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Social media accessibility guide

Last updated: May 30, 2020

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This is a work-in-progress draft guide to making social media posts more accessible. I hope it helps you. If you have any feedback, please get in touch.

There is an accompanying talk here: Talk slides: Accessibility on social media



Social media services now support more accessible content writing. It’s common to use images or video now to improve engagement, but accessibility often gets overlooked. We're starting to see more people caption their spoken words on videos, which is great, but images still often get posted without text alternatives.

Text alternatives for images

You can add alternative text descriptions to images on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Mastodon and Twitter. Facebook and Instagram even try to automatically add appropriate alternative text to images, but you can edit these to be more relevant to your post. (LinkedIn and Twitter also automatically generate text alternatives to a lesser extent.)

It is becoming increasingly common to see people posting images of text, such as screenshots of someone else's post, but with no text alternative to convey that text to people who cannot see the image. It is much better to use actual text than to use images of text.

Further reading:

Captioning videos

Adding captions to video makes them great for sharing on social media and helps to make your message more inclusive, reaching as many people as possible (Deaf, hard of hearing, commuters, pub-goers…). It’s all too easy to forget things like this, but a little help can go a long way.

Adding captions to longer videos yourself can be very time consuming. It is recommended that you use a professional service or captioning software, as getting captioning right is a skill and takes time. True captions should not only capture speech, but also significant non-verbal sounds as well, which automated software does not do (yet).

Captioning videos on iOS and Android

Writing good captions yourself can be time consuming, but thankfully there are mobile apps available that make it fairly low effort to do on the move.

There are affordable and even free apps that automatically caption speech from the audio as you record. Clear audio is key to the accuracy of this, so make sure you speak clearly and are an appropriate distance from your microphone. There may still be errors in the captioned text, so these apps allow you to fix any inaccuracies before posting.

On iOS, you can add open captions to the videos you record using these apps:

On Android, you can add open captions to the videos you record using a free app called AutoCap.

Captioning videos using YouTube

YouTube automatically adds closed captions to every video you upload, and it can even automatically caption livestream videos. Unfortunately, these captions are typically inaccurate, especially for videos that have poor quality audio. They are also incomplete, since it does not add captions to describe non-verbal sounds happening in the video, like “[music]” or “[applause]”. Without these, viewers will not know about such important key audio signals in the video.

However, once your video has been uploaded, you can edit the captioned text yourself and correct any mistakes. You can do this in YouTube Studio itself, but it can be unreliable when you come to save your work. The more reliable way to edit the captions is to download a text file that you can open with a text editor to change the text and the timings for when each piece of text appears on the video.

Once you have good captions on YouTube, you can even download them to reuse on other social media platforms, such as Facebook.

When linking to YouTube videos, if users have closed captioning turned on in their YouTube settings, they will see your captions. You can also add ?cc_load_policy=1 to the end of your YouTube link to switch captions on for that video.

Further reading:

Captioning videos using Amara

Amara is an platform for adding captions and subtitles to videos. Its open platform allows you to add captions for free in their public workspaces.

Further reading:

Adding captions to videos on Facebook

Facebook automatically generates captions for uploaded videos, but these can be very inaccurate, particularly if audio quality is poor.

One option is to automatically caption your video using YouTube and then download the .srt file it creates to upload to Facebook.

Further reading:

Captioning videos on Twitter

Twitter supports captioning of videos using .srt files. The easiest way to add these is to use Twitter Media Studio, which is currently only available by invitation. Captions may be added using the Twitter API's media/subtitles/create endpoint, but there does not yet appear to be support for this in any third party apps.

Currently, the easiest option for most people is to embed open captions in your video as described above, or you can link to a YouTube video that has closed captions.

When linking to YouTube videos, if users have closed captioning turned on in their YouTube settings, they will see your captions. You can also add ?cc_load_policy=1 to the end of your YouTube link to switch captions on for that video.

Captioning live events

You can automatically caption livestream videos using YouTube, but this requires clear audio and can still be inaccurate. If you are organising an event, the best option is to hire a professional captioning service.