Digital Advisory: Tips for Improving Social Media Accessibility

Federal agencies are increasingly using social media to share information and engage with target audiences online. As new capabilities to disseminate information emerge and social media platforms evolve, agencies have a responsibility to ensure their content is accessible to all citizens, including those with disabilities.

Social media is constantly changing and no two platforms are the same, so it can be challenging to stay current on new strategies for ensuring accessibility. Some accessibility best practices are easy to implement, while others require more preparation to determine how to incorporate them in the content development and review process. Finally, some Section 508 compliance recommendations conflict with best practices for social media engagement and require additional discussion to determine their suitability for the social media process and strategy.

Accessibility Tips for All Social Media Platforms

Easy to implement

  • Use #CamelCase for hashtags. Hashtags with multiple words written in all lowercase letters can be easily muddled. CamelCase, or capitalizing each first letter of the word, makes multi-word hashtags easier to read and allows screen readers to more easily decipher the individual words.
  • Place (shortened) hyperlinks and extra hashtags at the end of a post. URL shortening is a common practice to save space and track click-throughs, but it is also a helpful practice for screen readers, which read each URL character aloud. There are a number of URL shorteners available; bit.ly is the most common and offers free click tracking. Federal employees can also use go.usa.gov to shorten government URLs, which ensures the links still include “.gov” when shortened (i.e., go.usa.gov/xxxx). Place shortened URLs and any extra hashtags at the end of a post to make the posts easier to read.
  • Use high-resolution images. Users can zoom up to 200% on an image, which is important for some users who are visually impaired. A higher resolution image will keep its clarity when magnified. Use the highest resolution available that fits within each platform’s parameters: 1200x630 pixels for Facebook, 1024x512 pixels (5MB max) for Twitter, and 1080x1080 pixels for Instagram.
  • Test color contrast on images. Social media graphics should pass the same color contrast test for readability used for other web graphics. There are a number of free tools to test contrast (e.g., Coulour Contrast Analyser).

May require more preparation to implement

  • Caption videos. All videos should have captioning. This is important for individuals who are hearing-impaired, but it is also a best practice for an “audio-optional” social media world where 85 percent of users watch video without sound. Since not all platforms have a closed captioning feature, open captions—text already overlaid on the video itself that cannot be turned off—should be included. Twitter and Instagram do not support closed captions or subtitles, but Facebook and YouTube do. When possible, include a link to the video transcript in the social media post.
  • Ensure animated GIFs are sufficiently described in the social post text. GIFs offer a dynamic presentation of information in a more cost-effective format than video. They are also part of the modern digital landscape. In some cases, tweets with GIFs have generated six times more engagement than tweets with basic text updates, and are three times more likely to be retweeted than tweets with other images. However, they can be distracting or inaccessible to some users. Ensure you sufficiently describe animated content in the text and elements that blink or flash are in a safe threshold (avoid anything that flashes more than three times a second).
  • Convey all written information in an infographic or meme. Infographics and memes are an eye-catching and convenient way of communicating information that can often feel stale in other formats. However, text readers cannot read words that are part of an image. Social posts should contain either all text found within the image or a link to that information.

Counter to social media best practices; requires further discussion

  • Use emojis sparingly and avoid when they convey critical information. Although they are part of the language of social media, emojis can be problematic. Different screen settings and sizes may make emojis hard to see, and not all versions of screen readers can read them. Most importantly, they should not be used to convey critical information. Ensure users understand the full message by also including words to convey the meaning of the emojis.
  • Spell out acronyms. Spell out acronyms on first reference and include the acronym in parenthesis. While this can take up character space and feel clunky in a social media post, it allows a user to associate the sound of the acronym with the full name in subsequent references.

Accessibility Tips for Twitter

Easy to implement

  • Identify where hyperlinks are directing. Use [AUDIO] [PIC] [VIDEO] descriptions to help the user understand if the hyperlink will take them to something other than a website landing page.
  • Add alt text for retweeted images. Users cannot add alt text to an image they are retweeting. Explain the image in a comment with the retweet (quote tweet), add a Twitter thread for the alt text description, or ask for permission to add the image to an original tweet and use Twitter’s built-in alt text capability.

May require more preparation to implement

  • Add alt text for images. Twitter offers alt text capabilities (Twitter > Setting > Accessibility). Once alt text for images is enabled, tweets will include a new field for an image description. This works for Twitter’s native platform, but not all social media publishing tools include the capability (e.g., Hootsuite, Meltwater), which can make content scheduling more difficult. Tweetdeck and Buffer are two scheduling tools with alt text capabilities.

Counter to social media best practices; requires further discussion

  • Turn off auto-play video. When videos start playing automatically, it can be confusing for screen readers. Allow users to make the choice to play the video. (This setting is also available in Twitter > Setting > Accessibility).

Accessibility Tips for Facebook

Easy to implement

  • Add/edit alt text for images. Users can add alt text to their Facebook images before posting or allow Facebook to automatically add alt text to images (default). Users should review and edit the alt text automatically added by Facebook (editable on desktop but not mobile).
  • Plan extensively for Facebook Live. Facebook allows publishers to create and stream closed captions for their live videos. This requires a live captioner to provide closed captions during the live stream. Live captions are only available during the live stream (they do not save on the recording); therefore, users also need to caption the recorded video post-event. As an alternative, closed captioning is not necessary if a sign language interpreter is present for the live stream. When uploading the recorded video to Facebook, include a link to the video transcript as well. See additional Facebook Live accessibility tips.

Accessibility Tip for Instagram

Easy to implement

  • Convey the meaning of the image in the caption. Instagram does not offer alt text for images, so users should provide a detailed caption describing the posted image.

If you would like more information or have questions about accessibility for social media, please contact Westat’s Center for Digital Strategy & Research.

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