Over 40 million Americans—or 12.7 percent of the population—lived with a disability in 2017, according to the US Census.
Disabilities can include difficulties or impairments (temporary or permanent) with vision, hearing, cognition, or mobility. People with disabilities often use assistive technology to access digital content in their preferred format. Examples include:
- Screen readers or magnifiers
- Closed captioning
- Voice command
- Spelling and grammar tools
- Mind or site maps
In order live up to the University of Rochester’s values of diversity, inclusion, and access, our digital content—including social media posts—should be accessible to all users.
Use plain language
Generally speaking, social media content that is easy to read and understand will be more accessible for everyone, including people with cognitive disabilities and non-native English speakers. Write using clear prose in short sentences and paragraphs. Avoid jargon and be sure to spell out acronyms on first reference, especially since these can be confusing when read separately without context or explanation.
Include subtitles, closed captioning, or transcripts
Videos posted to social media should include captions or audio descriptions. Facebook lets page account managers upload captions as an accompanying SRT file and enable closed captions on Facebook Live broadcasts (PDF). YouTube can automatically create captions for video uploads (just be sure to double check the auto-captioning to fix any errors).
Podcasts or other audio-based media, meanwhile, should have accompanying transcripts readily available.
Write alt text, image descriptions, and captions
Alternative text, known as alt text, provides a textual alternative to images, media, and other non-text content (animations, charts, infographics, etc.) on the web and social media.
When writing alt text for non-decorative visuals, remember to:
- Describe the image itself within the context of the social media post. For example, if the Instagram caption doesn’t describe the accompanying photo in a meaningful way—perhaps you’re using a quote along with a scenic campus photo—then you’ll want to manually add an image description (under “Advanced Settings”). Alternatively, you can incorporate the alt text into the social media post itself, like so:
- Be succinct. The commonly used JAWS screen reader, for example, will subdivide alt text that is more than 125 characters.
- Avoid redundancy. No need to include “Image of…” in the description since the alt attribute implies that information.
- End the alt text with a period, which makes the screen reader pause after the last word.
- Use dashes for acronyms, otherwise the screen reader tries to read the acronym as a word. For example, you might write “USA” as “U-S-A” in the alt text so the screen reader doesn’t pronounce it as “usa.”
- Avoid “burning” text onto images. Any important information that is burned or embedded into the image should be easily readable and conveyed in the alt text.
For longer descriptions (needed for, say, an infographic or chart), use the caption and then write alt text that complements the caption by enhancing, clarifying, or contextualizing rather than repeating information.
Learn more about alternative text from WebAIM. Another good resource is “Alt-texts: The Ultimate Guide,” written by a web developer with vision impairment.
Turn on or edit alt text
Here’s how you can turn on the alt text or image description function on these common social media channels:
- Twitter – Profile > Settings and privacy > Accessibility > Compose image descriptions
- Instagram – Instagram adds automatic alt text using object recognition technology, but you can create your own. On the “Write a caption…” screen, click Advanced Settings (at the bottom) > Write Alt Text (under Accessibility)
- Facebook – Facebook also uses automatic alt text, but you can write your own when you want to provide a better description
You may be asking yourself why someone with a visual impairment would want to use a social network like Instagram, one that is highly visual. In his co-presentation at the 2018 HigherEdWeb Annual Conference, Justin Romack, an accessibility specialist who is visually impaired, explained that Instagram is where his friends and family regularly post. He (rightfully) wants to participate as much as possible in the same space where the people he cares about are spending their time.
As institutions on social media, it’s our responsibility to make these kinds of shared spaces welcoming ones for our own communities of fans and followers.
Opt for camel case with hashtags
Appropriate spacing between words improves readability, but hashtags on social media don’t use spaces. So try to use “camel case” for hashtags. Camel case means capitalizing the first letter of multiple words in a hashtag, which makes the hashtag appear to have humps (like a camel’s back). This makes it easier for people to read and understand the hashtag.
Compare #WomensHistoryMonth versus #womenshistorymonth, #FridayReads versus #fridayreads.
Describe the content
You can explicitly describe the content you’re linking to or featuring in your social media post (e.g., [PIC], [VIDEO], [AUDIO], [GIF]).
Doing so lets users, including those with screen readers or limited data on their mobile devices, know what to expect before clicking a link. “Predictability is a key component of accessibility,” says accessibility consultant Janet Sylvia.
University of Rochester tweet about plasma research containing a link and incorporating a GIF description that’s offset using periods, spaces, and bracketed copy.
Create posts in multiple formats
Social media is constantly changing, with new and improved accessibility features added regularly. In 2018, Instagram introduced the ability to create customized alt text, a positive step in the direction of accessibility. But as of this writing, Instagram Stories, those posts and videos that vanish after 24 hours, still lack certain basic accessibility features.
Of course, there are workarounds, such as editing and captioning apps, tools, tutorials, and hacks. We find it can also be useful to post your social media content in multiple formats and on multiple channels, ensuring that people can access the information in their preferred ways.
Sources and resources
Questions, suggestions, or ideas about accessibility on social media? Contact us. We’d love to hear from you and work together to make the University’s presence on social media more accessible.
Back to the Social Media Guide