For many disabled people, the internet makes participating in campaigns accessible. Why then, has the pandemic still left us feeling excluded?

Online and social media activism is not new to the disabled community. It’s something we’ve contributed to for a long time. In online communities, blogs and social media, disabled people have created places to participate.

But unfortunately, we’re still missing out.

Excluding 20% of your audience

Online campaigns are often hard for us to read, hear and take part in. We want to get involved in most business, charitable and political campaigns. But they are not always accessible.

With inaccessible social media campaigns, you risk:

  • alienating your disabled followers
  • limiting the size of your audience
  • reducing your impact
  • potentially putting others in danger of missing out on essential information

But when done right, you show disabled users that you value them. And that you value their input in your campaign.

Common accessibility issues with online campaigns

Here are some of the most common accessibility issues I’ve experienced. And how to avoid them.

Images with embedded text

Social media is crowded with images, visual assets, photos and graphics. Adding images to posts is a method for increasing the number of people who engage with your post. But all too often you see companies posting them without thinking about accessibility.

I see a lot of information crammed into graphics on social media instead of the text. While this may be a good way to create shareable content, it isn’t accessible.

Many organisations try to stuff too much information into posts by making the text smaller.

When creating images with text in:

  • simplify your message
  • consider using a different format to convey information, like an accessible video or webpage.
  • use a font size of 16 pixels for graphics. Anything smaller could compromise readability for visually impaired readers.
  • allow enough white space around the text
  • spread information across multiple images with text in.
  • use the tweet thread function on Twitter to share connected images. Or the multiple post function on Instagram to space your message out.
  • make sure you add alt-text which describes all the information in the image

Missing alt-text on images

For every image you post, it’s important you use accurate, meaningful alt text. Alt-text is essential for people using assistive technology to understand the image. This means describing all the important information that a sighted person would get from looking at the image.

Note, it’s best practice to use alt-text on all images, whether they include text or not. Most social media platforms now have the option to add alt text as you upload your post. Be specific, and make sure you include any text in the image.

How to write better alt text for accessibility

Bad colour contrast

If you need to post a graphic or image with text in, make sure there is enough colour contrast between the text and the background colours. People with colour blindness or visual impairment may struggle to read this information otherwise.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) recommend a minimum contrast ratio of 4.5:1 for normal text and 3:1 for larger text.

I see this a lot with popular fashion retailers. Fashion brands like Pretty Little Thing often use pastel-coloured backgrounds with a pale text on top. This is almost impossible to read if you have low vision or visual impairment.

The pink background and white text on the graphic below only has a contrast ratio or 1.55:1. It fails WCAG colour contrast accessibility standards for normal and large text.

Black text on a white background may seem the obvious solution. But people with dyslexia can struggle to read with such a sharp contrast. Instead, where possible use an off-white or pale background with dark text.

The Government Digital Service Twitter feed has some great examples of how to make eye-catching, accessible graphics. The contrast between the yellow and black design elements in the example below makes the text easier to read.

You can check the contrast ratio between text and background colours using the WebAIM colour contrast checker.

Videos without captions or audio description

Videos have become a big part of online campaigning. From viral challenges and interviews to new product teasers and trailers. But they often exclude people because they do not take into account those with access needs.

Chatty videos explaining your campaign or going behind the scenes are a great way to connect with your followers. People who are deaf or have a hearing impairment have no way of accessing the information without captions or a transcript.

It’s also common to see videos replace audio with music and add captions on top. While this is more accessible to people with hearing impairments, it means not all the information is accessible to blind and visually impaired people.

When creating video content as part of your campaign:

  • always add captions to your videos, even if it’s just a quick 30-second video clip
  • make transcripts available for longer videos
  • add audio description to your videos
  • provide a summary of the video in accompanying copy

It doesn’t matter how accessible or inclusive your product is. If you don’t promote it in an accessible format, there is no way you can reach the audience that needs it.

Check out our guide to using subtitles, captions and transcripts for accessibility.

When LEGO launched their new Braille Bricks, they posted the video below to promote it. It showed school children in class playing with the bricks. It had open captions that explained the technology. But without dialogue, narrator, or audio description, blind people had no way of understanding it.

GIFs

GIFs and memes are a big part of the social media experience. But they are not always accessible. Colour contrast issues also apply here. But flashing images also risk triggering symptoms in people who have epilepsy or get migraines.

Symptoms can range from slight headaches to recurring headaches that last for days. In more serious cases they can cause seizures which can be life-threatening.

When creating GIFs:

  • make sure they do not flash more than three times per second
  • check colour contrast ratios if the GIF includes text
  • add alt-text if possible, and if not, describe your GIF in the accompanying copy

Complicated language

When you’ve got an important message to get out, it can be easy to use business and marketing jargon. But using complex, figurative language and metaphors make your message harder to understand.

Good content is easy to read and understand. Apply this to all writing in your public campaigns. Including social media posts, email and call-to-action copy.

Using simple language and writing in plain English means more of your audience will understand your message.

When writing copy for your online campaign:

  • Simplify your message as much as possible
  • Avoid metaphors and similes
  • Always choose a simple word over a complex one
  • Avoid idioms and phrases like “it’s raining cats and dogs”
  • Check how readable your posts are with online tools like the Hemingway app.

How to make your writing more accessible with plain English.

Fonts and special characters

As well as the colour of text, many people struggle to read fancy, decorative fonts. Especially handwriting style fonts. People with dyslexia, learning and visual impairments can struggle to read complicated fonts.

Another online practice which risks accessibility is the use of special characters and symbols. It’s common to see them used in usernames and stylized text. But screen readers often read these characters differently.


When using fonts online:

  • Choose easy to read fonts like Arial, Helvetica, Calibri or Verdana.
  • Avoid italics, as they make text harder to read
  • Avoid special characters or symbols in social media copy

Emojis

While emojis add a bit of fun to your posts, adding too many can make be frustrating for certain users. Most text-to-speech technology (like screen readers) read emoji descriptions out loud. This makes for a tedious experience for blind and visually impaired users.

It’s always worth checking the name of the emoji you’re using too, to make sure it fits in with your message. The meaning of the emoji may not be what you think! Sometimes it may change your core message.

Twitter allows you to check the description of the emoji when you upload it.

Try and use no more than three at a time, and avoid adding lines of emojis.

Hashtags

One of the biggest parts of social media is hashtags. They allow us to see and participate in trending topics and add to the community.

To make hashtags more accessible (and readable) use capital letters at the start of each word. This is known as camel casing. Use hashtags at the end of a post to avoid disrupting the flow.

Why accessible campaigns are better campaigns

Accessibility and inclusive design is an ongoing journey. It’s hard to get it right every time. But by adopting good accessibility habits you show disabled people that you value their input.

Ultimately, accessible campaigns are better campaigns. Accessible social media campaigns have the chance to be more effective. This is because the largest possible audience can access and understand them.

More social media resources

How to make your Facebook business page more accessible
How to make your Twitter feed more accessible
Planning, creating and publishing accessible social media campaigns (Government Communication Service)