Social media is something that I never really thought of as being exclusive, but it is. Unfortunately, a tweet or post is not experienced in the same manner for everyone.
About 11% of Illinois’ population has a disability, according to the Disability Statistics Compendium. But social media and technology have not advanced to make complete accessibility for people with disabilities automatic.
After attending a great panel discussion on access and social media at the Nonprofit Technology Network’s 2015 conference in San Jose, I came back to the Trust ready to re-evaluate our practices.
Presented by BJ Wishinsky from Benetech and Chad Leaman from the Neil Squire Society, the session was titled “Accessibility Rocks.” With Mark Fisher from the American Heart Association sitting next to me in the audience, we both found ourselves inspired to rethink our social media habits. Fisher, a change agent working with AHA’s social channels, was a patient guide in answering all my questions and offering sound advice.
Here are three ideas I took away that everyone can do right now to be more inclusive:
1. Include closed captions on all your videos.
All videos you share should be closed-captioned. If you post a video without captions to Facebook, it’s difficult to go back and embed them—so do it before you post. YouTube can automatically generate captions, which you can review and improve before you publish.
There are also companies like rev.com that can transcribe for you. You upload your video file, or provide them a link to your video, and they create a caption file for you to add to the video before you share it.
Update: Facebook USA is now generating automatic captions for videos. As a page admin, when you upload a video, you’ll see a button in the video editor labeled “generate” to instantly create captions. Facebook allows you to review and approve their suggested captioning before publishing to your page.
However, something will inevitably come up on social media that isn’t completely accessible—for example, at the time of writing, Facebook Live cannot produce captions in real time.
In these cases, you should acknowledge the limitation and provide a second option that is accessible. In the example of Facebook Live, plan to post a captioned version of the video as soon as possible after the live broadcast, and be sure to mention that it’s coming during the live video and in your description.
2. Use CamelCase for hashtags.
In order for a screen reader to read your hashtag out loud correctly, you must use camel caps: capitalizing the first letter of each word you string together. #WeLearnedThisTheHardWay. All our printed material promoting the On the Table initiative included the hashtag #onthetable—and then we found out how it sounded when a screen reader tried to pronounce it as a single word. We had to stop and update all our collateral just before printing with the corrected hashtag, #OnTheTable.
3. Provide image descriptions.
If you add a photo to your Facebook post, include a narrative caption of what is going on so someone who can’t see the photo can experience it. Yes, Facebook has automatic image description, but the technology is not very accurate. It can’t get as specific as “A mother and two kids kayaking on Lake Michigan,” for example, and might instead write “Three people by water.” On Twitter, the newest app update allows you to turn on an image description feature. Every time you tweet a photo, you’ll be prompted to provide a description, which has a separate character count.
Becoming more fully accessible is definitely a work in progress for us at the Trust, but there are easy ways that every organization can create a more inclusive social media community.
Find more ideas for making your organization’s communications fully accessible in Chapter 6 of Renewing the Commitment: An ADA Compliance Guide for Nonprofits.
-Updated in April 2017 to include new information about Facebook’s captioning capabilities.