How to write more accessible social media posts
Thu 16 May 2019
In recognition of Global Accessibility Awareness Day (#GAAD), this guest blog was produced by Andrew Arch and Sarah Pulis from Intopia.
Almost 8 in 10 people now use social media and the proportion of businesses with a social media presence has reached the highest levels recorded. According to the 2018 Yellow Social Media Report, more than half the small (51%) and medium businesses (58%) have a social media presence, while for large businesses the incidence is 85%.
With so many organisations sharing information on social media, and so many people engaging with these platforms, it’s important to make sure the information you share is both understandable and accessible to a diverse audience.
In this article, we’ll focus on how you can make your posts more accessible on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We haven’t focused on the accessibility of the platforms themselves; we know that all these platforms are actively working to make the experience more accessible for people with disability. We’ve focused on the steps you can take to ensure people experiencing ongoing, temporary or situational impairment or disability can read your posts and engage with you on their social media platform of choice.
Quick tips for more inclusive social media
Here are our tips for making your social media more accessible, with detail about each tip below.
- Include text that is in images in your post
- Ensure enough contrast between your text and background
- Provide alternative text for informative images
- Use emojis and emoticons sparingly
- Provide captions for your videos
- Provide audio descriptions for your videos
- Avoid jargon, acronyms and idioms
- Use CamelCase for hashtags
- Include hashtags or mentions at the end of your post
- Create short links or remove redundant links
- Tell users when linking to an image, video or audio file
- Thread related Twitter posts on the same topic
Include text that is in images in your post
If you use images that have text in them, make sure all the information in the image is also part of your social media post.
Two common examples of images that include text are:
- Quotes (e.g. “The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.” Tim Berners-Lee)
- Promotion for conferences or presentations, where often the presentation name, speaker and conference is included in the image to attract the attention of the reader.
The problem with text that’s within images is that it can’t be customised. If people use a custom font, increase their text size or use a different text-and-background colour such as high contrast, the text within the image will not change.
You don’t have to stop using images. But you do have to write your social media post to include all the information within the image.
Ensure enough contrast between text and background
If you use images that have text in them, also make sure there’s enough contrast between your text and background. We recommend you use text that has a contrast of at least 4.5:1 as recommended by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
Also keep contrast in mind if you use Facebook’s feature that allows you to add a coloured background to your post.
There are many colour contrast tools out there, but our favourites are The Paciello Group’s Contrast Analyser, which you can download, or Contrast Ratio which is online. Enter in the colour reference for your text and background into either of these tools and they’ll tell you what the contrast is between the two colours. Remember, aim for above 4.5:1.
Provide alternative text (alt-text) to informative images
Text alternatives that convey the meaning or content that is displayed visually in an image are vital for people who are blind and use a screen reader. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn now all allow you to add alternative text for images.
General tips for writing alt-text
- Use alt-text to describe the meaning or purpose of the image – rarely do you need a literal description of the image
- Put the most important information first in your alt-text
- Don’t include words like ‘image’, ‘picture’ or ‘icon’ in the alt-text
- Don’t add alt-text to images that are decorative and serve no purpose
See the Web Accessibility Tutorials: Images for detailed information about images and alt-text.
Twitter allows to you add alt-text to images, however you must first turn on this feature. In our view, it should be enabled by default, but we have to live with Twitter’s decision. See how to turn on image descriptions on Twitter for desktop, iOS and Android devices for how to enable and add alt-text.
Facebook and Instagram
Facebook introduced automatic alt-text in 2017, a feature that uses artificial intelligence to recognise objects within images and create a description for the image. This service is now also used on Instagram.
There are two things to note on these platforms:
- Auto-generated alt-text cannot be turned off. Every image you upload will have auto-generated alt-text, making it extremely important that you check the accuracy of the alt-text and edit accordingly. Because of this, you don’t add alt-text on Facebook, you edit the auto-generated alt-text.
- You can only edit alt-text on a desktop computer or iOS device. If you’re on an Android device, you’re out of luck (at May 2019).
For information about how to edit alt-text on these platforms, see:
- Facebook: how to edit the alternative text for an image
- Instagram: how to edit the alternative text for an image
LinkedIn also has a feature to add alt-text for images. Interestingly, we can’t find any official documentation from LinkedIn on how to do this. Here are own instructions for adding alt-text to images using a desktop.
How to add alt-text for images on LinkedIn (desktop):
- Go to the ‘Start a post’ box at the top of the LinkedIn homepage.
- Select the share image button, which is shown as a camera icon.
- Once you’ve selected the image you want to upload, a dialog box will appear. Select the ‘Add alt-text’ button, which is at the bottom on the dialog.
- Add alt-text for your image in the text box provided and select the ‘Save’ button.
Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a way to add alt-text using the LinkedIn app on iOS or Android. We recommend you include the alt-text in your post (e.g. at the end of the post include “Image description: Sarah Pulis talking about inclusive design at the Inclusivity Paradox event”).
