The How-Tos of Digital Accessibility (Alexa Heinrich)

Alexa Heinrich

What does digital accessibility mean?

Digital accessibility means making sure that you’re creating and delivering content that everyone can access, understand, and enjoy no matter the status of their physical or cognitive abilities. This includes users with hearing and/or vision disabilities.

Why is it important for your social media content to be accessible?

Inclusion should always be a top priority when you create content. A huge portion of the global population has a serious sensory impairment. Accessibility helps ensure that you’re not excluding anyone from the conversation because of their disability. Digital marketers and content creators should also keep in mind that not every disability is visible or permanent. Many people also don’t disclose their disabilities, so you shouldn’t assume that accessibility concerns don’t apply to your content or your audience.

What are some ways to create accessible content on social media?

There are lots of basic ways to create accessible content!

  • Put compound hashtags in #CamelCase so they’re read correctly by screen readers.
  • Use emoji in moderation and put them at the end of posts and tweets.
  • Avoid using alternative characters or ASCII art.
  • Add alternative text to images.
  • Caption your videos.

What’s #CamelCase?

#CamelCase means to capitalize the first letter of each word in compound hashtags–for example, writing #SocialMediaRocks instead of #socialmediarocks. The capital letters help assistive devices denote the separate words, allowing them to pronounce compound hashtags correctly and not as one amalgamated word. You’ll sometimes see people call this formatting #PascalCase or #TitleCase as well.

What are some ways to use emoji in content so they don’t cause accessibility issues?

I always suggest that you place emoji at the end of posts and tweets to avoid making your written content confusing. Each icon has a unique description assigned to it and assistive devices and programs will read that description to a user. So basically, if you were to type, “Hi :wave:t2: my name is Alexa,” a screen reader would translate it as, “Hi Waving Hand: Light Skin Tone my name is Alexa.” This also means you probably shouldn’t use emoji as bullet points.

A super helpful website for learning about the different descriptions and appearances of emojis across devices, platforms, and browsers is Emojipedia.

What are alternative characters and why are they bad for accessibility?

Alternative characters are fonts that are generated on external websites and then copied and pasted into social media posts. Content creators have started using alternative characters to make their copy appear in different weights, styles, and fonts. Unfortunately, many assistive devices cannot decipher alternative characters and will either skip over them or translate into indistinguishable noises.

Using alternative characters can also negatively impact the engagement and searchability of your content if a platform doesn’t recognize them as readable characters. Content creators should only use the default fonts and formatting options readily available on the platforms.

Why is using ASCII art in content a bad idea?

ASCII Art—a form of design that uses numbers, letters, punctuation marks, and other characters to create illustrative memes—is not accessible for screen reader users. Assistive devices are programmed to read characters and punctuation marks as they were originally intended. They cannot properly discern when characters are used to create illustrations, so instead of hearing a description of the art you’ve created, someone would just hear a bunch of random characters and punctuation marks read aloud.

What’s alternative text? What makes for good alternative text?

Alternative text (also known as alt text) is a physical summary of key visual elements in an image that an assistive device or program uses to accurately describe the image to a user. Writing alt text is a completely subjective exercise, but you should focus on describing the key physical details in your images, especially if they’re contextually important or complement the written part of your post or tweet.

If your image features flattened copy (embedded text that can’t be copied or clicked), it’s super important that you include that copy in your alt text, otherwise a screen reader won’t be able to read it. (That’s one of the many reasons event flyers and similar graphics don’t belong on social media!) Even if your graphic repeats the copy from the written part of your post or tweet, you need to write alt text that indicates that, otherwise screen reader users could be left wondering what your image was.

Other tips for writing effective alt text:

  • Write in plain language so your alt text can be easily understood by a variety of users.
  • Focus on accuracy, not length. Alt text length is always going to vary, so just focus on writing accurate descriptions.
  • Consider positional or directional information. From what angle is someone viewing your image? Are they only seeing a partial view of something?
  • Exclude writing “picture of” or “image of” in your alt text. That’s repetitive info that a screen reader will more than likely already say.
  • Use proper nouns and names when appropriate. If a well-known person, place, or thing is in your image and it adds context to your content, go ahead and name it.
  • Don’t feel like you need to describe everything. If something in the image is significant to understanding the whole picture or post, describe it. Focus on describing details that are contextually important to your entire post.
  • Use extra identifiers for people when needed. If the race, gender, ethnicity, or another identifier for a person is relevant to the overall context of the image, feel free to add it.
  • Avoid acronyms if possible. Screen readers don’t always say them correctly.

What platforms allow you to write alt text for uploaded images?

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pinterest all allow you to manually write custom alt text for new posts. Custom alt text is preferred to AI-generated alt text, which is usually vague and not descriptive enough to be considered accessible.

What’s the difference between closed and open captions?

Captions come in two forms: closed and open.

Closed captioning can be toggled on and off based on the preferences of the viewer and is typically an option on platforms like Netflix and YouTube.

Open captioning, on the other hand, is permanently burned onto a video and always visible. Open captions are usually seen on apps like TikTok and Instagram where closed captioning isn’t readily available for all users or features yet.

Are there any apps or programs you recommend for adding captions to videos?

I usually use YouTube for closed captioning, and it’s nice because anyone can have a YouTube channel. I upload my video as unlisted, let YouTube auto-caption it, edit those auto-captions so they’re accurate, and then make the video public. Boom, done! You can also download an SRT file of your captions from YouTube and upload it directly to Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

For open captions I use the app MixCaptions, but other apps I’d recommend are Clipomatic, AutoCap, Kapwing, Clips, or Threads.

Alexa Heinrich @AlexaHeinrich
Alexa Heinrich is an award-winning social media manager in Central Florida and the creator of the websites Accessible Social and Social Media Tea. She is a passionate advocate for digital accessibility.


Check out this interview with Alexa