This article talks about how businesses, social media managers, influencers and publishers can make their Facebook presence more inclusive.
Having a Facebook business page can be an effective, inexpensive way for companies to communicate information about their products and services. From small, medium businesses to large global corporations. With 2.41 billion monthly active users worldwide, having a Facebook presence makes business sense.
One way to make sure your Facebook posts reach more people is to ensure your videos, photos and words are accessible.
Add alt-tags to images
Alt text or ‘alternative text’ is a phrase that can be inserted as an attribute in HTML code to inform viewers of the nature or content of an image or photo. Visually impaired and blind users, who rely on screen reader technology, need alt text to understand what the image is about.
Why it matters
Screen readers cannot process images in the same way sighted users can. Without alt text, someone using a screen reader will be informed that there is simply an ‘Image’. Or, the image name (for example ‘GF7878.jpeg’) will be read aloud.
Users with learning disabilities, or cognitive impairments, may find text easier to process than images.
How do I do it?
In 2016, Facebook launched automatic alt text (ATT). It uses object recognition technology to generate automatic descriptions of photos and images.
To add alt-text to a Facebook image once it’s uploaded, hover over the photo, go to ‘Options’ then ‘Edit Alt-Text’ to override the auto-generated description.
While Facebook’s algorithm can recognise common objects and concepts, it’s better to edit this description or upload your own. This allows you to be as specific as possible. The more specific, the more useful they are to visually impaired users.
Facebook provides this very handy guide for adding alt tag images.
Add closed captions to videos
By including closed captions or subtitles to your video, more viewers can enjoy your content.
Why it matters
There are several benefits to adding subtitles to your video content, not all related to accessibility. Here are a few:
Many studies have found that subtitles and closed captions offer better comprehension for all. This includes people with autism, ADHD and the elderly.
According to Facebook’s own research, videos with captions are viewed an average of 12% longer than those without.
Think your audience is mainly non-deaf users so this is irrelevant? Think again. An enormous 85% of all Facebook videos are watched without sound on. By not including captions, you risk missing out on a much larger audience.
When you upload an .SRT file to native video platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, they are indexed by Google. So, adding captions offers more search engine optimisation (SEO) benefits than those without.
How do I do it?
There are several ways you can make your videos more accessible:
- Embed subtitle text into the video before uploading.
This method requires video editing software. If you are employing an agency or designer to create your video, include captions within the initial proposal. Be mindful to budget for any extra costs.
- Use Facebook’s auto-generate caption function.
Adding captions to videos is easy with Facebook’s auto-generate functionality. It’s quicker than creating a SubRip file and can save on costs if budget is limited.
Once you’ve uploaded a video to your Facebook page, click ‘Options’ and ‘Edit video’ and a second screen will open. Under the heading ‘Subtitles and captions (CC)’, select video language and click ‘Auto-generate’.
If the speech audio is clear, Facebook’s software will be able to understand most words in your video. You can then edit any words or phrases manually that Facebook may have missed.
- Create a SubRip (.SRT) file using Notepad (for Windows) or TextEdit (for Mac) and upload to Facebook video.
If you are uploading video content to other platforms like Youtube and Twitter for example, this is your best method. SubRip files are the standard and most other social media platforms use .SRT files to enable captions.
To add an .SRT file to your Facebook video, follow these steps:
- Select the Facebook video you want to add captions to
- Open the video in theatre mode
- Under ‘Options’ click ‘Edit this video’
- Under ‘Captions’ (within ‘Description’), select ‘Choose File’
- Upload your .SRT file
Facebook’s Help Centre offers this step-by-step guide for adding captions.
If a video has very few spoken words (like a short promotional video with music but no narrator), it’s good to provide a written or audio description of its contents. By explaining the message and meaning, you can be sure to reach audiences who are visually impaired.
Optimise Livestream video with captions or a sign language interpreter
Does your business regularly promotes events or products through Facebook Live videos? If so, there are a few things you can do to improve their accessibility.
If the video contains a speaker, make sure they are descriptive in what they are doing and which actions they are taking.
If the video has audio, include closed captions as soon as possible after the event. Currently, Facebook does not have native functionality that adds closed captions to live videos in real-time. This means that subtitles can only be added to replays of your Livestream videos. Still, including closed captions retrospectively is better than not at all.
(You can use the same methods outlined above under the heading ‘Add closed captions to your video’.)
Rev is an online service which can supply closed captions to your video content for a fee.
If the video has audio, and you want deaf users to be able to understand it, consider using a sign language interpreter for live broadcasts.
