How to make your social media content more inclusive

19th Feb 2021

Social media is pretty much a standard part of most businesses’ online marketing by now but users’ experience of it is far from standardised. This could be due to the content itself, how it's posted, or both. For people who have disabilities it may be difficult to access social media in many ways, which at best could be frustrating and at worst be a complete barrier.

With some forward planning and a few adjustments to the way we prepare and post, we could be providing a whole different and much more inclusive experience to many users.

This is a whistle-stop tour to highlight the different aspects of our social media posts we could (should) be making more accessible and inclusive. I'll say right now that we are learning too and will be implementing these things in our posts going forward.

At the end of this article I've added links to some really great guides and deeper information by the experts in this subject. There's a video from AbilityNet, which is very much worth a watch too.

Describing Images

Images are a big deal in our social media, especially in Instagram where it’s all about that engaging picture. For visitors who cannot see images, a useful and concise description is needed in the form of ‘Alt Text’.

Facebook creates automatically generated alt text, which you will need to check and edit, for Instagram and Twitter you can add alt text:
Editing alt text in Facebook
Adding alt text in Twitter
Adding alt text in Instagram

In some instances, alt text may not be sufficient to describe your image, especially if your image includes text (more about that below). In these situations you could add an image description into your post text or link through to the full information on your website.

Audio & Video

For podcasts or audio-only content, a transcript should be included. If this isn’t possible within the post itself then you could provide a link to the full transcript wherever it is available online.

Transcripts can also be added to YouTube videos as can closed captions. Google provide useful guides on adding your own closed captions and creating a transcript file for YouTube videos.

Subtitles vs Captions?
Subtitles covey only the dialogue in the video and captions convey all of the essential audio (e.g. sound effects, music etc as well as dialogue). So you need to decide which will be most useful for the video you’re publishing.

AbilityNet have a great guide on this and adding captions to various platforms, which in the video is discussed at 26:50 and is on page 9 of the transcript document.

Audio descriptions

An audio description is useful for videos where visual content conveys meaning or information. However, you may be able to plan your video in advance so they’re not needed.
The W3C provide clarification on audio descriptions, when to use them and how to add them

Fonts and text

Custom fonts
Custom fonts, which aren't included as standard on the social media platform can be difficult to read, due to the letter forms. Additionally, on social media custom fonts are are ignored by text readers and assistive technology. Using the fonts as provided means a better user experience and reduces the risk of your content not being read at all.

Text in images
If possible it's always best to avoid using text in images at all. However, it is a great way to make an impact, especially on Instagram. When using text in images, it is important to use a legible font that won't become illegible when zoomed to a much larger size. Also choose a simple or sans-serif font, where individual characters are easily distinguished. And importantly, ensure that the font colour and background colour contrast well so that the text is clear and strong. WebAim provide a very useful colour contrast checker which helps you easily choose highly contrasting colour combinations.

Hashtags

We can get a little carried away with hashtags sometimes, trying to hit as many key tags as possible. However, we need to take care about how we use them. Camel caps not only make hashtags much more legible but also allows text readers to distinguish individual words within the tag. To demonstrate camel case vs non-camel case, see the following:
#ThisIsCamelCase
#thisisnotcamelcase

Disability Rights Fund also advise putting hashtags in comments, separate from the post text. However others suggest hashtags within the post are OK if used in context within the sentence.

Emojis

How we love an emoji to bring personality to our posts! However, for some people emojis can make the caption too ‘busy’ and difficult to read. They can also problems for those using text readers if used excessively and in the middle of sentences. This is because the text readers announce the name of the emoji and as you can imagine may make a post seem nonsensical. AbilityNet provide a brilliant example of this in their example video of emojis being read aloud (at 11:33).

The Language we Use

This is a huge topic in itself and not as clear cut as making technical adjustments. However, two important things to be aware of are:

  1. respectful and safe language - Being aware of discriminatory use of words or words that reinforce stigma and prejudices. It may also be necessary to include trigger warnings for some content.
  2. assuming how people may understand and process language. This may be made more difficult to jargon used, industry specific acronyms, abstract concepts and complexity for example. Simple and direct language, where possible, is more inclusive.

Further information:

Here are some very useful resources which provide much more detail:

WebAim - People with Disabilities on the Web

Ability Net - How to Do Accessible Social Media (webinar and Q&As)

UK Government Communication Service - Planning, creating and publishing accessible social media campaigns

RNIB - Making Your Social Media Accessible

Disability Rights Fund - Creating Accessible Social Media for Those With DeafBlindness

Hootsuite - Inclusive Design for Social Media

W3C - Making Audio and Video Media Accessible

Emojipedia - See all of the different names of emojis

Self-Defined - A dictionary of words which may be not be inclusive

Gov.UK - Inclusive language: words to use and avoid when writing about disability

Stroke Association - Accessible Information Guidelines (Making information accessible for people with aphasia)