Social media is one of the cheapest, most effective ways for businesses to communicate online. It offers a direct channel to a global audience.

But what if your message isn’t reaching your disabled customers? Below are several small changes that you can make to their Twitter feed to be more accessible. Many of these best practice tweaks, like including closed captions, improve understanding for everyone and can be used to create a social media accessibility checklist for future Tweets.

To learn more about accessibility, take a look at our digital content accessibility training.

1. Add alt-text to images

Alt-text (also known as alt attributes or alt-descriptions) is copy that describes an image on a web page. If an image doesn’t load, it’s the alt-text description that displays instead.

Visually impaired and blind users rely on assistive technology like screen readers, or text to speech software, to read webpages out loud.

Why it matters

Not all users can see your images and screen readers cannot interpret them. Most screen readers will simply inform the user that there is an ‘image’ if no alt-text is supplied. Certain disabled people with cognitive impairments may find text easier to process than an image too.

How to add alt-text to your tweets

Twitter has made it possible for social media managers to add alt-text to images uploaded on their platform for a number of years. Before you start, make sure this feature is enabled in your settings profile.

Tip: Your descriptions don’t need to be cold or impersonal as if you’re talking to a robot. If you run a social media account with personality, be descriptive. Instead of saying “Dog in office with hat on” say “Our golden retriever office dog, Peter, wearing a baseball cap.”

Twitter’s guide to adding alt-text to images
How to write better alt-text image descriptions for accessibility

2. Add closed captions to videos

This may seem obvious if you’re a business who regularly creates and shares video content online. There are around 1.2 billion video views on Twitter every day.

But there are 466 million people worldwide living with hearing loss who are often excluded from the experience. When uploading video content anywhere online, include closed captions or subtitles to ensure everyone can enjoy it.

What’s the difference between closed captions and subtitles?

Though the terms ‘closed captions’ and ‘subtitles’ are used interchangeably, they’re different.

Subtitles offer a text alternative for dialogue in video content. It includes the voices of characters, interviewees, narrators and any other spoken word within the video.

Closed Captions provide a text alternative in the same way subtitles do but include detail about other relevant sounds within the video. They include background noises and non-vocal cues such as “car horn beeping” or “knock at the door”.

The difference between subtitles, captions and transcripts and how to use them for accessibility

Why it matters

According to Hootsuite, 85% of all Facebook videos are watched without sound on. And Twitter timeline uses autoplay with the sound muted. Both are marketing incentives to add subtitles to your video.

But, captions don’t only help deaf and hearing-impaired users. Multiple studies talk about the benefits subtitles offer in improving comprehension for everybody, including hearing persons. This extends to people with autism, ADHD, learning disabilities and foreign-language speakers.

Silent videos for social media (Hootsuite)

How to add closed captions to videos

There are several ways you can make your videos more accessible:

  • Embed subtitle text directly into the video before uploading.
  • Create a SubRip (.SRT) file using Notepad (for Windows) or TextEdit (for Mac) and upload to your video once uploaded to your Media Studio Library in Twitter.

Guide to adding captions to videos (Twitter).

Tip: if you’re uploading the same video to other channels, such as YouTube or Facebook, you can use the same SubRip (.srt) file.

Want to Retweet a video that someone’s shared but it doesn’t have captions?

Download the video yourself, re-upload it and add subtitles in before you post (making sure you cite the original author).

3. Avoid using emojis too often

When screen readers come across a piece of text with an emoji in, a description of that emoji is read aloud. Crying face. Crying face. Crying face. That includes emojis in usernames and Twitter handles.

While it seems relatable to use a bulk of emojis in your tweets, it creates a tedious experience for visually impaired and blind users.

Speak your audience’s language

If your Twitter following includes disabled people, then it’s important to consider that emoji-filled text may not be the best way to start a two-way conversation.

People with sight loss or impaired vision can struggle to use emojis because of their complex detail. It can be difficult to distinguish between colours, shading and the subtleties of what each emoji means. The interface to select emojis can also be difficult for visually impaired people to use.

In the video below, from Sense, you can see how voiceover technology describes your emojis.

4. Capitalise the first letter of each word in hashtags

Most people find it difficult to read long hashtags written in lower case. But they can be even more baffling for visually impaired and blind users who rely on assistive technology. This is because screen readers cannot distinguish between separate words when followed by a hashtag.

It means a hashtag like #gotthatfridayfeeling is read aloud as an entire word. When processed quickly by a screen reader, it sounds more like gibberish.

Fortunately, this can be resolved with a quick fix. If you capitalise the beginning of each word, this tells the screen reader to read out each word separately. Also known as Camel Case or Camel-Backing, this technique improves readability for all. It makes it easier for all users to understand what the author means.

Tip: As a general rule of thumb, the fewer hashtags the better. People using keyboard tags or other assistive technologies can find it difficult to navigate a bulk of hashtagged text.

5. Limit the amount you use GIFs on Twitter

GIFs are fun, but they’re processed by screen readers in the same way that normal images are. They are read aloud simply as ‘image’.

Again, it’s really important to add alt-text to your GIFS. Compose a tweet like you normally would, choose a GIF, and then click the ‘add a description’ link,  beneath the GIF.

6. Limit the amount you use acronyms and abbreviations

Acronyms like YOLO are not understood by most screen readers.

Short forms or abbreviations like ‘plz’ instead of please, ‘irl’ (in real life) are confusing once read aloud and sped up by screen readers.

7. Avoid Unicode characters

Unicode glyphs and characters include upside down, bold, italicised characters.

It’s that odd formatting you might recognise from people’s Twitter handles, Instagram names and bios to make them ‘stand out’. Screen readers will not distinguish between what has been italicised or made bold using Unicode formatting. Instead, they will ignore this text.

YouTuber Eric Bailey made this video to highlight how his screen reader dealt with trendy Twitter handles (typically, by ignoring them).

8. Share an infographic with a data table

Again, because infographics are shared typically as JPEGs or PDFs, screen readers cannot process them.

If you’re adding an infographic with complex information, it’s a good idea to link to a data table. This should contain the same information as in the infographic but will be accessible to screen reader users.

Related services

To learn more about accessibility, take a look at our digital content accessibility workshops:

Introduction to accessibility

Content accessibility training

Bespoke content accessibility training