Accessible social media guide: Instagram
Instagram is one of the most popular social media platforms for businesses and consumers. With over a billion users in 2021, it makes sense for Instagram to be part of your marketing strategy.
But what if your content is not accessible to the 1 in five disabled people in the UK? You could be missing out on 20% of your audience.
Find out what changes you can make to your posts with our Instagram accessibility best practice guidelines. And create a checklist for your future social media posts to make them more accessible.
Add alt-text to images you upload
Alt-text is something we often talk about in the accessibility community. But that’s because it’s so important.
Alt-text (alternative text) is a written description of an image. For screen reader users, alt-text is essential. This written description is read out loud every time the assistive technology comes across an image.
Why it matters
Not everyone using Instagram can see your images. Alt-text makes them accessible.
Like Facebook, Instagram uses artificial intelligence to generate automatic alt-text descriptions every time you upload an image. But AI-generated descriptions are often inaccurate. It’s important to add your own alt-text so that your images make sense to screen reader users.
How to add alt-text to images on Instagram
You can add alt-text to images you post on your feed, but not your stories.
Upload your photo to Instagram as you normally would. In the ‘Compose’ screen, before you hit publish:
- go to ‘Advanced Settings’
- scroll down to ‘Accessibility’
- select ‘Write Alt-text’
- Write your alt text description in the box and tap ‘Done’
- Go back to the ‘Compose’ screen and select ‘Share’, as normal.
On desktop browser
On desktop, you can access the ‘Accessibility’ settings from the ‘Compose’ screen. Clicking on ‘Accessibility’ opens a drop-down field for alt-text. From there, you can add in your description.
There’s an ongoing debate on whether you should add alt-text to the caption, as well as the alt-text box. Writing alt-text in the caption benefits both screen reader users and those who are not.
Either way, you need to add an image description to every photo or video you upload.
Blind Journalist and digital creator Lucy Edwards is a great example of someone getting Instagram accessibility right. Lucy adds image descriptions to both the alt-text box and within the main caption, giving her followers choice.
View this post on Instagram
Comedian Sarah Millican’s Instagram feed is also a great example of a commitment to alt-text accessibility. Her consistent use of image descriptions spans all her other social media accounts, too.
Add closed captions to videos
As well as images, video content is a big part of the Instagram experience. You should add closed captions or subtitles to all videos you upload. Including to IGTV and Instagram stories.
The difference between closed captions and subtitles
Though the terms are often confused, closed captions and subtitles are not the same. Subtitles are a text alternative for spoken dialogue in videos.
Closed captions offer a text alternative to dialogue, but they also include any sounds in the video such as background noises.
Why it matters
Videos without captions exclude people who are deaf or hearing impaired from understanding the content.
But many people find captions can improve their understanding of a video. Not just those with hearing access needs, but people with:
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- learning difficulties
- and non-native English speakers
Most people scroll through their social media feeds while on the go and in public places. This means that more people are watching video content without the sound on. Captions give you a better chance of engaging and reaching this audience.
How to add closed captions to videos on Instagram
There are a couple of ways to add captions to your Instagram videos.
Use a third-party tool or caption provider
The first is to create captions using a free or paid-for tool. These tools automatically generate a description from the video audio, which you can then edit. Captions should appear on the exported video which you can then upload to Instagram.
Kapwing, Clipomatic, InShot and Clips are all examples of tools that you can use to add captions to your videos.
Write your own captions
The other option is to create a SubRip (.SRT file) using Notepad on Windows or TextEdit on Mac and add this to your video using video editing software. You will then need to transfer the video to your mobile device to upload it to Instagram.
Remember that you can also use caption files for other social media platforms , too.
Instagram stories are not accessible to everyone
At the time of writing, Instagram stories are not fully accessible to all users.
There’s no option to add alt-text to images you share through Instagram stories, making them inaccessible to screen reader users. It’s also worth noting that screen readers cannot ‘read’ the text embedded into videos and images Instagram stories.
But this doesn’t mean you have to abandon Instagram stories altogether. As long as you make sure this information is available in another place for people to access, like your main feed.
And, don’t forget to add those all-important captions to videos in your story!
Capitalise the first letter of each word within a hashtag
Capitalising the first letter of each word within a hashtag means that screen readers will pronounce them correctly.
For example, using #BlackLivesMatter, instead of #blacklivesmatter. This is sometimes referred to as camel case.
Screen readers cannot distinguish separate words when they are in lowercase. Capitalising the first letter of each word in your hashtag means that screen readers will:
- read out each word separately
- pronounce the hashtag correctly
It also makes them much easier for everyone to read.
Whilst on the topic of hashtags, limit the amount you use. Too many hashtags create a bad user experience for people using assistive technology.
Use inclusive language
Use inclusive language to address your audience with respect and compassion.
Inclusive language makes your message more effective, as it’s less likely to alienate your audience.
It also communicates that, as an individual or a brand, you care about equality and inclusion. Most importantly, it shows that you care about and respect your audience’s needs.
Avoid too many emojis
Screen readers will read descriptions of emojis out loud such as ‘smiling face with squinting eyes’ or ‘disappointed face’.
You might think that using a mass of emojis will help get your message across, but it can create a frustrating experience for screen reader users.
Don’t include too many emojis in your tweets!
— RNIB (@RNIB) May 20, 2021
It’s okay to use emojis, but don’t overuse them.
Being inclusive makes a difference
These small changes can make a huge difference to your Instagram followers.
Make these changes across all social media platforms. Doing so will put you in the best position to engage a wide audience.