I don’t think I could call myself a blogging expert just yet. I work in a marketing department and honestly? I wouldn’t even call myself an expert on anything to do with SEO, marketing, audience engagement and blogging to bring in followers. But in the past four years I have learnt quite a few things about accessibility online and social media. It’s, annoyingly, really easy to forget that not every online user can access our content in the same way and this is unfortunately due to a society where disabled people aren’t always considered when thinking about content audiences. This is incredibly ignorant and being deaf myself I don’t understand why the needs of disabled consumers are forgotten by big brands and companies – especially when the end goal is to grow audience and engagement numbers.
According to the Disabled Living Foundation, there are 800,000 children under the age of 16 living with a disability. On a bigger scale, 13.9 million people in the UK are disabled. Almost everyone has a smartphone these days and a vast majority of people, especially young people, are using social media and browsing online content everyday. If we are lucky enough to have someone stumble upon our content – whether it’s a website, portfolio, Instagram account or Twitter account, why is it not a top priority to make it accessible for all these people?
Using my own personal disability experience as well as tapping into other people’s experiences that I’ve heard through word of mouth or online stories. I’ve put together a couple of tips on how to make your online content more accessible if you are deciding to go into basic blogging. When it comes to websites, I will be mostly discussing WordPress as this is the platform I have experience with. Sources are hyperlinked throughout the tips.
If we are lucky enough to have someone stumble upon our content – whether it’s a website, portfolio, Instagram account or Twitter account, why is it not a top priority to make it accessible for all these people?
Minimise use of special characters
Screen readers are software applications or built-in technology that assists people with moderate to severe visual disabilities. There are two ways screen readers can provide feedback to the user – voice and braille. For now we will focus on TTS (text-to-speech) software and what complications commonly arise in today’s social media and online content.
You may have seen a recent trend of people using special characters and various emojis in their Twitter handles or tweets. Although this change in appearance does draw attention to our content and give it a ‘unique-ness’, it’s a bit of a nightmare for some screen readers. Twitter user Marcy Sutton even demonstrated once that screen readers have a habit of describing every single emoji in a tweet where someone had put the ‘clapping emoji’ between each word. Spoiler alert – it’s quite tiring.
Keeping emoji use to a sensible minimum and using basic text throughout your posts, captions and tweets ensures that text-to-speech software picks it up pretty much spot on. Another great example of thinking accessible that I saw recently was by Monterey Bay Aquarium; when a tweet with ASCII characters presenting two bunnies went viral, they proceeded to use a follow up tweet explaining what was going on in the tweet. Many followers praised them for thinking about users with screen readers.
Add subtitles to your video content
Blogging and content creation doesn’t stop at social media and writing – in the past decade a lot of bloggers prefer to present themselves and their content through videos using Youtube. Youtube does have its own automated closed caption tool however, speaking as someone who regularly turns them on, they are pretty rubbish. Taking the time to edit and create your own closed captions is really beneficial to disabled users. This fantastic article by Tom Mitchell gives you a step by step guide on how to add closed captions to your Youtube and Facebook videos.
For other platforms you can use apps to generate closed captions during the creation process and then edit from there – without ever having to transfer the content off your phone (great for Instagram stories). A popular app is Clipomatic which converts live speech into closed captions which you can go back and edit. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez frequently uses this app to communicate with her online following. It does cost and unfortunately isn’t available on Android devices yet however at $4.99, it’s a worthy investment to keep your content accessible.
Use alt text on all images
WordPress is a fantastic blogging/portfolio platform as there is automatically a feature to add Alt-text to all HTML images. Screen readers will then use whatever is written in the Alt-text to help describe what is shown in the image. Not only is this great practice for making your website more accessible to users, it is also beneficial to increasing SEO traffic. Alt-text descriptions are best when they are descriptive, concise and explains the images function. It is very easy to find advice on how to write the best alt-text descriptions, Google has a page on successful image practice that is ideal. When it comes to social media channels, if you cannot access and edit the HTML it can be hard to edit the Alt-text. Thankfully, there is ways to add ‘alt-text’ to images on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook (in-depth instructions are linked.)
Another option on social media if you are concerned about app bugs or it not working is to simply put the Alt-Text somewhere else – a lot of users sometimes add image descriptions to their captions or as a reply to their own tweet to help screen readers. This works well on apps such as LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook since you can add this directly to the caption without a user having to seek out a separate comment or tweet to hear the description.
These are just some simple starting points that can make a world of difference for disabled users who may come across your content, blog or social media channels. If you have a large following, it is also an excellent idea to communicate with your following that you would like to improve the accessibility of your content – using the question sticker on Instagram stories is one way of letting your followers directly tell you what could be done to improve content accessibility.
Listening to the experiences of disabled bloggers and influencers is also essential in understanding and educating yourself on creating accessible, suitable online content – I personally recommend Holly (Life of a Blind Girl) who has also done a great post on making your blog more accessible for someone with a visual impairment. Jessica Kellgren-Fozard is also a deaf Youtuber who regularly talks about being deaf, sign language and chronic illnesses on her YouTube channel. She has an entire playlist dedicated to discussing being disabled which you can check out here!
Other fantastic disabled bloggers to follow:
Useful articles regarding accessibility: