Aesthetically Accessible: Helping those with visual impairments navigate social
UK Senior Writer Danielle Clark explores the importance of making your social content accessible to those with visual impairments.
Many of us are lucky enough to browse social media without needing to change our phone’s default settings. We don’t need to activate the VoiceOver tool, to increase text size or use the Zoom feature to magnify our screens. We can nip in and out of each app, knowing we won’t have any trouble watching videos or reading copy. But that’s not the case for the 2.2 billion people who have difficulties navigating their social media feeds due to visual impairments, which is why brands creating content must take more responsibility for its accessibility.
This may sound like a lot of work, but making content more accessible doesn’t require a huge lift. In fact, some of the most beneficial changes can be the most simple to implement.
Write alt text for all visual assets
Alt text, which can be added specifically as alt text, or added into the post caption. It’s a short description of what a visual medium contains for screen readers to relay. It can be a very topline but the more specific you can be, the more beneficial it is to your audience.
Social media platforms are making it easier than ever to add alt text to in-feed content, with Twitter even reportedly testing a functionality that would remind users to add this before they post. It takes just minutes to write, and makes the difference between someone understanding your content or being excluded altogether.
This example by @meganjaynecrabbe shows just how simple alt text can be.
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Avoid specialised fonts
Over recent years, there’s been a trend of people italicising, bolding, or otherwise altering with the stylisation of their font. Because social media platforms don’t allow this as standard, this requires certain tools to modify the code to be copied and pasted into captions.
The result? Copy doesn’t just look different, it also becomes indecipherable for screen readers.
Here’s how these special fonts could sound to someone who relies on audio to navigate social media. Not quite as cute as it looks, right?
You 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘬 it’s 𝒸𝓊𝓉ℯ to 𝘄𝗿𝗶𝘁𝗲 your tweets and usernames 𝖙𝖍𝖎𝖘 𝖜𝖆𝖞. But have you 𝙡𝙞𝙨𝙩𝙚𝙣𝙚𝙙 to what it 𝘴𝘰𝘶𝘯𝘥𝘴 𝘭𝘪𝘬𝘦 with assistive technologies like 𝓥𝓸𝓲𝓬𝓮𝓞𝓿𝓮𝓻? pic.twitter.com/CywCf1b3Lm
— Kent C. Dodds 💿 (@kentcdodds) January 9, 2019
Write hashtags in Camel Case
Hashtags are an essential element of social content, aiding discoverability and encouraging engagement. However, using them in the body of caption copy can have implications for social media users who rely on screen readers to navigate their feeds.
Instead, hashtags should be placed at the end of post copy to serve their functional purpose and should always be written in Camel Case – capitalising the beginning of each new word. Not only does this make it possible for screen readers to distinguish between the end of one word and the beginning of another, it’s generally clearer for all readers, giving people a better idea of what to expect when they click the hashtag.
Turn the volume on! When using hashtags, make sure to use Camel Case so that it is accessible for people using screen readers. #TrinityDisabilityService is accessible, #trinitydisabilityservice is not! @tcddublin @mccartpm @TCDSeniorTutor @tcdsu pic.twitter.com/wzS63Zm0iL
— TCD Disability News (@TCDAbility) November 18, 2020
Prioritise the legibility of captions
Captioned audio content is a must for all brands, even beyond the realms of accessibility. Here, legibility is key – there’s little point in adding captions if those who need them can’t read them – so ensure they’re big enough, and that the font colour contrasts with the background. Where possible, they should also appear in block Roman font.
There are few valid excuses for not adding captions to this content, and “it ruins the aesthetic” is the least valid of all. Aestheticism shouldn’t be at the cost of accessibility. Instead, brands should look for more creative ways to make their content look good.
Not only does Instagram now have an auto-caption tool for Stories and IGTV videos, it also gives creators the option to change font colour, size and whether they appear as spoken audio or remain on screen for the duration of the content.
As with all accessibility efforts, these steps should not be about helping brands tick boxes. Instead, they should demonstrate that brands value engagement from all followers – regardless of additional needs.