Ensuring Social Media Accessibility

Pralhad Gairapipli

“I am hurt every time I receive an email in a pdf* format or an image. The screen-reading tool I use will not be able to read this. I need someone to read that to me, which can be disgusting,” said Sujit Gurung, a person with visual impairment.

Gurung stated that while using Facebook, the captions of all pictures do not adequately describe the picture and auto-generated texts are also insufficient to understand the picture. Social media has now become part of our everyday lives. As social media use increases, both personally and professionally, it’s important to ensure that your friends and followers can access content in different ways.

Accessibility is not just physical; like access to public buildings or workplaces or roads. It is also important to ensure that the messages you share on social media are likely to reach everyone. With millions of people using social networking channels worldwide, it is vital to consider accessibility online.

Fastest Growing
Social media is the fastest-growing marketing tool, allowing people to promote their businesses, disseminate public service messages and connect with friends and clients in a short time. But how can you make this accessible to all? To ensure that everyone can access your information, bake in accessibility. Adding captions to your videos or adding sign language interpretation makes it accessible for many more people.

In addition, short sentences accompanied with pictures and illustrations, called ‘easy reading’ format; help make the content welcoming for people with learning and memory difficulties. Easy read is information written using simple words and short sentences. This is supported by images that refer to the meaning of the sentences. It can be useful for other people too, for example, people with low literacy levels, people recovering from a stroke, or living with dementia will find the content more inviting.

Article 9 of the United Nation’s Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) gives us a guide. It states that- “People with disabilities have the right to participate in all aspects of society on an equal basis with others. That includes accessing the physical environment, transportation, information and communications, and other facilities and services provided to the public.” As of date, this has been ratified by 182 countries and is legally binding for those, including Nepal. The convention recognizes the importance of accessibility to information and communication and states that information in accessible formats has to be provided as a reasonable accommodation.

Globally, social media use is growing every day – even more so since the COVID-19 pandemic. Making your social media posts accessible is the right thing to do to be more inclusive to the people with accessibility needs. But what are the other benefits? Firstly, you will reach a wider audience. People with disabilities often represent the largest untapped audience in the world. Secondly, being known for a commitment to accessibility is good for any organization or business. Audiences are increasingly favouring values-led brands, especially those that genuinely commit to diversity and inclusion.

Accessibility is essential for connecting with your full potential audience. More than one billion people live with some form of disability – 15% of the worldwide population. Those numbers skyrocket when you include temporary and situational disabilities. In essence, non-inclusive content separates a large segment of the global population. Simply put: Accessibility adds value.

What does it mean to be accessible?
Don’t forget that not all of your social media followers will require the same level of access to technology. For instance, those with visual impairments may use screen readers. Deaf or hard-of-hearing people may need to use sign language. Some people may have learning, reading, or sensory needs.

Online engagement is more fun when everyone can participate. Due to the open nature and accessibility of social media, people are also using it as a means of therapy, or as a way to discuss subjects that are stigmatised, such as mental health. Through social media, a more equal and open society can be developed.
You can easily make your social content easier to access for people who are blind, deaf or have an intellectual disability by doing some easy things.

When uploading images to Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram, remember to add ALT TEXT. This provides a basic, written description for each image. This will be read out to people using screen-reading technology.
Screen readers may not be able to read memes or gifs. In your post text, provide a description that conveys meaning. Plain text is best.
Remember to use the first letter of each word is capitalised, and it makes hashtags much #EasierToRead for people using screen readers.

The use of captions is preferable to subtitles, since captions describe all speech and sound, including background noise and music, ensuring full access to all video content. These days, a lot of social media users watch videos with the sound off.
It may be more convenient for those with screen readers to view transcripts of videos than captions. For those who are short on time and would like to skip to the most important information, transcripts are also very useful.

Stories, such as Facebook or Instagram stories, are very popular on social media. Please be aware that text and images on stories won’t be read by screen readers.
As technology and social media advance, accessibility for people with disabilities is gaining ground. A caption on your social media and website can help ensure accessibility for the Deaf community. Content that has captions tends to be more engaging than content without captions. Whether you’re creating content for your personal or professional use, accessibility is key.

As a result, you will be inclusive, welcoming, and considerate of people who use different methods to access information. Use the practical tips and advice above to make your content accessible and inclusive, so more of your followers will enjoy it.

(Gairapipli works for Handicap International as a Regional Communications Officer, covering India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka)

-Friday Supplement of The Rising Nepal

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