Looking to educate your team or class on digital accessibility? The Accessible Social video lesson offers a convenient way to receive a comprehensive overview of accessible best practices for digital content. A full audio transcript of the video can be found below it on this page.
Hello and welcome to Accessible Social! My name is Alexa Heinrich, and I’ll be teaching you all about accessible best practices for social media today.
To start things off, let’s talk about disability and the importance of accessibility. It’s important to understand that “disability” isn’t a dirty word nor should you feel like it’s an inappropriate topic to discuss. Whether someone identifies as a disabled person or as someone with a disability, they deserve your respect just like any other human being.
According to a 2021 report from the World Health Organization, an estimated 15% of the global population has some sort of disability. This number could also be much larger because not everyone is comfortable disclosing that they have a disability or considers themselves disabled.
A wide range of disabilities exist in the world, from physical to cognitive, but for the purposes of this presentation, I will mostly focus on disabilities that affect a person’s hearing and vision.
I will also reference different assistive technology throughout the presentation, including screen readers and text-to-speech programs. You’ll get to experience my phone’s text-to-speech program as well, as I use it for various demonstrations of good and bad examples of social media content.
When it comes to accessibility, many digital marketers and content creators want to know what makes it important for social media and what it means to be inclusive online. Not everyone experiences or navigates digital spaces the same way. As mentioned earlier, there are millions of people with disabilities who rely on assistive technology and practices to access digital content.
Disability is diverse and it comes in different forms. Most people think of permanent states when disability is mentioned, such as hearing or vision loss that cannot be medically treated or reversed. But disability is actually the only diverse community that you can join and leave. Some individuals are born with their disability while others become disabled later in life. It’s a full spectrum of possibilities and scenarios.
A person could be temporarily disabled due to an injury like a broken leg or an illness such as losing your hearing from an ear infection.
Someone could also have a situational disability which means they’re affected by their environment or circumstances like having trouble seeing a screen in different levels of lighting or hearing audio in a crowded room.
There are also episodic disabilities, which are disabilities that have no discernible pattern. They can affect you at any given time and change how you interact with the world. Examples would be migraines, vertigo, chronic pain, asthma, and some forms of mental illness like PTSD and bipolar disorder.
There are four distinct reasons why accessibility matters. First and foremost, you should just care about the experience that your followers have when they engage with you online. We should be removing barriers on social media, not creating them.
Believe it or not, everyone at some point or another will be affected by disability, either through age, illness, or injury. Disability is something that impacts every demographic no matter a person’s lifestyle, gender, heritage, or environment.
Inclusive best practices can have a direct impact on your marketing efforts and affect how many people you reach with your digital content. When you don’t create or publish accessible social media content, that means you’re potentially excluding a huge part of your audience from your messaging.
If your content isn’t accessible, you could also leave yourself open to legal trouble. While most digital accessibility lawsuits focus on the websites of brands and companies, it’s not unrealistic to think that social media platforms and apps will eventually face the same legal scrutiny. In 2021 alone there were more than 4,000 cases filed in the United States that focused on digital accessibility, a 15% increase from 2020.
Currently, more than 20 countries have governmental policies related to web accessibility including the United States, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, China, and New Zealand.
It’s best to be proactive when it comes to digital compliance and marketers should reference the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), to make sure they’re meeting current standards for digital accessibility. These are the most universal set of standards we currently have for digital accessibility around the globe.
All of these reasons are also great talking points to use when educating others about why accessibility matters. So remember: above all you want to have compassion for others when creating content. No matter what, disability will affect everyone at some point in their life. Accessible best practices can impact the overall success of your marketing efforts. And, of course, if you’re not creating inclusive content you could end up in legal trouble.
Now that you know why you should be creating accessible social media content, it’s time to learn how. I’m going to take us through accessible practices for copy and formatting, images and visuals, and audio and video.
And while the practices I’ll be discussing mostly cover social media, many of them are also applicable to other areas of marketing such as website management, email marketing, graphic design, and PDF creation. On that note, let’s get started!
Our first best practices section will cover copy and formatting. I’ll talk about how the accessibility of a post can be impacted by formatting, hashtags, emoji, alternative characters, and ASCII art.
Elements such as upper and lowercase letters, numbers, break characters, and even spaces can impact how an assistive device like a screen reader interacts with your content.
