Social media is fast becoming the cheapest, most effective way for businesses to communicate online. It offers a direct channel to a global audience. But around 14 million people in the UK alone live with a disability. That’s a lot of people to exclude from the conversation if your Twitter strategy isn’t inclusive.

There are several small changes that businesses and individuals can make to ensure their Twitter feed is accessibility friendly. In fact, many of these tweaks, like including closed captions, improve clarity for everyone. Here are a few:

  1. Add Alt-tags to images

    Alt-text, also known as alt attributes or alt-descriptions, is copy that describes an image on a web page. If an image doesn’t load, it’s the alt-text description that displays instead. Visually impaired and blind users rely on assistive technology like screen readers, or text to speech software, to read webpages out loud.

     

    Why it matters

    Not all users can see your images and screen readers cannot interpret them. Most screen readers will simply inform the user that there is an ‘image’ if no alt-text is supplied. Certain disabled people with cognitive impairments may find text easier to process than an image too.

     

    How do I add image descriptions to my tweets?

    Twitter has made it possible for social media managers to add alt-text to images uploaded on their platform for a number of years. Before you start, make sure this feature is enabled in your settings profile.

    Tip: Your descriptions don’t need to be cold or impersonal as if you’re talking to a robot. If you run a social media account with personality, be descriptive. Instead of saying “Dog in office with hat on” say “Our golden retriever office dog, Peter, wearing a baseball cap.”

    Twitter provides this handy guide for adding alt tag images (Twitter Help Centre)

  2. Add captions to videos

    This may seem obvious if you’re a business who regularly creates and shares video content online. There are around 1.2 billion video views on Twitter every day. But there are 466 million people worldwide living with a disabling hearing loss who are often excluded from the experience. When uploading video content anywhere online, it’s good to include captions and subtitles to ensure everyone can enjoy it.

     

    What’s the difference between closed captions and subtitles?

    Though the terms ‘closed captions’ and ‘subtitles’ are used interchangeably, they’re different.

    Subtitles offer a text alternative for dialogue in video content. It includes the voices of characters, interviewees, narrators and any other spoken word within the video.

    Closed Captions provide a text alternative in the same way subtitles do but include detail about other relevant sounds within the video. They include background noises and non-vocal cues such as “car horn beeping” or “knock at the door”.

     

    Why it matters

    According to Hootsuite, 85% of all Facebook videos are watched without sound on. And Twitter timeline uses autoplay with the sound muted. Both marketing incentives to add subtitles to your video.

    But, captions don’t only help deaf and hearing-impaired users. Multiple studies talk about the benefits subtitles offer in improving comprehension for everybody, including hearing persons. This extends to people with autism, ADHD, learning disabilities and foreign-language speakers.

     

    How do I do it?

    There are several ways you can make your videos more accessible:

    • Embed subtitle text directly into the video before uploading.
    • Create a SubRip (.SRT) file using Notepad (for Windows) or TextEdit (for Mac) and upload to your video once uploaded to your Media Studio Library in Twitter.

    Twitter provides this instruction guide for adding captions to videos in this blog post.

    Tip: if you’re uploading the same video to other channels, such as Youtube or Facebook, you can use the same SubRip (.srt) file.

     

    Want to Retweet a video that someone’s shared but it doesn’t have captions?

    Download the video yourself, re-upload it and add subtitles in before you post (making sure you cite the original author).

  3. Avoid using emojis too often

    When screen readers come across a piece of text with an emoji in, a description of that emoji is read aloud. Crying face. Crying face. Crying face. That includes emojis in usernames and Twitter handles.

    While it seems relatable to use a bulk of emojis in your tweets, it creates a tedious experience for visually impaired and blind users.

     

    Speak your audience’s language

    If your Twitter following includes disabled people, then it’s important to consider that emoji-filled text may not be the best way to start a two-way conversation.

    People with sight loss or impaired vision can struggle to use emojis because of their complex detail. It can be difficult to distinguish between colours, shading and the subtleties of what each emoji means. The interface to select emojis can also be difficult for visually impaired people to use.

    Emoji Vision, a campaign between the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and We Are Social designed a new set of emojis to address these issues.

    Watch this video from Sense about how voiceover technology describes your emojis:

  4. Capitalise the first letter of each word within hashtags

    Most people find it difficult to read long hashtags written in lower case. But they can be even more baffling for visually impaired and blind users who rely on assistive technology. This is because screen readers cannot distinguish between separate words when followed by a hashtag. It means #gotthatfridayfeeling will be read aloud as an entire word. When processed quickly by a screen reader, it sounds more like gibberish.

    Fortunately, this can be resolved with a quick fix. If you capitalise the beginning of each word, this tells the screen reader to read out each word separately. Sometimes known as Camel Case or Camel-Backing, this technique improves readability for all.  It makes it easier for all users to understand what the author means. You may recall the unfortunate hashtag fail from Susan Boyle’s PR team; camel casing is the difference between #SusanAlbumParty and #susanalbumparty.

    Tip: As a general rule of thumb, the fewer hashtags the better. People using keyboard tags or other assistive technologies can find it difficult to navigate a bulk of hashtagged text.

  5. Limit the amount you use GIFs on Twitter

    GIFs are fun, but they’re processed by screen readers in the same way that normal images are, i.e. they are read aloud simply as ‘image’. Currently, Twitter doesn’t offer any functionality to add alt-text to GIFs during upload. This all creates a disappointing experience for visually impaired users.

    The good news is, for content creators and bloggers who operate in WordPress, a plugin developed by Clear Honest Design and Big Hack allows users to add alt text to GIFs using GIPHY.

    Read our article ‘How to Make Your GIFs accessible in WordPress’

  6. Describe what your hyperlink leads to

    It’s good to know what to expect when you click through to a link someone has shared or re-tweeted. Sighted users rely on visual cues to distinguish between a shared article, picture or hyperlink, but screen readers cannot.

    When including a hyperlink with your post, take the time to describe what it is, whether it’s [AUDIO], [VIDEO], or a [PIC]. Never make people click on a link just to find out where it goes.

  7. Limit the amount you use acronyms and abbreviations (where possible)

    Acronyms like YOLO cannot be deciphered by most screen readers.

    Short forms or abbreviations like ‘plz’ instead of please, ‘irl’ (in real life) are confusing once read aloud and sped up by screen readers. They do more to cloud your communication and can be impossible to interpret.

  8. Stay away from unicode characters

    Unicode glyphs and characters include upside down, bold, italicised characters.

    It’s that odd formatting you might recognise from people’s Twitter handles, Instagram names and bios to make them ‘stand out’. Screen readers will not distinguish between what has been italicised or made bold using Unicode formatting and will instead ignore this text.

    Youtuber Eric Bailey made this video to highlight how his screen reader dealt with Trendy Twitter handles (typically, by ignoring them).

  9. If you're sharing an infographic, link to a data table too

    Again, because infographics are shared typically as JPEGs or PDFs, screen readers cannot process them.
    If you’re adding an infographic with complex information, it’s a good idea to link to a data table with the same information, which is likely to be more accessible.

Ultimately, this isn’t the last we’ll hear about social media accessibility. If there are things that you think would make social media more accessible for you, please get in touch or fill out the Big Hack Feedback Tool.