Limit the amount you use emojis
Emoji-stuffed text is not the best way to communicate with audiences who rely on screen readers.
This is because every emoji has a description which is read aloud when a screen reader comes across one in a piece of text. Some emojis, like the snowman, will have a straightforward text alternative like “snowman”. But descriptions for other emojis, like those that distinguish between smiley faces, are confusing.
Screen readers interpret this emoji as “loudly crying face”. Easy enough for blind and visually impaired users to understand, you might think. But imagine how long it would take to read lines and lines of the same emoji aloud, as in this post:
In short, using lots of emojis in your Facebook posts can make the experience very tedious for visually impaired and blind users.
Users with sight loss also struggle to use emojis due to their fine detail, colours and shading. And the interface to select emojis can be hard for this audience to use. Having a two-way conversation with your social media followers means speaking their language. Being mindful of the amount you rely on emojis in your posts is thoughtful.
Did you know? Emoji Vision is a campaign between the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and We Are Social to design a whole new set of emojis to address these issues.
Write in clear, simple sentences
1.7 million adults in England have literacy levels below those of an 11-year-old. The average reading age in the UK is nine years old. Bare these two facts in mind when writing posts. If you always aim to write clearly and simply, this will broaden the size of the audience you reach. It also increases the chance of people with learning disabilities understanding your message.
Quick best practice tips:
- Avoid using the passive voice where possible (for example, they were taken as opposed to the active form he took them).
- Limit your use of adverbs. Adverbs normally end in -ly (for example, stupidly, efficiently, closely, painfully).
- Ask yourself ‘Can I write this with a simpler alternative?’ For example, use “talk” instead of “discuss”.
- Avoid slashes and dashes “or” is much easier to understand
- Stick to short sentences with a 25-word max limit, ideally.
Hemmingway Editor is a useful app that tests your writing against literacy standards. It shows you where your writing is unclear, why and how to improve. It grades your writing from 1 to 14, (14 and above being a postgraduate level of understanding) to show how readable your writing is. Aim for a grade of 7 or below to meet WCAG accessibility requirements.
Capitalise the first letter of each word within hashtags
It’s difficult for most users to read long hashtags written in lower case. For visually impaired and blind users, this is much harder. This is because screen readers cannot distinguish between separate words in lower-case, hashtagged text. It means hashtags like #weddingphotographersinlondon will be treated as an entire word. When read aloud quickly by a screen reader, it can be hard to make any sense of them.
By capitalising the beginning of each word in a hashtag, this instructs a screen reader to read each word out separately. The technique, known as Camel Casing, improves readability and makes it easier for all users to understand what the author means. Still not convinced it’s important? Camel casing is the difference between #childrenslaughter and #ChildrensLaughter.
In general, though, when it comes to hashtags and accessibility, the fewer the better. People using keyboard tags or other assistive technologies can find a bulk of hashtags tricky to navigate.
Limit the amount you use GIFs
Screen readers process GIFs in the same way they do images and photographs; they are read simply as ‘image’.
Unfortunately, Facebook (like Twitter) offers no native functionality to add alt-text to GIFs during upload. This renders them completely indecipherable and unusable for blind users. When publishing to Facebook, make sure any important information in your post is in the copy.
Describe what your hyperlink leads to
Sighted users can rely on visual cues to distinguish between a shared article, picture or link. But, screen readers cannot.
When including a hyperlink in your Facebook post, take the time to describe what it is you are linking to. Let your audience know whether it’s a piece of [AUDIO], a [VIDEO], or a [PIC]. People should never have to click on a link to find out where it goes.
Avoid abbreviations and text speak where possible
We have already discussed the importance of writing clearly to ensure your content is understood by a wide audience. This extends to using abbreviations and slang like ‘plz’ instead of please, ‘idk’ instead of I don’t know and ‘tbh’ instead of to be honest. Though using colloquialisms may be tempting if you want to appeal to a younger audience, it’s not worth sacrificing clarity.
Words like this are unintelligible for screen readers and are read aloud as though they are normal words. Once sped up, they become meaningless.
If you’re sharing graphics, check the colour contrast
There are 2.7 million people in the UK alone who experience colour blindness. If you run a Facebook business page that with an international audience, that figure will be much higher.
Before sharing graphics, illustrations or infographics online, make sure that the colours used have a high contrast ratio. Especially those with text elements. WCAG guidelines state that a contrast ratio of at least 3:1 is needed for people with colour deficiencies to distinguish between elements.
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