Because most social media platforms don’t offer formatting options, some users will find ways to manipulate their content to achieve the formatted look they want. This kind of “forced formatting” is commonly seen in tweets where the author has used multiple spaces, tabs, and hard returns to make their content appear in two columns.
My example tweet here looks like it’s in two columns. However, the blue arrows I’ve placed between the columns show that tabs were used to create this forced formatting. A screen reader would follow the path of the blue arrows because there’s no true gutter in the tweet that tells it to do otherwise. Therefore, the content gets read out of order and sounds like this.
[SCREEN READER] this is the path of please stop formatting your screen reader follows tweets to look like this just when you force your for the sake of viral memes tweets into two columns it’s not accessible thanks.
[ALEXA] Not exactly easy to understand. Until platforms add formatting options, you should compose your social media content knowing it will be read left to right or right to left in a single column by assistive devices and programs.
You should also be aware of how you use upper and lowercase letters. Some internet users will type in studly case to indicate mocking sarcasm in their content. Studly case is when you alternate every letter between uppercase and lowercase and sometimes even interject numbers as well. It’s also known as varied case and Spongebob case due to a popular meme featuring the cartoon character.
The varied letter case makes it exceptionally hard for a screen reader to properly read the words and can create a confusing experience for users, as demonstrated here.
[SCREEN READER] Instagram. Today we’re introducing face filters. Snapchat. T zero day wear and tr02 CNG FS v l t e R5.
[ALEXA] I’d be impressed if anyone understood that second line.
Letter case also plays a big part in hashtag accessibility. You’ll want to make sure to capitalize the first letter in each word of your compound hashtags. This method is sometimes referred to as Title Case, Pascal Case, and Camel Case. The capital letters help assistive devices denote the separate words, allowing them to pronounce compound hashtags correctly and not as one long mish-mashed word.
Just listen to how the all-lowercase hashtag on this slide sounds. [SCREEN READER] Octoperism. [ALEXA] Versus how the hashtag in Camel Case sounds. [SCREEN READER] Octopi are awesome. [ALEXA] One more listen for the all-lowercase hashtag. [SCREEN READER] Octoperism. [ALEXA] In comparison to the Camel Cased hashtag. [SCREEN READER] Octopi are awesome.
[ALEXA] Definitely a noticeable difference in the two.
Camel Case is also easier for literally everyone to read no matter the status of their vision. This formatting can also be applied to your Twitter handle to make that accessible, and it could save your brand from embarrassing PR moments as well.
Moving on to my favorite section: emoji. Everyone loves those colorful icons, but did you know that each individual emoji has its own unique description assigned to it? When an assistive device comes across an emoji in written content, it will use the icon’s assigned description to accurately describe it to the user.
Many emoji have descriptions and appearances that differ across platforms devices and browsers. This particular emoji is known as abandoned house, old house, haunted house, and derelict house.
Even emoji with skin tones get additional information added to their base description to keep them unique. If a screen reader were to read this line of emoji it would say raised hand, raised hand light skin tone, raised hand medium-light skin tone, raised hand medium skin tone, raised hand medium-dark skin tone, and raised hand dark skin tone.
Keep in mind that because a screen reader picks up on the descriptions of emoji, the excessive use of them is not advised. It’s also worth noting that some assistive devices will shorten a line of emoji if only one specific icon is used uninterrupted by other icons, characters, or spaces. For instance, this group of emoji would probably be read as “24 rockets” instead of a screen reader saying the word rocket 24 times.
It’s best to put emoji at the end of your content, otherwise, you could make your message confusing like with this example tweet that has a few emojis sprinkled throughout the written content. Once a text-to-speech program translated the emoji, the content ran into several clarity issues, as demonstrated in this short screen recording.
[SCREEN READER] Accessible Social, @CarlCamelCase. Having a great time on vacation in Colorado snow-capped mountain gonna get some prime skiing in tomorrow’s skier going downhill before ending the day with hot cocoa hot beverage by the fire with my BFF women with multiple skin tones holding hands.
[ALEXA] Sounds a little wonky with all those emoji interruptions.
Using emoji as bullet points is also quite popular on social media, but unfortunately, using emoji that way could make your points confusing if the icon descriptions are competing with the content, as shown in this second example tweet.
