The following best practices are intended for anyone managing a social media account at the UMass President's Office. These best practices can also be used by any employee at the University that wants to ensure their personal social media account is accessible and inclusive.
Who uses alt text?
Members of the disability community that leverage alt text can be blind, have low vision, be deaf-blind, or neurodivergent. The way the alt text is used varies as well - a blind, low vision, or deaf-blind person will use assistive technology. A neurodivergent person may use assistive technology or they may have website images shut off so that the alt text displays in lieu of the image. Alt text can also be used by non-disabled people when they have internet connectivity issues and images don't load on a site.
What is alt text?
Alt text describes what would be visually missed if you couldn't see an image. For example, if you were posting a photo about a sunrise, you would describe the full scene in the photo, such as "The sun rises behind a sailboat, creating soft pink hues in the sky."
Do I need alt text for all images I post to social media?
Yes, when posting images to social media, an image is never decorative. It's conveying content, whether students walking across a campus or people mingling at a holiday party. That being said, an image should always have alt text when posted to social media.
How do I address people in an image?
Whenever possible, ask the person how they would like to be identified from a gender and race or ethnicity standpoint. If you can't ask the person their race or ethnicity, use the same skin tones that are used for emojis (light, medium light, medium, medium dark, and dark).
How do I add alt text?
The process will vary by social media platform. Here are the instructions for each platform:
- Facebook Alt Text Article. Note that Facebook adds automatically generated alt text to all photos that is highly inaccurate and, when somewhat accurate, does not provide enough detail.
- Instagram Alt Text Article. As with Facebook, Instagram auto-generates alt text that is often inaccurate. You should review and edit alt text for all images you upload.
- LinkedIn Alt Text Article
- Twitter Image Accessibility Article
If you design a marketing image to draw attention to a post, ensure text provided in the image has a color contrast of at least 4.5:1 up against the background color. This can be tested with the WebAIM Color Contrast Analyzer.
- Describe your Gif. Gifs are meant to convey your current mood visually. Many social media platforms currently do not support the addition of alt text for gifs so you will need to check if there is an alt text function. Even with the alt text function, it's best to also provide a description of the Gif in your post. Why? Anyone with epilepsy or a vestibular disorder will have animations shut off so they will need the visual description of what they are missing within the post as they do not use assistive technology, so they will not get the alt text conveyed to them if it is added behind the scenes.
- Ensure the Gifs you select cannot trigger a seizure or vestibular disorder. You can test seizure triggers with the PEAT Tool. In general, watch for any rapid flashing content as it can trigger both seizures and vestibular disorders. Also watch for fast, jarring movements, parallax effect movements, or a pinch and zoom effect. Remember that anyone can have their first seizure or vestibular trigger at any point in their life so the animation you share could trigger a first time health condition. This is not to dissuade you from using Gifs, but to get you thinking thoughtfully about the type of Gif you are sharing.
Prior to following these steps, ensure that your video aligns with the Create Accessible Videos and Audio Clips best practices.
- Add captions to any videos you upload to social media for the deaf, hard of hearing, and auditory processing disorder communities. The steps to add captions will vary depending on the platform:
- Facebook Video Captioning Article
- Instagram Video Captions Article. Note that Instagram only allows for auto-captions. If the captions aren't accurate, it's recommended that you burn captions into the video as open captions prior to upload.
- LinkedIn Video Closed Captions Article
- Twitter Subtitles Article
- Provide a link to an html transcript for the deafblind community and for anyone else that would benefit from accessing a transcript.
When adding hashtags to your posts, always use CamelCase, such as #ILoveMassachusetts. There are two benefits to using CamelCase:
- Assistive technology, such as screen readers and text-to-speech software, will read the individual words correctly based on the capitalization of the first letter of each word.
- CamelCase is easier for anyone to read when multiple words are combined in a hashtag.
- Ensure you do not rely on an emoji to substitute a word. Emojis aren't always conveyed to assistive technology and sometimes their descriptive labels do not match what you think the emoji means. Use the emoji at the end of a sentence instead such as saying "I love football!" followed by a football emoji.
- Do not use emojis in between words in a sentence. A classic example of this is when the clapping hands emoji is used between words in a post.
This post reads as follows to assistive technology: "I graphic clickable emoji colon, clapping hands sign am graphic clickable emoji colon, clapping hands sign so graphic clickable emoji colon, clapping hands sign happy graphic clickable emoji colon, clapping hands sign it's graphic clickable emoji colon, clapping hands sign Friday!
- Try not to repeat a bunch of emojis at the end of your post over and over again. Some people do this for styling purposes. Having a canoe and a maple leaf once after your post will convey the visual and make everyone smile at the conveyed imagery. Having a canoe and a maple leaf repeated over 20 times at the end of a post creates an overwhelming and frustrating experience for anyone using assistive technology.
Example of what not to do:
- Finally, do not use text-based emoticons, such as the ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ shruggie, which will be read aloud by assistive technology as, “Macron, backslash, underline, katakana, underline, slash, macron.”
Several social media platforms provide standard font styling, which is accessible. There are sites that provide alternative fonts, weights, and styles that you may think are pretty, but they are actually not accessible. In fact, assistive technology will skip over the content that is styled using this custom unicode completely. That means it could skip over words that you have bolded for emphasis or it could skip over your entire post if it's been done with a custom font.
When posting a long statement that won't fit into a social media caption, either communicate that statement via a video or link to a webpage with the full statement. Do not post the statement as an image on your post as that will render it inaccessible to assistive technology. If you want to post an image to your social media, think of posting an image that calls attention to the fact that you have linked to a long statement on a webpage rather than posting a flattened version of the statement in the image field. This will keep the source statement as text so that when people go to share it, they don't share an inaccessible flattened image instead.
- Avoid ableist language and euphemisms when writing posts as both carry negative connotations, whether a disability is used as a metaphor for a negative behavior or whether you use euphemisms such as differently-abled instead of the word disability (#SayTheWord). And, if you accidentally use ableist language and are called out on it, the best thing to do is apologize and issue that apology as a separate post. It's also recommended that you take down the original post if it could continue to perpetuate ableist language.
- Use the preferred language of a specific disability community. For example, the autistic, blind, and deaf communities prefer identity-first language (e.g., autistic person, blind person, deaf person). Other communities may prefer person-first language. Always do research on the community before posting about the community and remember to refer to articles written by a disabled person or a disability organization led by disabled people, not by a parent or advocate.
- The disability community is diverse, which means the community can fall under one or more other marginalized groups (e.g., race, gender, sex, etc.). Make sure your representation of the disability community in your imagery is just as diverse.
- Stick with gender-neutral pronouns and terms and evaluate text for assumptions of limited points of view.
Based on the best practices noted above, check others' posts to ensure that they are accessible.
When it comes to alt text, which you can't check visually, you can enable either NVDA on your Windows computer or VoiceOver on your Mac to confirm there is alt text. You can also check alt text on mobile with VoiceOver or TalkBack.
Never assume based on the poster that the content is accessible. Unfortunately, there are several disability not-for-profits that don't make their content accessible to all disability communities as they may only be thinking of their specific community when creating posts. The same goes for advocates - just because an advocate is promoting the cause, it doesn't mean they truly know what disability inclusion is yet.
How do I handle inaccessible posts by others?
- You can contact the person directly and ask them to add alt text to an image or closed captions and a transcript to a video.
- You can also share a post that contains an inaccessible image and when you share it, post an image description in your re-post.