Use emojis and emoticons sparingly
Use emojis and emoticons sparingly even though they often do get announced to screen reader users appropriately.
A tweet from Sassy Outwater-Wright captures the frustrations of a screen reader user when emojis are overused.
“So you know all those emoji and punctuation marks in your Twitter names get read aloud by screen readers, right? If it takes me longer to hear your Twitter name than to read your tweet? I scroll right on by. Please remember this when adding lots of emoji to things. Thanks.”
Emojis can also mean different things to different people, depending on context or even cultural background. For example, a waving-hand emoji is most commonly used to say hello or goodbye. However, when used on WeChat in China, it can be mean you don’t want to be friends anymore! (from Waving Hand on Emojipedia).
Before we get into tips for videos such as captions and audio description, we want to talk about the trend of social media platforms auto-playing video content. Videos that auto-play can be distracting to some people, including those with attention deficit disorder, and annoying to others, including people in quiet places. On platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, you don’t have control over the auto-play function other than to choose not to include videos in your posts. You may like to include instructions on how your readers can turn off auto-play for social media platforms you’re using in your website’s accessibility statement or similar.
Provide captions for your videos
Providing captions, which is a text version of all dialogue and important sounds in a video that is synced with the audio, is helpful to a wide range of people. In addition to people who are deaf or hearing impaired, captions help people in situations such as noisy environments or even quiet ones where sound is not an option.
There are two types of captions:
- Open captions – captions are part of the video and always visible
- Closed captions – captions can be turned on or off by the user (usually via a [CC] button)
LinkedIn and Instagram
There is currently no way to add closed captions to a video uploaded to LinkedIn or Instagram. Our workaround tip for this is to either:
- Add open captions that are always visible to your video and then upload the video to LinkedIn or Twitter
- Upload your video to another platform that supports closed captions such as YouTube or Vimeo and link to the video in your post. See adding captions to YouTube and adding captions to Vimeo for details.
Twitter’s Media Studio allows you to upload a caption file (SRT subtitle file) for your videos. Media Studio is a platform to manage, measure and monetise your video on Twitter.
Facebook also allows you to add captions to a video. For an organisational or community Facebook page, see how to add or remove captions to my Page’s video on Facebook. For your personal Facebook page, see how to add or remove captions for a video on Facebook.
Provide audio descriptions for your videos
In an ideal world, all the activity in your videos would be audio-described to enable people who are blind or have low vision to understand what’s happening. In practice, most videos don’t have enough pauses in the dialog to insert any audio description. A quick tip for any speech or interview-type video is to announce who’s speaking.
Avoid jargon, acronyms and idioms
Only use jargon or acronyms if your audience is familiar with them. Avoid idioms, such as “We’re over the moon about our new blog post”, that can also be difficult for some people to interpret, including people from different cultural backgrounds.
Use CamelCase for hashtags
When using hashtags with multiple words, capitalise the first letter of each new word – otherwise known as camel case. #CamelCase is easier to read than #alllowercase.
Hashtags with multiple words can be difficult for sighted people to read, so capitalising the first letter of each word makes it easier to identify the start of each word. Screen readers are also more likely to accurately pronounce hashtags that use camel case.
Include hashtags or mentions at the end of your post
Including hashtags and/or mentions at the end of your social media post.
Hashtags or mentions in the middle of a post can interrupt reading flow and therefore affect readability. This can particularly impact screen reader users who will hear “hash” and “at” at the start of each hashtag and mention.
Putting hashtags at the end of a post also means that people can choose to stop reading once they encounter the first hashtag.
Create short links or remove redundant links
When inserting links into your post, you want to make sure they don’t unduly distract users.
Each social media platform handles links slightly differently, so here are our top three tips for making links more readable and less distracting:
- Include links at the end of your post (but before hashtags).
- If the platform inserts a link preview when you include a URL in your post, remove the redundant link from your post.
- If the platform leaves your link as is, use a link shortening tools to create short and concise links. You can use a stand-alone link shortener such as Bitly or Tiny URL, or if you’re using a social scheduling platform such as Hootsuite, you might already have a link shortener built in.
Tell users when linking to an image, video or audio file
When linking to an image, video or audio file, add [PIC], [VIDEO] or [AUDIO] to the beginning of your content, unless your post already makes this obvious.
Thread related Twitter posts
Out of all the social media platforms we’ve talked about, Twitter is still the one that has the least amount of characters for you to work with. If you’re posting multiple messages about the same topic, post your first message, then directly reply to your own tweet to add further information. This creates a thread of related messages which are easier to find and easier to read in succession.
With thanks to Andrew Arch and Sarah Pulis from Intopia for writing this blog article.
- Find out more about Intopia.
- The Business Case for Digital Accessibility
- A beginner’s guide to accessible content
- Global web accessibility standards have officially changed
- What does accessibility best practice look like?