How to Be More Inclusive + Accessible on Social Media: Part 1
This is part 1 of a two-part series focusing on accessibility, inclusion, and social media written by guest blogger, Alexa Heinrich.
When it comes to developing a social media strategy, most digital professionals understandably focus on things like optimizing engagement, setting measurable goals, and broadening awareness of their brand. These are all crucial to a brand’s success on social media, but a truly great strategy also includes empathy, diversity, and inclusion.
Inclusion is especially important for a good social marketing plan, as it works to make sure that your audience is not only properly represented in your brand’s message, but that they can also receive, understand, and engage with it. Accessibility best practices are a big part of being inclusive on social media and help ensure that users with sensory disabilities aren’t being left out of the conversation.
Accessibility by the Numbers
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 2.2 billion people worldwide have some form of vision impairment, with roughly 253 million experiencing severe vision impairment or total blindness. There are also roughly 466 million people globally who are deaf or hard of hearing. That’s a huge portion of the world population that may need to use inclusive technology like screen readers, text-to-speech programs, and/or captioning to navigate the digital world.
Someone doesn’t need to have a permanent disability like total blindness or hearing loss to be impacted by accessibility best practices for social media either. An individual could also have a disability that is:
- Temporary, resulting from an injury or illness (a bruised eye, hearing loss from an ear infection or exposure to a loud noise, or voice loss from a bad cough).
- Situational, affected by a person’s environment or situation (having trouble seeing in different levels of lighting or difficulty hearing in large crowds).
This is important to remember when developing your social media strategy. Just because you have a highly visual or audial product or service doesn’t mean that you don’t need to accessibility best practices. If the effort isn’t being made to be inclusive online, then the experience of some individuals could be hindered.
The Importance of Inclusion
There are a few key reasons why you should make sure that your social media is accessible.
From a marketing standpoint, implementing accessibility best practices just makes good business sense. When promoting a product, service, or cause, it’s logical to want to reach and engage with as many people as possible in the hopes of converting them into a contact, customer, or sale. By making your social media content and the way you deliver it more accessible, you can avoid excluding a sizeable portion of your potential audience and missing out on important conversions.
Another thing to keep in mind when it comes to accessible social media is legality and compliance. Currently, there is no concrete law enforcing accessibility for social media. People will sometimes reference the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination based on disability as well as requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities and necessitates accessibility requirements on public accommodations. The ADA, as it is in its current state, is felt to be more applicable to brick-and-mortar facilities. However, a recent decision by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2019 ruled that it can, in certain instances, also apply to the “websites and apps” of businesses.
A great resource to reference for compliance on social media are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which is currently the closest the digital world has to a uniform set of rules for accessibility. Even without laws specifically for accessible social media, it’s more than likely only a matter of time before actual regulations are outlined and enforced. Realistically, it’s better to make your social media accessible now rather than wait for any potential lawsuits.
Above all, the main rationale for creating and delivering accessible social media content should be that you simply care about your clients, customers, and connections—established and potential—and how they engage with you online. You should care if your content is clear and understandable. You should care if part of your audience is being left out of the conversation that you’re trying to include them in.
You should care if people aren’t having an equal experience due to inaccessible content on your social media platforms. Accessibility on social media is a small but important part of a larger objective: making the online world and digital communications truly inclusive, ensuring that everyone is always included in the conversation and feels properly represented.
Glossary: Inclusive Technology
- Screen Reader: software programs that allow blind or visually impaired users to read the text that is displayed on a screen with a speech synthesizer or braille display.
- Speech Synthesizer: text-to-speech systems used with computers that are programmed to include all the phonemes and grammatical rules of a language, allowing words to be pronounced correctly.
- Text-to-Speech Programs: technology that is used to change data into spoken words.