Making Social Media Accessible
Social media is another way users share and receive information. As social media platforms evolve, so must accessibility standards. When developing and communicating different types of content on social media, keep the following areas in mind.
- Keep your posts simple and use plain language (keep the acronyms to a minimum).
- Put your main/important content first and add hashtags and @mentions to the end of a post.
- When linking to other pages or resources include as much descriptive text as possible in your content so users have an idea of what to expect upon arrival.
- Provide image descriptions.
- Caption all videos.
- Have a contact email or help information.
- When embedding social media widgets on your page, limit the number of elements in the feed (for example, 3-5 tweets or Instagram images) to reduce the keyboard-only user's tabbing overhead.
Specific Techniques for:
- Image Descriptions
- Descriptive Text for External Links
- Adding Contact and Help Information
- Additional Resources
- Use camel case for hashtags.
Camel case is when the first letter of each word in a hashtag is capitalized (e.g., #AccessibilityIsTheRightThing). Screen readers will insert a space after each word that is in camel case, making the overall meaning easier to understand. For example, the hashtag "#GoViolets!" would be read as two words.
- Keep your hashtags short.
Short hashtags are easier to remember and in cases where space is limited, gives you more room for content.
- Know the hashtag best practices for the platform.
Specific platforms use hashtags differently. For example, with a character limit on Twitter, you might select 2-3 hashtags to use along with @mentions and links. For Instagram, you can use up to 30 tags on a post. However, if you include more than 30 tags on a single photo/video, your comment will not post.
If you must use an acronym, spell it out the first time it is used. Don't assume that your reader knows what your acronym means. For example:
New York University Information Technology (NYU IT)
If there is not enough space in a post or a tweet, try to use another way of saying the acronym or link it to its corresponding profile page on the platform.
Images require alternative text (alt text), but not all platforms provide mechanisms for this functionality. In general, if you can't add alt text to an image, create an enhanced description for the image.
Memes and Images with Text
When posting images containing text-overlays or memes, make sure your description includes all the text content from the image. For example, if you are posting an image of an inspirational quote, your description should contain the text of the inspirational quote in addition to any other text you are including.
If the text is overlaid on an image of something or someone related to the quote (for example, the individual to whom the quote is attributed), you should also indicate that the image contains a photo of the specific individual. However, this is not necessary if the background image is purely decorative.
Facebook provides automatic alternative text for images using object recognition technology to create a description of a photo for the blind and vision-loss community. However when uploading images through the desktop version of Facebook, we recommend that you add custom alternative text.
- How do I edit the alternative text for a photo? [Facebook Help Center]
When adding a photo to Instagram, choose the Advanced Settings option and then under the Accessibility section, choose Write Alt Text. The alt text won't show up in the caption for the photo, but it will be read out loud if the individual is using a screen reader.
While this is a great added benefit for screen reader users, it is still best practice to use the "Write a caption" area to provide as much descriptive text as possible about the image. You could also add the words Alt text: and then provide an additional image description or use the hashtag #alttext preceding your enhanced description.
- How do I edit the alternative text for a photo on Instagram? [Instagram Support]
- Instagram for the Joshua Tree National Park [Example of good alt text]
For Twitter on your desktop, turn on the setting that allows for image descriptions. This will enable photos featured in tweets to include descriptive text. To do this:
- From the left-hand menu, select the More option to expose additional options.
- Select Settings and privacy from the list.
- Under the General option, choose Accessibility.
- Find the Vision section.
- Check the box next to Compose image descriptions to turn the setting on or off.
You can add a description to each image in a Tweet.
Note: Image descriptions cannot be added to GIFs or videos.
- Compose a new Tweet.
- Attach a photo(s).
- To insert descriptive text, click on the Add description button.
- Type your description of the image and click the Apply button.
- To edit the description, click the Add description button again prior to posting the Tweet. Note, once the Tweet is posted, the image description cannot be modified.
- How to make images accessible for people [Twitter Help Center]
LinkedIn allows for alt text to be added to images that are shared on your feed or that you embed in articles.
- Adding Alternative Text to Images for Accessibility [LinkedIn Help]
If your post links to a page that features videos, photos, or audio, include as much descriptive text as possible in your content so users have an idea of what to expect upon arrival. Also make sure that the page to which you are sending users includes content that has descriptive text, captions, or any other description that can help a user understand the page content.
Non-Accessible Link Content
However, if there is no alternative but to direct users to other sites with content that is not accessible, inform them first by including a short note of what to expect. For example:
- A video does not have captions or descriptive text
- The video will start automatically
- There is an audio file, but not a written version
Announcing Video/Audio/Image Content
If your post links to a video, photo, or audio file, be sure to mention this in the content. For example, [VIDEO], [PHOTO], or [AUDIO]. This allows people using screen readers to know what to expect before opening any link.