[SCREEN READER] Accessible Social, @CarlCamelCase. Keys to a great keynote speech face with tears of joy don’t be afraid to crack jokes world map going off script is okay mouth have confident body language.
[ALEXA] As demonstrated, the three emoji descriptions interrupted the flow of the copy and made it a little difficult to understand.
An excellent resource for digital content creators who want to use emoji in smart and strategic ways is emojipedia.org. This website lists every known emoji along with their different appearances and descriptions across platforms, devices, and browsers.
So when it comes to emoji on social media, you should: use them in moderation, double-check their description before using them, place them at the end of posts and tweets to avoid clarity issues, and try to resist changing the color on customizable emoji unless a specific skin tone is necessary for context.
That last tip applies mostly to the management of professional brand accounts. I would never presume to tell someone what emoji skin tones they should use to represent their own identity on their personal social media.
Another best practice for copywriting is one that focuses on a trend that has become quite popular on social media in recent years. Content creators have started using external websites to generate alternative characters for their posts to make the copy appear in different weights, styles, and fonts. You’ll notice that the yellow has highlighted text that’s in a different font from Twitter’s default font.
Unfortunately, some assistive devices cannot decipher these characters and will typically skip over them, as shown in this first example tweet. I used alternative characters for the first three lines of text and then Twitter’s default font for the latter half of the tweet. This is how my phone’s text-to-speech program handled it.
[SCREEN READER] Accessible Social, @CarlCamelCase. Unfortunately, not all assistive devices can read these alternative characters, making them inaccessible.
[ALEXA] My text-to-speech program completely skipped the first three lines of the tweet that read, “Custom fonts are so fun! They give your content extra pizzazz! And you can even bold your text.” This was because it could not identify them as readable characters.
Even worse are the alternative characters that assistive devices translate into indistinguishable noises or totally different languages, like in this second example tweet.
[SCREEN READER] Accessible Social, @CarlCamelCase. Circled Latin capital letter S [indistinguishable words].
[ALEXA] While I only showcased a few seconds of that tweet, it actually took almost two and a half minutes for my phone’s text-to-speech program to read the entire post aloud when logically it should only take a few seconds.
Using alternative characters can also negatively impact the engagement and searchability of your content if a platform doesn’t recognize them as readable characters. In my test tweet to the left, I used five different alternative character sets to write the word “lackadaisical” five times.
When I did an advanced search on Twitter a few minutes later that specifically combed my account for the word lackadaisical—which I definitely don’t use in everyday conversations—Twitter was unable to locate my test tweet even though it was at the very top of my profile’s feed.
Content creators should only use the default fonts and formatting options readily available on the platforms if they want to keep their content accessible
Another popular trend on social media that involves the use of characters is called ASCII art. It uses letters, numbers, punctuation, and other characters to create illustrative memes and is commonly seen on Twitter.
ASCII art is used more frequently by major brand accounts as they try to appear more casual and less robotic online. However, ASCII art is not accessible for screen reader users.
Assistive devices are programmed to read characters and punctuation marks as they were originally intended. They cannot properly discern when characters are used to create illustrations and when read aloud, ASCII art normally sounds something like this.
[SCREEN READER] bullet underscore bullet X bullet underscore bullet greater than reverse not sign black square black square reverse not sign black square underscore black square Y.
[ALEXA] So the art is clever, but it doesn’t make much sense once a screen reader gets ahold of it.
ASCII art formatting can also shift between different devices and browsers, meaning you could create an ASCII illustration for the desktop version of Twitter and it may look different on the mobile version of Twitter or TweetDeck because the characters will have moved to fit the provided space.
This next section is typically the one that I get the most questions about: how to be accessible with images and visuals.
Images play a key part on social media, but how does someone with a serious vision disability experience a picture? Assistive devices and programs need alt text, a descriptive physical summary of the image, in order to accurately describe it to a user.
Take these two tweets for example. They are seemingly identical except that one had alt text added to it and the other did not. Here’s what the first tweet sounds like through my phone’s text-to-speech program.
[SCREEN READER] Accessible Social, @CarlCamelCase. Alt text is incredibly important to making images accessible. Image: cluster of peachy pink flowers covered in droplets of water after a thunderstorm. 46 seconds ago.
