Creating Accessible Social Media Content
- Accessible Social Database
- TikTok Accessibility Features and Instructions
- Instagram Accessibility Resource
Look back through your previous content. Is it accessible to those living with disabilities? It’s the responsibility of content creators to improve social media accessibility with the media they publish.
Whether it’s a video, image, slideshow, or text, make sure it follows the best practices for accessibility on social media to engage everyone and widen your potential reach.
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Additional References & Sources