Instagram, in an effort to make its platform more accessible to the more than 285 million people in the world with visual disabilities finally joined Twitter and Facebook in allowing users to add “alt text” to images, so that visually impaired users can better understand images on the screen.
Moreover, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s consistent use of video captioning on her Instagram Stories during her campaign helped popularize the feature. Her dedicated use of captioning gave her two million Instagram followers a more accessible behind-the-scenes look at the 116th Congress of the United States.
In 2019 we hope to see more of this. Celebrities, influencers, and regular users alike can all contribute to making social media more accessible. Here are nine best practices for how to make your social media accessibility friendly.
1. Include image descriptions.
Why image descriptions? So that screen-readers can describe an image for an individual who is blind. It seems intimidating but it’s actually quite simple and takes less than a minute. All you need to do is write out what you see in the image. Twitter makes it easy to write and add image descriptions. Facebook has the option to edit and add alternative text to its automatically-generated (albeit very simple) image descriptions. (It is, however, better to include your image description in your main post due to issues with the alt text not working on different screen readers.)
Last November, Instagram announced its own image description feature. In addition to allowing users the option to manually type in an “alt text” image description (easily found by clicking “advanced settings” when you go to write a post), Instagram also rolled out its own automated image descriptions. The feature works using object recognition technology to automatically generate a description of photos and images for screen readers. It remains to be seen if Instagram’s object recognition software will have unintended repercussions, as Google’s did. The technology is fairly rudimentary and could be affected by the bias of its programmers. Thus, users should keep in mind that it’s much better to write out the alt text description yourself rather than rely on automatic description, especially with Facebook.
And don’t forget to write image descriptions for your tweets featuring screengrabs! Even though a tweet might be written out, a screen reader won’t pick it up unless you add in the text yourself.
2. Make sure your video content has open or closed captioning.
Open captioning of videos has become more common on social media because it allows all users to play videos on silent mode without bothering those around them. However, including open or closed captioning is essential for people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, as it gives them access to the information provided in the video. You can even caption your Instagram Stories with handy apps such as Clipomatic, which is exactly what Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has started to do!
On Facebook, you can insert your captions manually on your own, or through private companies that will provide them for both regular and live videos. If you manage a Facebook business page you can click on the “Subtitles & Captions” button to automatically generate captioning. Note: The captioning Facebook provides is far from precise — be sure to review it closely to make sure it’s accurate. Voice recognition software still has difficulty picking up regional accents and poor enunciation. Auto-captioning can often translate into gibberish.
3. Write your hashtags in camelcase.
Sometimes an all-caps hashtag might look nice, but in reality it’s very difficult to read. #WriteYourHashtagsLikeThis instead of #WRITINGYOURHASHTAGSLIKETHIS. Not only does this make it easier for all users to differentiate words, it also assists automated screen readers in reading the hashtag for those with visual or reading disabilities.
4. Use emojis sparingly.
“Scream. Scream. Scream. Scream. Scream.” A screen reader is set up to automatically read emojis out loud. One red heart isn’t terrible, but having to hear “red heart” repeated 10 times in a row takes a long time and might get tiresome!
5. Avoid ableist language like “I stand with” and “insane/crazy.”
Avoiding ableist language is about respecting people and communities with disabilities — both visible and invisible — and understanding that words have meaning and history behind them. It might seem harmless to say “I stand with XYZ,” but try “support” instead. Don’t alienate the millions of people who aren’table to stand. Using words such as “crazy” and “insane” to indicate something negative can further stigmatize individuals with psychiatric disabilities. Try to use more precise language for the feelings and issues you are addressing. Try, “That behavior is wild” instead of “crazy.” And instead of using “able-bodied” to describe an individual or ally who isn’t disabled, use “non-disabled.” “Able-bodied” implies that a disabled person is not able or somehow broken.
It’s always better to err on the side of inclusivity when writing your captions!
6. Remember that disability representation matters.
Representation isn’t just important in movies and on TV — it’s also what we’re seeing everyday on social media. If you’re a social media manager looking for an image, consider using a photo or artwork that includes disabled people. If you can, hire disabled photographers and artists who can best portray what it means to have a disability.
7. Follow and uplift disability activists, writers, and artists.
Disabled people are a part of every single community in the world. In the U.S., one in four people has a disability. There’s no shortage of brilliant disabled people across social media platforms, so share their stories.
8. Avoid sharing or creating inspiration porn.
“Inspiration porn” is portraying disabled people as being inspirational solely because of their disability. There are three basic questions to ask before sharing a story about a disabled person. 1) Did the disabled person tell their own story, or was it told by others? 2) Who was the video, image or article targeted to? 3) Is the thesis of the video, image, or article saying, “If they can overcome it, why can’t you?” Inspiration porn objectifies and dehumanizes disabled people.
9. Create trigger warnings.
Trigger warnings — such as the word “TRIGGER WARNING” in all caps or its abbreviation, “TW” — followed by a space between it and your post, tell an individual if there will be sensitive topics addressed in the sentences, paragraphs, articles, and/or videos. You never know the history of others who are reading your posts, and so you might consider warning for things like assault, violence, blood, or any number of other sensitive topics. Up to 70 percent of adults in the U.S. alone have experienced some sort of trauma, and an estimated 5 percent are diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. With so much violence shared on social media, trigger warnings allow individuals to decide whether they want to interact with posts that could cause emotional or physical distress.