[ALEXA] Versus what the second tweet sounds like.
[SCREEN READER] Accessible Social, @CarlCamelCase. Alt text is incredibly important to making images accessible. Image. 20 seconds ago.
[ALEXA] The first tweet obviously had alt text applied to it while the second one did not, which made a noticeable difference in the text-to-speech experience
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pinterest all allow users to write custom alt text for their uploaded images. Custom alt text is always preferred to automatic alt text that’s been written by an AI program because auto-generated alt text is normally vague and not descriptive or accurate enough to be considered accessible.
The alt text field on the desktop version of Facebook can be found by clicking “Edit” in the upper left corner of an image before posting it to your Facebook page, profile, or group and typing the alt text in the appropriate field.
You may notice that Facebook tried to make its own alt text for this example, as shown above the custom alt text field, but the description of “body of water, twilight, palm trees, sky, and nature,” definitely doesn’t do this vibrant image any justice.
If you’re in the Facebook mobile app, you’ll find the alt text function under the three dots in the upper right corner of your uploaded image. This can be deceptive since there’s also an edit button like there is on the desktop, but alt text is not housed there on the app.
You may notice a warning flash that alt text is normally less than 100 characters. Your alt text should be as long as you need it to be in order to make your image accessible, so you can ignore this warning.
On the desktop version and mobile app of Twitter along with TweetDeck, the alt text option appears with images as “Add Description” or “+ALT”. You can also add alt text to GIFs on Twitter if you use their built-in GIF library on the mobile and desktop versions of the platform.
And don’t forget that Twitter now has an alt text reminder that you can turn on just in case you ever forget to add alt text before posting a tweet.
When you get to the final publishing screen on the Instagram app, tap “Advanced Settings,” scroll to “Accessibility” near the bottom, click “Write Alt Text,” and then add your image description in the provided field. If you have a carousel of images, there will be a slot for each image on that final screen. Once you’ve written your alt text, you can click “Done” in the upper right corner.
The alt text feature is actually easier to find on the desktop version of Instagram. You’ll find a dropdown labeled “Accessibility” just below the caption area on the final publishing screen. Click the dropdown and the expanded view will show each of your uploaded images with a field next to them where you can write your alt text.
While Creator Studio doesn’t always have an alt text field for Facebook posts, you can use it to schedule Instagram posts using the platform’s alt text field. Just make sure that your Instagram account is a Creator or Business account and linked to a published Facebook page. You’ll find the alt text field under advanced settings after you upload an image to your post in Creator Studio.
LinkedIn has one of the easiest alt text fields to find. As soon as you upload an image to your post, the option to add alt text appears below your image in the edit your photo window. If your image is more vertical than horizontal, you may just need to scroll a smidge to see the alt text option.
Finding the alt text field for Pinterest is also quite easy, but it’s only an option for new pins that you upload directly to your account. You cannot retroactively add alt text to someone else’s pin that you want to share or re-pin to your own board. When you create a new pin, you’ll see a button labeled “Add Alt Text” to the right of the image you upload.
This is a sampling of a few third-party management sites and their alt text publishing capabilities. Unfortunately, only SkedSocial can currently post to Instagram using the platform’s alt text field due to API restrictions. But as mentioned previously, you can use Facebook Creator Studio to schedule Instagram posts with alt text.
Now let’s talk about how to write effective alt text. Here are a few tips along with some examples.
Write in plain language. You should focus on describing the physical aspects of your chosen images. Resist the urge to be ornate or overly effusive with your descriptions. You want to avoid having your own feelings or opinions about an image interfere with your ability to write accurate alt text. You can be creative, but don’t go overboard, otherwise, your description could become muddled and confusing. Try to be as objective as possible.
Focus on accuracy, not length. I normally make my alt text about the length of one tweet, but that’s also dependent on the image that I choose. The more complex the image, the longer the alt text will more than likely be, especially if the image features any copy. Writing alt text is a completely subjective exercise, no matter how objective you try to be. It’ll vary image to image and creator to creator. Just focus on making your alt text as accurate as possible and you should do just fine.
Consider positional information. Think about the view that someone has when they’re looking at your image is it a partial view of someone sitting at a table? Do you have a bird’s eye view of a snow-covered forest? Directional or positional information can add important context to your alt text.
