The term “inclusion” means offering everyone equal access to information and resources. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, there has been an undeniable shift in the ways we all stay connected and informed, especially online.
As communication professionals, we must ask ourselves if our content is inclusive or not. Are we doing a fair job of reaching people, especially those with disabilities who may require other methods of access?
Working for a health care institution in the wake of the pandemic has encouraged me to address these questions and identify my role in ensuring that we create inclusive content for our audiences. Here are some best practices for creating accessible social media content.
What is Digital Accessibility? Why Is it Important?
People with mental and physical disabilities (such as visual and auditory) often require special provisions or assistive technologies to access digital content. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is a single international standard for web content accessibility. Acts, such as Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), require large public and private organizations to meet a certain level of WCAG.
The term “digital accessibility” refers to the level of compliance with these guidelines. In other words, it helps determine whether people with disabilities are able to access a particular digital platform or not.
If we wish to create inclusive content for our intended audiences, then it is crucial to have a basic understanding of WCAG and digital accessibility.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
The main purpose of WCAG is to offer one international standard that caters to the accessibility needs of individuals and organizations at a global scale. This standard allows people with disabilities to navigate digital content with the use of assistive technologies (AT), such as screen readers. WCAG standards are applicable on all web and mobile digital platforms, including various social media channels. In terms of digital accessibility on social media, ensuring access to images and videos is a main concern.
Images are an integral part of any communications piece. Images provide context, drive emotion or add visual value to any given content.
However, not all users are able to see the images. For example, a visually impaired user will not be able to process an image through a screen reader simply because it’s not in text format. This is where WCAG standards play an important role. According to WCAG standards, every image must have an associated alternative text, or alt text, with it. A screen reader cannot convert an image to speech, but it is able to convert the alternative text to speech for a user with a visual impairment.
Videos, just like images, are an integral part of content creation. Videos tell a story in a powerful way. People with auditory disabilities have limited access to a video because they are unable to hear its sound. In this case, WCAG standards require videos to have embedded closed captions (descriptive text alternative that includes sound details in a video) or subtitles (text alternative for dialogue). With these additions, a hard-of-hearing person can experience a closed-captioned video.
Best Practices for Publishing Accessible Content on Social Media
All major social media platforms have a commitment to accessibility, as these companies are mandated to comply with WCAG standards. These digital platforms inherently offer settings and other technical provisions that help content creators produce accessible content. With these provisions, it is up to communication professionals to make accessibility a part of their workflow to create inclusive content.
The following is a comprehensive list of best practices that communication professionals can easily incorporate in their workflow practices to create inclusive content.
- When using images, write alternative text to accompany each image.
- Good alternative text is short and descriptive enough to provide context.
- When writing alternative text, act as if you are describing an image to a person who is sitting in front of you but you are not allowed to show them the image.
- All major social media platforms allow alt text with images. It is important to keep character limit in mind. Here is a breakdown per channel:
- Facebook and Instagram: 100 characters
- Twitter: 420 characters
- LinkedIn: 300 characters
- Social media platforms offer auto-generated alternative text for image(s) posted without any description. However, it is best practice to create your own alternative text because as the content creator, you fully understand the context.
- Set aside some extra time to type out closed captions for your video and convert the text file to a SubRip (.srt) file. This step might be time-consuming based on the length and complexity of your video, but it will go a long way for your audience.
- You may also choose to embed closed captions directly on your videos.
- All major social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube and TikTok, offer auto-generated captions with video upload. The best practice, however, is to upload the .srt file along with your video or embed closed captions directly on your video, as the auto-generated captions often have typos or incorrect transcription.
Hashtags are a commonly used tactic in social media campaigns. Although hashtags are published in a text format, they are notorious for improperly converting from text to speech. For example, a screen reader has no way of identifying three separate words in this hashtag: #iabcworldconference. A screen reader would read out each letter separately, which makes it difficult to comprehend.
A best practice to remember while using hashtags is to use Camel Casing. This technique refers to capitalizing the first letter of each word in a hashtag. For example, the correct format for the hashtag mentioned above would be #IABCWorldConference. This format allows a screen reader to clearly state three separate words, which is far more comprehensible.
Other Important Considerations
Beyond images and videos, consider these best practices when using other forms of multimedia like GIFs or emojis.
- Limit the use of GIFs on social media. If you need to use a GIF, always include associated alternative text with it.
- Do not use the same emoji multiple times in one line. For example, if you add three or four heart emojis after your social media content, a screen reader would read it out multiple times. This kind of repetition leads to a negative impact on people with visual impairment.
As communication professionals, we have a legal, ethical and moral obligation to create and publish inclusive content that reaches everyone. Inclusive content has the potential to reach marginalized groups, empowering them to make better decisions for themselves and participate fully in societies in a meaningful way. Ultimately, it helps us bridge the gaps and make our world an equitable place for everyone.
Suchita Bali is a social media and web specialist at Health Sciences North. Her love for social media and numbers propelled her career in the digital communication. She believes that all numbers tell a story and takes a storytelling approach when working with analytics and research. Bali’s day job includes managing social media and web platforms for the largest academic teaching hospital in Northeastern Ontario, Canada. In her role at the hospital, she has written the digital communication strategy, including a social media and web content management strategy. Her educational background includes an MBA and a bachelor’s degree in computer science and commerce.