Top ten tips for accessible social media

Social media platforms are a great way to communicate, but many posts aren’t accessible to users with visual or hearing impairments or loss. The good news is that it is relatively easy to ensure that our content is accessible to everyone. Here are my top ten tips.

1. Use alt text for images

Alternative text (alt text) is a description of an image that can be read by screen readers used by people who are blind or partially sighted. The description enables them to build a mental picture of the image. You don’t need to include every detail, just the key components that will help create the picture. You might find my post on audio description helpful.

2. Use simple fonts

Many platforms allow you to use a range of different fonts and mix symbols with letters. This can be a lot of fun but can often make text difficult to read for those with visual impairments and can render it completely unreadable by screen readers. Stick to simple sans-serif fonts for your text but also your name / handle.

3. Capitalise hashtags

Camel with the phrase CamelCase aligned with its two humps.
Image credit: Silver Spoon CC BY-SA 2.0

Hashtags are used to identify key words and phrases with the hash symbol, e.g. #Accessibility. They aren’t case sensitive and are often written in lower case but this makes it difficult for screen readers to distinguish the individual words in a phrase. Instead, use ‘CamelCase’ by capitalising each word, e.g. #AccessibleSocialMedia. This way screen readers will be able to convert the text to audio accurately.

4. Use emojis sparingly

Emojis are great fun and often useful in expressing what we mean when we have to stick to a character limit. Be aware that screen readers will read them each in turn, so use them sparingly rather than repeating them for emphasis.

5. Be careful with colour

When working with colour in fonts charts and graphics, contrast is as important as the colours themselves. Although red might seem an obvious choice for providing emphasis, it is low contrast which can make it harder to read for those with a visual impairment. Red/green colour deficiency is also the most common type, so avoid these colours in combination. Similarly, a spectrum of colours might seem a good choice for a graph but may in fact make elements harder to distinguish for some. Instead, use a narrower colour palette or tonal theme.

6. Use bold for emphasis

We often use italicised text to highlight words or phrases but for many this is harder to read. Instead, use a bold typeface for emphasis.

7. Add captions to video content

Adding captions to your video content ensures that it is accessible to a wide range of users. Open captions are ‘burned’ into the video, and so will be visible on any platform, but users can’t switch them off. Closed captions can be be switched on or off by users. Unfortunately, unlike alt text for images, most social media platforms don’t make it easy to add captions. Most video editing software has a facility to add captions, but this can be time consuming if there is a lot of dialogue. If you upload a video to YouTube, captions will automatically be generated. You can then edit these. This can be a quick way to ensure your video is accessible.

8. Make use of platform-specific advice

It is not always obvious from the user interface, but each of the main social media platform offer advice and tools to make content accessible.

Twitter: Advice on making images more accessible from the Help Centre. Follow @TwitterA11y for updates.

Facebook: accessibility pages from the Help Centre.

Instagram: guidance on alt text from the Help Centre.

WhatsApp: FAQs about accessibility

YouTube: YouTube Fundamentals: Accessibility

TikTok: guidance on accessibility from the Help Centre.

9. Test before you post

Always preview or test your content before you post it online, checking that fonts, colours, alt text etc. work first. Computer and mobile phone software usually include a text-to-speech feature which you can use to preview content.

10. Listen to your users

It’s really important to get feedback from users about how accessible your content is. Ideally, following the principle of ‘nothing about us without us’, users with particular needs should have a say in how content is produced. This will help us all produce better quality content. Here are some links to useful guidance:

RNIB accessibility guidance

Stroke Association accessible information guidance

Sense guidance on accessible social media

I hope you find these tips useful. If you think I have missed anything, please let me know and I will happily include it.

Image credit: Flickr / Stacey MacNaught, www.staceymacnaught.co.uk, CC BY 2.0

Audio description is a real eye-opener

Audio description is used to enhance experiences for blind and partially sighted people. I recently received some excellent training in this valuable skill from Susan Griffiths at Oxford University Museum of Natural History, along with other colleagues from the OU Gardens, Libraries and Museums team.

What really struck me was how placing myself in the position of someone with little or no vision made me think differently my role as a communicator. In order to produce an effective audio description I had to look at objects, even familiar ones, in a new way, much more closely and from a new perspective, including taking a much more multi-sensory approach. Thinking and planning how to guide a blind person around spaces between exhibits made me view the whole museum in a different way.

The resulting descriptions we produced as a group were much more powerful, not only for blind visitors but for the sighted as well. Certainly, listening to the descriptions other participants had produced helped me appreciate objects in a new way and notice elements I had not done before.

This is a good illustration of how taking time to think about and plan for those with a particular physical need produces a richer experience for all. This is a theme I considered my post on how schools are enhanced by SEND pupils. In a broader sense, it seems to me that artistic, cultural and scientific spaces are also all enhanced by this inclusive approach: welcoming those with particular special needs creates a richer experience for all.

It’s sometimes easy to think that training like this is only for SEND specialists, but whatever your role, I would urge you take up the opportunity if you get the chance.

Schools are enhanced by SEND pupils

My Twitter feed has recently included several posts from educators shocked by examples of schools which seem to exhibit a lack of inclusiveness. Vic Goddard (@vicgoddard), Brian Lightman (@brianlightman) and Stephen Drew (@StephenDrew72), among others, have expressed concern about schools which seek to dissuade prospective parents of students with special educational needs or disabilities from applying. This is done by suggesting, or even explicitly stating, that the School cannot meet the child’s needs, through what Stephen Drew has described as a ‘blatant anti-inclusion narratives’.

These posts have quite rightly highlighted the unfairness and indeed discriminatory nature of denying education to such children, but I would like to make an additional point. It is not just those children who miss out: the whole school community is made poorer by such moves that reduce the diversity of that community. As the Canadian Philosopher, and founder of the L’Arche communities, Jean Vanier put it:

As soon as we start selecting & judging people instead of welcoming them as they are – with their sometimes hidden beauty, as well as their more frequently visible weaknesses – we are reducing life, not fostering it.

Students with special needs enhance a school. They help students understand the diversity of our society, together with the challenges faced by those who do not represent the typical norm, not just in a hypothetical ‘this week we’re supporting a charity for people with X’ kind of way, but as a daily reality. Not least they will learn that nobody should be labelled by a condition, or seen merely as a problem because of it, but rather that we are each a unique combination of attributes, experiences, competencies and aspirations. As such, an inclusive school should see SEND provision as a welcome, positive expression of a healthy learning community.

Much of the comment I have read, and understandable frustration, concerns the actions of individual schools. While it is tempting to view the issue at this level (and only right that wrongdoing should be highlighted for action), I wonder if these actions by single schools aren’t a symptom of a systemic problem? Our current system of Progress 8 scores, Ofsted gratings, and league tables encourages competition between schools. I have written previously in praise of partnership and the good that can be achieved through cooperation. Perhaps the solution to providing truly inclusive educational provision, especially in times of financial hardship, lies in schools working together to pool expertise and resources. Imagine the power of a partnership that commits to securing the best possible outcomes for every child in the community it serves.