Avoid writing “image of” or “photo of” in your alt text. It’s already assumed that your alt text will be for a photo or image, and a screen reader will more than likely say “image” before or after reading your alt text. However, if your image file is something like an illustration, a graphic, a painting, or even a screenshot, you can include that in your alt text because it gives users a better idea of how to visualize the image.
Use proper nouns and names when appropriate. If a well-known person, place, or thing is in your image and it adds context to your content, go ahead and name it.
You don’t need to describe every single detail. If something in the image is significant to understanding the whole picture or post, describe it. If it’s not, skip it and save your characters for the important stuff. Focus on describing details that are contextually important to your entire post. As the content author, you have the power to decide which details in your image are vital to making it accessible for your viewers.
This next tip should be given careful consideration since it was written by a white cis woman. Identity and representation are complex and multifaceted subjects that should always be treated with respect and care.
Use personal identifiers when needed. If the race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, or another identifier for a person is relevant to the overall context of the image, feel free to add it. It also helps in this instance to think of your content as a whole. What information is included in the written part of your post? As the author, do you feel that extra identifiers in your alt text would add contextual value to the rest of your content?
For example, let’s say your content is about introducing girls and young women of color to careers in STEM. The race, age, and gender of the people in your images would probably be contextually important.
If you’re unsure about how the subject of an image identifies or don’t want to assume how they identify, stick to neutral terms such as using “person” instead of “man” or “woman”. Of course, the best way to ascertain how someone in your image identifies is to ask them, if you can. Just make sure to explain to your subject that you’re trying to accurately represent them and their identity in your content.
Avoid abbreviations whenever possible. It’s better to type out the full name or title of a person, place, organization, or initiative because screen readers don’t always read abbreviations like acronyms and initialisms correctly. Lesser-known abbreviations also don’t add a lot of context to an image.
If you use an initialism in your alt text or any of your content for that matter, type out the full name or title first and then place the spaces or periods in between each letter of the initialism so that the screen reader says it properly.
An initialism is an abbreviation consisting of initial letters pronounced separately. Examples would be KPI, NYC, and FBI. An acronym is an abbreviation formed from the initial letters of other words and pronounced as a word. Examples would be NASA, SCUBA, and FOMO.
Add keywords for improved SEO. This piece of advice is more for images on websites, but it’s still a good tip to remember just in case search engines ever evolve to pick up the alt text on social media images. To my knowledge, they currently do not.
However, keywords in the alt text field on Instagram posts do supposedly affect search results within the app. Just make sure that you’re prioritizing the accurate description of your image first and foremost. Alt text should always be treated as an accessibility feature and not an SEO growth hack. If you can logically work your keywords into your alt text, go for it. If not, that’s what hashtags are for.
Avoid excessive flattened copy. If you’re posting a copy-heavy graphic like an event flyer or an image that has text overlaid on it, you’ll need to add alt text for all the flattened copy because a screen reader will not be able to read it.
Flattened copy is text that has been turned into an object upon being exported from whatever program it was created in. It’s also referred to as embedded copy or outlined text. If you drag your cursor over the text on an image and it does not highlight the individual words or characters, that means the text is no longer readable and cannot be clicked. JPEG, PNG, and GIF files do not support readable text.
I’m going to elaborate on this last tip a little more in later slides since this is an alt text rule that I frequently see broken.
Now that you have an understanding of how to write effective alt text, let’s talk about what shouldn’t go in your alt text. Emoji icons are typically added to social media content to give it added visual interest, so adding them to your alt text makes no sense and could result in confusing alt text depending on the icons that you use.
Links in alt text are not going to be clickable, and a screen reader will just read them out like any other word in your alt text. Links should go in the written part of your post, not the alt text.
Hashtags also aren’t clickable in alt text and do not typically add additional context that would make an image description more accessible. Like links, they should go in the written part of your post.
Additional symbols like the ones for trademark, copyright, and registered don’t make an image description more accessible and will get read aloud by a screen reader, so avoid using them in your alt text.
Nonessential information like strings of random keywords, photographer credits, promotional information,, calls to action hidden messages, and any other details that don’t make your image description more accessible should not be included in your alt text.