Social media is often accessed through mobile devices. It also may be accessed in locations where device volume must be muted. Therefore, this is a medium where video captioning benefits all users. It may be helpful to think about building your video content for "silent mode" and ensure that captions are present. Refer to our How To Guide for Video and Audio for best practices.
When creating videos specifically for social media platforms (as opposed to linking to a pre-existing video), consider burning in the captions (e.g. - "open captions") to the video using a free tool such as Handbrake. While the end user will not be able to turn off the captions, there is value to having them on by default.
- Captioning Tipsheet [NYU IT Digital Accessibility How-to]
- Want to Make Better Video Ads for Mobile? Here's How [Facebook Business]
- Audio and Subtitle Defaults [Handbrake Documentation]
Facebook Video Captioning
Facebook offers support for captioning videos on their platform. However, you will first need to prepare a .srt file. To do so, you may upload your video to NYU Stream or YouTube and then download the file.
- How do I add captions to my Page's video? [Facebook Help Center]
- NYU Stream: Downloading a caption file [NYU ServiceLink]
- YouTube Subtitles/Closed Captions [NYU IT Digital Accessibility How-to]
- YouTube Captioning Help [YouTube Help]
Minnesota IT Services, the Information Technology agency for Minnesota's executive branch, shared some lessons learned and best practices for using Facebook Live. The result of this experience was a "toolkit" for using this service.
- Accessibility Toolkit for Facebook Live [Minnesota IT Services]
Instagram does not offer a built-in way to caption video. However, as mentioned above, if you're creating promotional video content for this platform, consider burning in the captions (e.g. - "open captions") to the video using a free tool such as Handbrake.
You may also create video description information for the captioning area as well as add selected quotes from the video.
As of early 2021, Instagram is rolling-out an automatic captioning feature for Stories.
When creating a video story using audio, the user will be able to find an option to add a "Caption sticker" - similar to other stickers used for location, music, hashtags, etc. Once the sticker is chosen, the user can move the location of the caption sticker to position the captions on the video and choose from several font styles.
Since the captions are auto-generated, the accuracy won't always be 100%. The auto-captioning also does not transcribe tone of voice - for example, whispering, yelling, or sarcasm - and may not transcribe all sounds.
You may still want to consider burning in the captions (e.g. - "open captions") to the video when creating planned, promotional content for Instagram Stories, using a free tool such as Handbrake.
When creating quick content for Instagram Stories, before posting, review your content and add a simple text overlay using the text tool to describe the key elements of what is being shown. Or, add an accompanying story using Type Mode that provides a description of the video content.
Note that there is no current way to caption Instagram Live Video. Once you've ended the video, you may add it to your Stories. However, if you want to add additional descriptive information to the video, save it to your phone's camera roll and then re-upload it to your Stories with the descriptive text.
You could also upload your video to another platform (e.g. YouTube), generate captions using that platform's utility, then put a link to the captioned video in the Instagram description - for example:
A captioned version of this video is available at:
- Instagram Stories Support [Instagram Help Center]
- Instagram Live Video Support [Instagram Help Center]
- Saving Instagram content to your phone [Instagram Help Center]
- Saving Instagram content to your phone [Instagram Help Center]
Prerecorded captions must be 100% accurate to be effective. Although TikTok does have a way for creators to add text to the screen - which some have used to simulate captions - it isn't always optimal. For example, when trying to convert everything that is spoken into displayed text, the creator may end up making text too small to read or having to paraphrase all that is said. In addition, placement of text to correspond with the timing of spoken content can be problematic.
With the introduction of automated captions, the content creator is able to turn on captions from the editing page of the app which will automatically transcribe spoken audio into text. The captions can then be edited by the creator after they are produced to ensure accuracy.
Currently, auto-generated captions are only available in American English and Japanese, with additional language support to be added in the coming months.
Include a customer support number or email in your page bio. Providing contact information for a user that may be struggling to access your online content will be of great help.
The following pages have additional information on best practices for social media platforms:
- How to be More Accessible on Social Media [SiteImprove]
- Accessible Social Media [University of Minnesota]
- Federal Social Media Accessibility Toolkit [Digital.gov]
- How to Write Alt Text and Image Descriptions for the visually impaired [Perkins School for the Blind]
- Snapchat and Low Vision [Perkins School for the Blind]
- Plain Language Guidelines: Use simple words and phrases [plainlanguage.gov]
The Tommy Edison Experience
Tommy Edison uses humor to answer the most popular questions about living without sight. In his The Tommy Edison Experience YouTube channel, he shares his refreshing take on how blind users experience social media.