Social Media and Accessibility

Crafting More Inclusive Social Experiences: Tools & Techniques

In today’s interconnected landscape, social media has become a digital public square, where people share ideas, seek support, sell their handmade goods, sing songs or recite poetry, dance and perform for friends and strangers, and build community. Social media platforms have become a cornerstone of modern communication, stringing together the smallest threads of conversation and communication to form an expansive web of conversation-based connections and shared information. However, inaccessible content can unfairly exclude users with disabilities, blocking their ability to participate and engage. By prioritizing accessibility features and implementing best practices to support accessibility, social media platforms and content creators can empower users with disabilities and cultivate a more inclusive online environment.


Accessible social platforms and media integrate technology and adapt content for users with varying abilities. They incorporate features such as screen readers, alternative text descriptions, and adjustable display settings, facilitating an environment where all users can equally participate and contribute. In this way, they also build and improve user engagement and experience for everyone. Since that engagement is their stock in trade, it is in their best interest to do so. And yet, not everyone takes full advantage of the many benefits that offering accessibility can bring to them.

Web & Digital Accessibility: Inclusion Everywhere

Making sure websites and online applications are accessible to everyone is not just a technical requirement, but a fundamental tenet of inclusion and equality. Web accessibility refers to the design and development of digital products and services that can be readily used by individuals with disabilities, in a way that is equal or equivalent to all other users. This encompasses a wide range of considerations, from incorporating screen reader compatibility for visually impaired users to providing clear and concise language for those with cognitive impairments. When digital products are accessible, they empower users with disabilities to participate fully in the online world. This includes engaging in e-commerce, accessing educational resources, and connecting with others on social media platforms.

Social media thrives on the ability to connect and share. When online platforms are inaccessible, they inadvertently exclude a significant portion of the population. By prioritizing web accessibility, we can help build a more inclusive digital environment where everyone can participate. Social media should be a place where everyone can connect to their own circles and beyond, enjoy sharing everything from their art and cooking creations to photos of pets and hilarious memes, engage in discussions freely on all topics, and stay in touch with loved ones around the world. When all of those ways of reaching out are truly available to everyone, that's web accessibility in action.

Common Accessibility Barriers In Social Media, And How To Break Them Down

Obstacles to accessibility can come in many forms. Depending on the disability, it may be quite simple to solve these issues, but that doesn’t mean skipping steps is a viable option. Remember, accessibility is the right thing to do. It’s also the law in most countries around the world, and that law more than likely applies to your platform and content.

Videos or live broadcasts without captions

Who Is Locked Out?
Users who are Deaf or hard-of-hearing

Solving The Issues
Integrating closed captioning and providing transcripts are effective solutions.

They Get It
Many social media platforms, including YouTube, TikTok, Facebook, and Instagram, offer automatic and user-enabled captioning to improve accessibility.

Missing alt text on images

Who Is Locked Out?
Users who are blind or who have visual impairments

Solving The Issues
Adding in a brief, clear and relevant text description that fits the image solves the problem.

They Get It
Facebook and Instagram utilize automatic alt text generated through object recognition. LinkedIn may also automatically add alt text. However, these descriptions are often basic and lack important details. It's always best to write your own alt text.

Low color contrast between text and background

Who Is Locked Out?
Users with low vision or color blindness

Solving The Issues
If you’re the content creator, set your color palette so that text doesn’t sit on a background that’s too close in color. For platforms, offering a high-contrast mode setting for users is a good option.

They Get It
X, formerly Twitter, has an accessibility menu with a high contrast mode. However, this may apply to text-only content, leaving text set over images as a problem.

Complex interfaces

Who Is Locked Out?
Users with cognitive disabilities or learning differences

Solving The Issues
For platforms, simplicity is key. Content creators may not have the option to tinker with interfaces.

They Get It
TikTok's focus on short videos translates to a clean interface with intuitive swiping for browsing content.

Overwhelming amounts of information (TL;DR)

Who Is Locked Out?
Users with cognitive disabilities, neurodevelopmental disorders, or learning differences

Solving The Issues
If you’re a content creator, remember that less is more. Cut down on the quantity, boost the quality. That will work for you too.

They Get It
Short-form video media is today’s hottest product, and it is offered by multiple platforms. Short text content is usually up to individuals to provide.

Keyboard navigation not enabled

Who Is Locked Out?
Users with physical disabilities or visual impairments

Solving The Issues
Platforms have a responsibility to offer reliable keyboard navigation. In most cases, this is not something that social media content creators can choose to do.

They Get It
Unfortunately, not all social media platforms offer reliable keyboard navigation. While many platforms offer some shortcuts, consistent and user-friendly keyboard navigation can be lacking.

Overly technical or unclear language

Who Is Locked Out?
Users with cognitive disabilities or learning differences

Solving The Issues
Write clearly, simply, and in the most direct language you can. Avoid jargon and too much slang.

They Get It
This is a problem or solution owned by content creators, not platforms. While some get it, some don’t and won’t.

Barriers like these can significantly diminish the quality of interaction and restrict community involvement on platforms such as Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter. Users who encounter these obstacles often experience frustration, leading to reduced engagement and participation. These obstacles to accessibility on social media not only affect individual user experience but also limit the reach and effectiveness of content, stifle the diversity of community voices, and undermine the social and economic potential of social media for all users.

Accessibility Compliance Responsibilities

Social media platforms and content creators have a profound responsibility to offer accessible features, fulfilling legal, moral, civic, and societal duties. Legally, adherence to guidelines like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is often required. WCAG provides a framework for making web content more accessible to people with disabilities, encompassing practices such as providing text alternatives and ensuring ease of navigation.

Beyond legal requirements, social media platforms have a moral and societal responsibility to be inclusive. By prioritizing accessibility, social media platforms can make sure everyone has a place in the vast digital town square.