We’re going to move on to something that greatly impacts accessibility. As I mentioned earlier, putting an excessive amount of copy onto a graphic is a bad idea. This design choice is mostly seen on Twitter where we’re limited on how long our tweets can be. You’ll see celebrities, elected officials, major brands, athletes, professional sports teams, and municipal accounts tweeting graphics like this when they want to share a long statement, apology, or update.
Not only is this horribly inaccessible but it’s just bad social media.
Ideally, when a brand, organization, or public figure needs to share a long statement, that full-readable statement will live on the news or PR section of their website. While social media is great for engaging with your followers, it should never be treated like a replacement for your website. After you’ve put your statement on your website, you can then link to it from a post or tweet as needed.
If you still want a visual to go with your social media content, that’s totally understandable, as most posts perform better if they have an image attached to them. Let’s pretend this image is the original statement that you wanted to share on social media. That’s a lot of copy to slam onto a single graphic and it’s not exactly easy to read.
The attention span of most social media users is incredibly short. Plus, a majority of people look at social media on their phones nowadays, so the likelihood of someone stopping to read your graphic is much lower if it looks like this. Adding alt text to the image may make it accessible, but it won’t make it engaging.
Instead of using the full statement for your graphic, pull a single impactful quote from it and make that your visual for social media. Make sure the alt text you add to your graphic includes all the flattened copy on it as well. The alt text for this graphic could be something like, “Blue graphic that reads, ‘Graphics created for social media should be treated like billboards.’” Clear and concise.
Now that you have your full statement on your site in a readable format and an abbreviated visual to complement it for your social media content, you can just write something brief for your post or tweet and then include the link to the statement at the end.
Now, look at our two graphics side by side. At a quick glance, which is easier to read and engage with? I’ll let you decide for yourself, but I think we all know the answer.
It’s okay to use GIFs in your content, but make sure to choose carefully. To make a GIF accessible, set it to stop playing after five seconds, give users a way to pause or stop GIFs, write descriptive alt text for GIFs, avoid GIFs that contain rapid blinking or flashing, and make sure any text in a GIF has appropriate contrast with the background. Inaccessible GIFs can negatively impact users with photosensitive epilepsy, ADHD, and anxiety.
Another thing to consider when creating visual materials for your social media content is color contrast, which I mentioned in the previous slide when talking about GIFs. Some color combinations make copy difficult or impossible to read either because there isn’t enough contrast between the two hues or the color pairing is causing the text to appear as if it’s vibrating.
The Adobe Color site is a great resource that can help you create accessible color palettes that meet WCAG contrast standards. It also has a colorblind tool that simulates how your color scheme would look to someone who is colorblind.
Be careful about how you use color to indicate information. Colors should never be the sole indicator for data because someone who is colorblind may have trouble differentiating between the colors. To keep your information accessible, use different icons, shapes, or labels in collaboration with your colors. That way if someone visually impaired views the image, they can still tell the different data sets apart from each other.
And our final section we’ll go over making audio and video accessible.
I know everyone is probably thinking of captions, but I want to talk about video descriptions briefly. First, there are audio descriptions, which are a form of narration used to provide info surrounding key visual elements and videos for blind and low-vision consumers.
They’re an accessible option on popular streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+ if a production team has chosen to make them available for a show or film.
An audio description adds an additional audio track to a video that can be toggled on and off by supported platforms. Unfortunately, traditional audio descriptions are not currently supported by YouTube, Vimeo, or most social media platforms because you cannot upload multiple audio tracks with a single video.
However, YouTube is currently testing the ability to add multiple audio tracks on videos to help provide descriptive audio. The feature is only available to a small group of creators at this time.
Until audio description creation is more widely available, an option for making accessible videos with audio descriptions for social media is to create two versions of your video, one with an audio description integrated with the rest of your videos audio and one without.
Admittedly, creating audio descriptions is not an easy task, and there are full services dedicated to writing and implementing them that marketers and agencies should definitely look into. For smaller content creators and everyday social media users, I recommend creating written descriptions for your content.
Like audio descriptions, written descriptions also help make the visual elements of your video accessible for blind and low-vision users. You would have a written description available as readable text with your video.
Gucci used this practice for their Gucci Gift 2020 holiday campaign. The campaign’s promotional video featured a 90s office throwing a retro 70s-themed party. The iconic fashion brand wrote a brief visual description of the video in the caption area for their YouTube channel and Facebook page.
