Social Media Accessibility

Posted on August 18, 2021


County of Marin
Disability Access Program
Accessibility Guidance Bulletin 7b#

Social Media Accessibility

What is Social Media?

Social media allows anyone with an internet connection to view and publish digital content, including articles, photographs, music and videos to the web. It can take many different forms, including blogs, video and picture sharing and podcasts. The role of technology in today’s workplace is constantly expanding and now includes social media communication tools that facilitate new avenues of social networking. Social networking can be a vibrant and transparent communications strategy and improves interactivity between local governments and the public, and it reaches populations that don’t consume traditional media as frequently as others do. As with any other vehicle for dissemination of information, the County of Marin must comply with accessibility requirements when posting or hosting information on its social media sites. This guidance bulletin establishes best practices regarding maximizing accessibility of County of Marin social media sites and the information contained therein. Additionally, the five most popular social media services are listed in rank order of accessibility.

Social Media and People with Disabilities

Social networking can be an extremely useful tool for overcoming communication barriers. For individuals who find verbal communication difficult or impossible, social media sites allow for a free flow of information through use of blogs or written posts. There are certain accessibility barriers to social media sites that can be challenging, but we can overcome them by following a few, good practices. For example, CAPTCHA’s (the squiggly letters you are often asked to read and type into text as part of many website registration processes) are meant to stop malicious attacks and to be sure the registrant is human and not another computer. However, because CAPTCHA’s rely on visual perception, users unable to view them are prevented from registration. If you plan on using CAPTCHA’s on you social networking pages, be sure to employ audio versions to bypass the visual perception requirement. Additionally, most social media services now offer Application Programming Interfaces (API’s) which allow programmers to create applications that can make use of or contribute to accessibility services. For example, Twitter offers an “Accessible Twitter” which is an alternate interface to Twitter that allows people with disabilities to access information you provide on the site in various formats. YouTube has a similar, alternate interface called “Easy YouTube” which when installed allows for accessible streaming of YouTube videos, and a service called Easy YouTube Caption Creator which generates a standard format caption text file that can be attached to videos you post.

Accessible Social Media

There are four best practices you can follow that will greatly increase the accessibility of your social media efforts.

  • Provide captions for your videos. Videos produced by the County of Marin that are posted on social media sites must always be captioned. Likewise, all videos you are “hosting” on your media sites must be captioned. For videos that you provide links to that are embedded on other sites and for which captioning may not be available, it is a good idea to offer the information contained in that video in alternative formats upon request. See Guidance Bulletin #5b for entities that provide captioning services.
  • Title your photographs descriptively and usefully. Blind people, those with low vision, and people with other disabilities that affect their ability to read a computer display often use different technologies so they can access the information displayed on a webpage. Two commonly used technologies are screen readers and refreshable Braille displays. A screen reader is a computer program that speaks the text that appears on the computer display, beginning in the top-left corner. A refreshable Braille display is an electronic device that translates text into Braille characters that can be read by touch. These assistive technologies cannot interpret photographs, charts, color-coded information, or other graphic elements on a webpage. Adding a line of simple HTML code to provide text for each image and graphic will enable a user with a vision disability to understand what it is. The words in the tag should be more than a description. They should provide a text equivalent of the image, the tag should include the same meaningful information that other users obtain by looking at the image. See Guidance Bulletin #7, Website Accessibility Under the ADA, for further information and instructions on tagging images.
  • Avoid use of acronyms. Acronyms can be difficult to translate to individuals who use screen readers and similar assistive technologies. When possible, avoid acronym use, and where their use is necessary for brevity, be sure to provide a clear definition of the acronym immediately preceding its first use in the document.
  • Make all information that is provided on social media services available in accessible formats elsewhere. While accessibility of social networking has greatly improved, there are still significant barriers that can occur. Be sure that all the notices, videos, and data that you post on these sites can also be found on your County website or via another format. This way, should someone run into difficulties accessing information on your social
    media site, they can still have access to the necessary information and/or services.

Which Sites Offer the Greatest Accessibility?

Typically, the three services which offer the greatest accessibility are Facebook, Skype and YouTube. They all offer a range of accessibility features and alternative interfacing to enhance accessibility. Twitter and MySpace have to date failed to offer significant (if any) accessibility features and will therefore pose a greater challenge to hosting accessible information.

Special thanks to MAA (from Social Media Accessibility Review) and Practical eCommerce (Accessibility and Social Media) for information used in this Guidance Bulletin.

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