Create Inclusive Social Media: Not Every Disability is Visible

If media isn't inclusive, it's not social media.

Web accessibility is the practice of ensuring that there are no barriers preventing interactions or access to websites by people with disabilities or impairments. When sites are correctly designed, developed and edited, generally all users have equal access to information and functionality. Typically, government entities are required by law to comply to a higher level of accessibility to meet the needs of their diverse community. Social Media can be an excellent tool that municipalities and agencies may implement to share updates with their following while addressing the concerns of constituents. However, there are challenges that come with designing effective, compliant social media content.

Unfortunately, sometimes Facebook Pages or Twitter Accounts are launched by government entities that have good intent to perform outstanding outreach, but they lack technologic capability or are unfamiliar with the best practices involved in creating inclusive content. People with impairments or disabilities become more and more at risk of being excluded from society when they are faced with limitations on how they can access mediums to communicate with their local government agency. Luckily, a lot of basic compliancy solutions require more common sense than technical ability.

Communication is Key

Make your contact information available on your social media account page. List a primary phone number and email address where a user can reach your agency with questions, or provide a link to your agency website that lists the appropriate contact information.

Use Multiple Mediums

Make your social media content available through more than one channel. Provide easy points of entry for more information. Some of the most common ways are to post threads on your website, provide options to sign up for daily email digests of social media posts or to add a social media widget to your agency website.

Keep it Simple

Good design and good content more often than not leads to accessible content. When possible, write in plain language, use camel case when appropriate (i.e., capitalize the first letters of compound words as in #SocialMedia), and limit your use of hashtags, abbreviations and acronyms. The use of camel case is not only a common practice, but a helpful one as it makes multi-word hashtags easier to read, including for those using a screen reader.

Test your Content

Learn the accessibility requirements and periodically test your content for accessibility. Read the Section 508 Standards and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 and other key resources that discuss them. Then test your social media content with a screen reader or other type of assistive technology.

Design InfoGraphics and Images Thoughtfully

Remember that infographics are, by their very nature, pictures. If you decide to link to an infographic, make sure that you adequately describe all of the content with text. Just remember to use plain language and be concise in your descriptions. Also make sure that the infographic itself is easy for readers, including those with cognitive disabilities, to interpret. In other words, make sure that the infographic is not overly complicated to understand and navigate. Avoid: complex layout and flow that require the reader to follow too many lines or arrows connecting one piece of content to another; excessive images and text; and wide variation and insufficient contrast in the color scheme.

Make Facebook Updates Accessible

  • Government entities are full of acronyms. Don’t assume your audience is knowledgeable about all acronyms. Take advantage of the space Facebook provides and always spell out the first instance of the acronym and add the acronym, in parentheses after (e.g., Capital Strategic Solutions (CSS)). This is especially helpful for those using screen readers, because after the name is heard and the acronym is spelled out, the user will be better able to associate the sound of the acronym with the full name.

  • Add captions to photos to ensure that individuals will understand what is going on in the picture. The captions do not need to be very long, but they should describe what the scene is, and how elements of the image appear and provide context for the image.

  • Videos posted to Facebook should be uploaded to a YouTube Channel to allow closed-captioning. Since YouTube automatic captioning can be inaccurate, prepare an accurate transcript and upload it whenever possible. The link to the YouTube video can be included as a status update, rather than uploading the video into Facebook. This will ensure that visitors will be taken to an accessible video with captioning. Facebook’s Accessibility Team’s Facebook Page

Make Tweets Accessible

  • If your tweet links to photo, video or audio content, make your tweet act as a descriptive caption so it provides context for the item, and then link back to a website page that hosts a tagged photo, captioned video or audio with full caption.

  • Consider proving an indication that a link in a tweet is a photo, video or audio file (e.g. [PIC], [VIDEO], [AUDIO]). This allows people using screen readers to know what to expect before opening any link. Use uppercase formats for further clarity to sighted users.

  • Ensure that you link to accessible content, (i.e., a tagged photo, captioned video or audio with written transcript.) A tagged photo simply has alternative text associated with it that describes the image. For more details on alternative text, visit

  • If you are linking to content that your agency has not created and/or you do not know whether that content is accessible or not, make sure your audience is aware of these limitations. Simply provide a note briefly explaining the limitation, such as that: the photo is untagged; the video will auto start; the video does not include captioning; or the audio file is not accompanied by a written transcript. Also provide contact information should the individual require some kind of alternative method to access the content.

  • If possible, avoid using unfamiliar acronyms that would sound strange if read by a screen reader or that could be confusing to some readers. If space allows, try to spell out the acronyms instead, or use a different way to convey the information.Try to use camel case for multiple words within a hashtag; that is, capitalize the first letters of compound words. It makes it easier visually and for screen readers to pronounce the individual words more clearly (e.g., use #CapitalStrategicSolutions not #capitalstrategicsolutions).


Our Recommended "Do's and Don'ts" for Design for Ranging Disabilities and Impairments

These tips are meant to help social media content managers and other communication specialists ensure that their messages are reaching the largest audience, including those with disabilities. Social media is constantly changing and every day new products and applications are introduced. Although social media content managers may not be able to control the technology behind these tools, they need to stay abreast of accessibility and usability issues and continually test their content to ensure its accessibility.

More and more organizations are using social media to conduct outreach, recruit job candidates and encourage workplace productivity. But not all social media content is accessible to people with certain disabilities, which limits the reach and effectiveness of these platforms. With 20 percent of the population estimated to have a disability, government agencies have an obligation to ensure that their messages, services and products are as inclusive as possible.

Think about it—could you do your job if it wasn’t possible to read your email? And could you even get a job if you couldn’t fill out the online application? If you can’t access the tools and technologies you need to look for or perform a job, your employability and productivity suffer. So it’s easy to understand why inaccessible technology can be a major barrier to employment or on-the-job success.

The development and adoption of accessible, universally designed technology is critical to making sure people with disabilities succeed at work and deliver for their employers.

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