The social media team for the Amazon Prime show Wheel of Time loves to post short video snippets on the show’s Twitter account, but many of their videos include little to no dialogue.
In order to make the show’s video content more accessible, the social media team will thread a written description to each tweet that features a video. They have been commended by many of their fans and followers for creating inclusive content like this.
And finally, we’re going to chat about captions.
Now no matter where a video is posted, whether it’s on a website or social media, it should have captions so that Deaf and hard-of-hearing users can access the content.
Captions can also provide a better experience for a viewer with a learning disability, an attention deficit, or Autism. They’re also helpful if you don’t understand the spoken language, you’re in a noisy environment a video has poor audio, or if a speaker is talking too fast or has an accent.
A staggering 92 percent of U.S. consumers view videos with sound off on mobile according to a 2019 report from Verizon Media and Publicis Media.
The survey also found that people are 80 percent more likely to watch an entire video if it includes captions.
On Facebook, an estimated 85 percent of videos are watched without sound.
LinkedIn has seen similar data with 80 percent of its videos being watched without sound.
Instagram has been aggressive with its push for more video content and at least 40 percent of videos on the platform are watched without sound.
In 2020, Twitter released data showing that the availability of captions can drive 28 percent longer view time on video content. Captions are clearly a good marketing move in addition to being an accessible best practice.
Captions come in two forms, closed and open. Closed captions can be toggled on and off based on the preferences of the viewer and are typically an option on platforms like Netflix and YouTube. They can usually be moved and adjusted to adapt to different screen sizes and orientations as well.
Open captions, on the other hand, are permanently burned onto a video and always visible. They’re also referred to as embedded or burned captions. Open captions cannot be turned off, moved, or resized. They’re normally used when closed captioning isn’t an option or if the content creator wants more creative freedom over the look and feel of their captions.
If you’re trying to decide between using closed or open captions, choose closed. They offer a more customizable experience for viewers in terms of visibility, position, and size, so they are the preferred option. Open captions should really only be used when closed captioning isn’t available.
An easy way to add closed captions to a video is to use YouTube. Once you upload a video to your channel, YouTube will generate auto-captions that you can then edit and publish. And please make sure to always edit any auto-captions and never just publish them as is. While most captioning technology is decent, it doesn’t always include punctuation or capitalization and sometimes struggles with proper names, so leaving the auto-captions unedited is not recommended.
YouTube also allows you to download your SRT captions file and use it if you upload media directly to any platform that supports uploading SRT files with videos. You can use the SRT file to create open captions in some video production programs as well.
You can always opt to write and sync your captions manually. If you choose that option, make sure to break your captions up at natural language breaks for easy reading, allow time to read your captions since that’s the entire point of them, include captions for any contextually important non-speaking audio like sound effects and music, and identify when a new speaker starts talking especially if they can’t be seen on screen.
Open captions are the practical option when closed captions aren’t readily available or cannot be edited for accuracy. There are several affordable captioning apps out there including MixCaptions, Clipomatic, AutoCap, Kapwing, and Clips.
TikTok and Instagram also have a unique text-to-speech feature that allows you to narrate any open captions you add to your content using the text tool within the apps as demonstrated here.
[SCREEN READER] Did you know TikTok has a text-to-speech feature? Type your text and then press it. You’ll see a text-to-speech option that you can customize the timing of.
[ALEXA] When you host online events or live stream, consider using video services that have live captioning like Zoom or Google Meet, or, at the very least, provide a transcript or fully captioned video soon after your event ends.
You can also hire an on-camera interpreter for an additional level of accessibility, but please be aware that just because someone is Deaf or hard-of-hearing does not mean that they know sign language, so an interpreter should never be hired in place of using captions. And remember, captions improve the viewing experience for a variety of people, not just those with hearing loss.
And one last bonus tip: testing your content.
I personally have an unpublished Facebook page, a locked Twitter account, and a private Instagram profile where I test common accessibility issues using my phone’s text-to-speech program before publishing my final content.
This is also useful if you want to see how a link will preview on Facebook, how an image will crop on Twitter, or how your grid will look on Instagram. I highly recommend that all brands and organizations consider having at least one account that they can use to test content.
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See ya online!