As incoming public relations professionals, we recognize our responsibility to communicate on behalf of our clients or our organization to build mutually beneficial relationships with our publics. These publics include employees, customers, investors, etc. Additionally, we have a responsibility to craft inclusive messaging, keeping in mind that our publics may include people of all races, ethnicities, gender identities, sexualities, and people with disabilities. The way we communicate with our diverse publics must be accessible to everyone. How can you even begin to build relationships if not everyone can access your content?

What is Digital Accessibility?

Through my efforts to expand my knowledge surrounding diversity and inclusion, I have been fortunate to learn more about digital accessibility. Specifically, as it relates to improving the user experience for those with visual impairments, hearing impairments, and cognitive impairments. Digital accessibility essentially means removing barriers that make it difficult for people with disabilities to navigate digital spaces. 

Why is Digital Accessibility Important?

Millions of people worldwide live with some form of disability and deserve full access to digital spaces. According to the World Health Organization, at least one billion people have a vision impairment, including low vision, blindness, and color blindness. Many of those people rely on screen readers, software programs that allow blind or visually impaired users to read the text displayed on a computer or phone screen with a braille display or speech synthesizer. Screen readers also assist those who are illiterate or have a learning disability. Additionally, an estimated 466 million people, or 6.1% of the world population, live with some form of hearing loss. 

Many brands primarily communicate with their publics via social media. However, for many people, scrolling through their Twitter or Instagram feed is not the hassle-free experience some of us take for granted. Fortunately, there are several simple adjustments that can increase your social media content’s accessibility and inclusivity.

3 Ways to Increase Digital Accessibility on Social Media

Rethink Hashtags

Hashtags are typically used to join a larger conversation and connect social media content to specific topics, events, or themes. One easy way to make sure that everyone, including those using screen readers, can easily read hashtags is to use CamelCase. CamelCase, also known as bicapitalization or Pascal case, is when the first letter of every word is capitalized. This ensures that the words within the hashtag are read correctly by screen readers, and quite frankly, it makes them easier, faster, and less confusing to read for everyone. 

Example: #digitalaccessibilitymatters versus #DigitalAccessibilityMatters

Which one of those is easier to read?

Use Emojis Sparingly and Strategically

You might be thinking, emojis are cute, fun, and can lead to higher engagement, what’s the harm? I’m not telling you to ditch emojis altogether, but it’s necessary to recognize that emojis can be a nightmare for screen readers. Each emoji character has an assigned description. Reading off several emoji character descriptions disrupts the natural flow of a sentence, damaging reading comprehension and slowing down the reading process. This makes it more challenging for people who are visually impaired or cognitively impaired to read social media posts. Try to use emojis in moderation and at the end of posts when possible.

Add Alt Text and Closed Captions

Visuals are a great way to enrich your content, and everyone should be able to get the full picture of your posts (pun intended). Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn provide methods to add alternative text, or alt text, descriptive language that benefits those using screen readers. Alt text should use simple language to describe an image and the people, objects, colors, etc. that make up the image. Another blog post about social media accessibility provides further information on how to add alt text on several social media platforms. 

I don’t know about you, but I cannot stream a show or watch a TikTok without closed captioning. I rely on closed captions to help me retain information and make sure I don’t miss anything. Video content with closed captions is helpful to those with hearing impairments, learning disabilities, and English as a second language speakers. A Hootsuite blog about inclusive design for social media provides further insight into adding video captions (and offers great advice for writing descriptive alt text).

As you can see, there are many simple adjustments we can make to dramatically increase the accessibility of our social media content. In our increasingly digital world, we cannot afford to neglect any of our audiences. I wish you luck on your journey towards becoming a more ethical, inclusive communicator and hope this serves as a helpful first step.

About the Author:

Sam Stoddard is a senior at Grand Valley State University studying advertising and public relations, with a minor in digital studies. This is her third year involved in PRSSA, and her first year serving on the executive board as the VP of Programming. The most rewarding part of her position has been collaborating with a team of PRSSA members across the country to create PRSSA REIMAGINED. This is her second year as an Account Associate for GrandPR. Sam aspires to one day work in community relations, hopefully for a health and wellness company. In her free time, you can find her eating pasta, hiking, or spending time with her friends and family.

Twitter: @SamStoddard96