Creating Accessible Content: Simple Language for Everyone

Clear and simple language benefits everyone, not just users with cognitive disabilities, by making information easier to understand and navigate. Shorter sentences, avoidance of jargon, and the use of common words reduce cognitive load and improve comprehension for all users. This can also enhance user experience and engagement for a wider audience. And, businesses that prioritize clear communication are more likely to be understood by a broader customer base, potentially increasing brand loyalty and sales.

Social Media Accessibility Initiatives Across Platforms

Platforms like TikTok and YouTube have strengthened their automated video captioning systems to improve accuracy and reduce latency. These advancements offer a more seamless experience for users with hearing disabilities. To further improve, these platforms could invest in more advanced AI that better understands dialects and accents.

Facebook and Instagram have introduced voice navigation capabilities to assist users with physical disabilities in navigating their interfaces more easily. This is a significant leap from traditional text-based navigation. Improvements could include refining voice recognition software to better understand varied speech patterns.

Twitter (X) has recently updated its customizable display settings, allowing users to adjust text size and contrast more finely. This is an improvement that helps not just those with low vision but also users with cognitive disabilities who benefit from less visual clutter. Future enhancements could include more personalized settings that adapt to individual user preferences automatically.

LinkedIn has implemented more robust image description tools, which automatically generate descriptive alt texts for images posted on the platform. While this is a valuable feature for users with visual impairments, the quality of auto-generated texts can be improved by using more sophisticated image recognition technology.

Website Accessibility Checkers: Evaluating Social Media Content

Website accessibility checkers are automated tools that scan webpages and identify potential accessibility barriers. These tools typically employ a combination of automated testing and manual review. While primarily designed for websites, they can be used to evaluate the accessibility of social media content shared on platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Features like color contrast analysis, text size evaluation, and keyboard navigation testing can help identify issues that may act as accessibility blockers for users with visual impairments or mobility limitations. Accessibility checkers can also check for missing alt text descriptions and identify complex language.

3 Management Tips: Building an Inclusive Social Media Strategy

Social media managers can champion accessibility by integrating considerations into their content planning and publishing routines. Here's a basic outline for building an accessible social media strategy:

  1. Team Training
    Train all team members involved in social media content creation and management on accessibility best practices and relevant tools. This equips them to create inclusive content from the start.
  2. Content Creation
    Utilize clear and concise language, add alt text descriptions to images, and leverage automatic captioning features for videos whenever possible.
  3. Regular Reviews
    Incorporate accessibility checks into the content review process. There are free and paid accessibility checker tools available online, some with social media specific functionalities.

By following these steps, social media teams can ensure their content reaches a wider audience and supports the diverse needs of a more inclusive online community.

Moving Forward: Social Media Accessibility in Action

Major social media platforms are continuously developing features to improve accessibility. Here are a few examples:

Automatic Alternative Text (Alt Text) Generation: Platforms like Facebook and Instagram are piloting automatic alt text generation for images. This can provide basic descriptions for content creators to edit and improve upon, increasing the speed and ease of adding alt text.

Advanced Keyboard Navigation: Several platforms are enhancing keyboard navigation features, allowing users to navigate menus and content using only a keyboard. This is a significant improvement for users who rely on assistive technologies for screen navigation.

Live Audio Description Tools: Platforms like Twitter are testing live audio description tools for live-streamed events. This provides real-time narration of visual elements, improving accessibility for blind and visually impaired users.

Content Moderation with Accessibility Focus: Social media platforms are expanding accessibility considerations within content moderation practices. This aims to ensure that accessibility features are not inadvertently flagged or disabled during content review processes.

While these advancements represent progress, there's still room for improvement. Further development of automatic alt text generation for greater accuracy and expanding live audio description features across more platforms would be beneficial. Additionally, increased transparency regarding accessibility efforts and clear communication around new accessibility features would benefit users with disabilities.

Real-World Examples of Accessible Social Media Campaigns

Several social media campaigns have demonstrated a commitment to accessibility. For instance, a recent mental health awareness campaign on TikTok utilized clear captions and incorporated sign language interpreters within the videos themselves. This ensured the message reached a wide audience, including users who are deaf or hard of hearing. We’ve heard rumors of a popular science channel on YouTube that consistently provides closed captions and detailed video descriptions, making their educational content accessible to a broader audience with diverse learning needs. However, this may be a myth, because to the best of our knowledge, YouTube does not offer a native audio description function at this time. A limited beta test occurred in 2021, but wider availability has not been announced. Third-party plugins can be purchased to add audio description functionality to YouTube videos when they are embedded on other websites. Perhaps we’ll chase down this legendary YouTube channel one of these days. Or perhaps it will become a reality, even if it wasn’t one before.

Future Accessibility Forward: Social Media Leads The Way

In today's interconnected world, social media platforms serve as vibrant online communities, sharing connections and knowledge across borders. However, inaccessible content creates barriers, hindering participation for users with disabilities. By prioritizing accessibility features and inclusive design practices, social media platforms can empower all users to engage and contribute. 

Accessibility in social media content creation has a major positive impact. By embracing best practices, social media platforms and content creators can cultivate inclusive online spaces that empower everyone to connect and participate. This not only strengthens online communities but creates a more inclusive digital landscape, benefiting everyone from a business perspective as well. Expanding accessibility opens doors to a wider audience, fosters brand loyalty, and strengthens communication efforts. Ultimately, spotlighting accessibility and putting it first in the development of social media content, features and platforms contributes to a more inclusive digital world, where everyone can connect and participate.


What are alternative texts, and how do they improve social media usability?

Alternative texts, or alt texts, are concise descriptions of images used on social media. They help screen-reading tools describe images to visually impaired users, enhancing usability and inclusivity.

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