Accessibility and social media: Adopting policies for all abilities

If you work in public health or any organization that receives government funding, you probably know about WCAG, the federally-mandated accessibility standards that every organization publishing content on the web needs to meet. But did you know that isn’t limited to your website? It includes anything you share with the public on social media, too.

Now that you know, you might be asking yourself if your social posts are ADA-friendly (that’s the Americans with Disabilities Act). Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Many organizations struggle to meet the needs of individuals with visual or hearing impairments. But there are a lot of good reasons to reach 100% compliance—and a lot of straightforward ways to make your public health marketing social media posts accessible for everyone.

Why social accessibility matters

Reason #1: Social media is information

According to Pew Research, nowadays more Americans turn to websites and social media for news than to newspapers. With so many people getting most of their information from the web, it’s our responsibility to make that information accessible to all. At KW2, we believe that serving the public means getting the word out to everyone about important public health issues, no matter their abilities. Everyone has a right to public health communications that can impact their quality of life. Forward-thinking organizations pride themselves on building websites that meet and even exceed ADA and WGAC requirements—and your approach to social media should be no different.

Reason #2: It’s the law

Compliance is absolutely the right thing to do. But it is also the law. And if Beyoncé can be sued for non-compliance, so can you. As long as judges view the Internet as a “public space,” they’re likely to rule in favor of those who take their complaints about inaccessible sites and social media communications to the courts. Just consider these 3 facts while you calculate your organization’s legal vulnerabilities:

  • The Plain Writing Act of 2010 says that all publicly distributed content should be written in a “clear, concise, well-organized” manner. Social media falls under that umbrella.
  • Social media is part of electronic and information technology, so it falls under areas that must comply with Section 508 accessibility. 
  • When the ADA was passed in 1990, there was no Facebook or Twitter. These regulations are only going to get more specific and clearer as time goes on, and social media and the internet are clearly here to stay. 

How to make your posts accessible

Ready to make sure everything you’re tweeting, uploading and posting is accessible to people who are visually or hearing impaired? Let’s talk about how to make posts accessible.

Step #1: Use alt text the right way

The most important skill when it comes to creating accessible social posts? Understanding alternative text, or alt text for short. It’s a written description of an image or infographic that screen reading software reads aloud to people who are visually impaired. Think of it as the visual version of closed captioning. Without it, every image on the web would be 100% invisible for millions of Americans. That’s why it’s best to use decorative images for added emphasis, and not as the main source of information in a post. 

Not sure about the difference between informative and decorative images? There’s a great article from the University of Washington that can help. And Penn State’s guide to writing accurate, concise descriptions is worth checking out, too.

Other rules to post by:

Use “camel case” to help screen readers pronounce hashtags and URLs correctly. (What’s the difference? #KW2Madison sounds like “Kay-Double-You-Two-Madison” while #kw2madison sounds like “Kwtwomadison.” (Try pronouncing that aloud!)

  1. Use the text area for text, and the picture area for decorative pictures.
  2. Always put hashtags and @mentions at the end of the post.
  3. For videos, use the additional audio track to describe what’s happening on screen.
  4. Sharing a webinar or casting on Facebook Live? Keep your audience with visual impairments in mind. Always describe the key information and images on your presentation slides. And remember to set the stage during your on-camera moments, like this:
“I’m here at the Capitol building with two other panelists, standing on a huge stage in front of a crowd of about 120 people. We’re so glad you joined our webcast today!” 

On Facebook

Unfortunately, as of 11/2019 Facebook doesn’t offer any way to add alternative text to images. So you’ll have to use your description area as the caption; don’t rely on an image to tell the story. (As of 11/2019, you can’t make images accessible using Hootsuite, either).

Here’s a quick checklist for ADA-friendly posts on Facebook:

Using imagery to tell your story?
  • Rewrite any text from your image in the post area
  • Ask yourself – if I don’t look at the image, do I still get the gist of this post?
Posting a video? 
  • Post the video on YouTube or Vimeofirst, and use that service’s Closed Captioning. 
  • Then, when you share the link onto Facebook, you can describe any content in your caption/post that is only shown.
  • Does your video feature long periods where narrative is written in text, rather than said aloud? Consider adding an audio track to make this video accessible to those with visual impairments. Or, put that part of your script into the post text.

On Twitter

Make your image-based posts accessible by setting image descriptions.

Enable the composition of image descriptions from twitter.com
  • Click on the more icon and select Settings and privacy from the dropdown (or press the “g” key quickly, followed by the “s” key).
  • Click Accessibility from the list of settings.
  • Find the Compose image descriptions checkbox.
  • Check the box to turn the setting on or off.
Add image descriptions in Tweets from twitter.com
  • Click on the Tweet compose button or press the “n” key to use the keyboard shortcut.
  • Attach your photo(s). Note: For detailed instructions about adding photos to your Tweets, read this article.
  • To insert descriptive text, click Add description.
  • Type your description of the image and click the Done button. To edit the description, re-open the Add description dialog prior to posting the Tweet. (The limit is 420 characters.)
  • You can add a description to each image in a Tweet. Note: Image descriptions cannot be added to GIFs or videos.
  • Visit the Twitter Help Center to learn more.

On Instagram

You can add alt text directly to any new post you create. This is particularly important on Instagram because the majority of its content is image-based, and the captions are usually used for color commentary. 

  • Tap on the Advanced Settings option on the upload screen. It’s tiny and at the bottom of the page.
  • Then tap Write Alt Text to get to the screen where you’ll write Alt Text.
  • Compose! Remember, those using a screen reader can already hear your caption being read aloud. So make sure the Alt Text says something different and enhances their experience of your post. If you couldn’t see the image, what would you want to know about it? Is it important that the person’s shirt is blue, or is it important that this is two people laughing together in a café? Use the context that adds meaning to the image, not just details.
  • Hit Save and your Alt Text will be added to your post when you upload it.

On LinkedIn

To add alt text to LinkedIn images, you have to be using a desktop/laptop device. This feature is not yet available in the LinkedIn app.

  • In Start a post at the top of your LinkedIn timeline, select the image icon
  • Select the image you want to add
  • Once the image displays, select Add description
  • Add your descriptive text in the Alternative Text box. You have 120 characters to describe your image.
  • Click Save in the Alternative Text box.

Step #2: Adopt an accessibility policy

Establish an organization-wide social media accessibility policy to ensure your internal stakeholders and content creators are all on the same page. To get started, ask yourself:

  1. Will you remove your previously published posts? Update them? Or simply adopt accessible practices moving forward?
  2. Will you include alt text for all post images? If not, who determines which posts are important enough to need it?

Once you have clear policies in place, add your new rules to your existing editorial style guide. You might even consider creating an accessibility cheat sheet for your team.

Step #3: Stay up to date

Social media tools evolve and standards can change frequently. We recommend checking out Digital.gov’s Federal Social Media Accessibility Toolkit every 6 months. It’s updated regularly and contains key information for government and other public agencies.

Now tell us about your accessibility challenges

There are 100,000 people who are blind or visually impaired living in Wisconsin right now. People can’t see the images in our posts, or the visuals in our videos. They rely on screen readers to make sense of the content. And those who are hearing impaired can’t rely on a soundtrack to understand what’s happening in video or audio formats.

As we share more and more information about public health and public health campaigns on social media channels, it’s important to make sure that content is accessible to all. So check out your posts, start working on an internal policy and let us know: how have you changed your social media process to be more accessible? Share your tips for achieving 100% accessibility or tell us about the digital topics your communications team wants to tackle next. We want to know. Email me to get in touch.