Did you hear the one about the talking potato? (How to make your tweets accessible)

funny potato head with a face on a pink backgroundLast week Taco Bell tweeted a video of their CEO, who was represented by a talking potato. It was fun but it wasn’t accessible because there were no captions on the video. This means people with auditory disabilities couldn’t access the message, the same goes for anyone watching the video without the sound on (and lots of people do that). The tweet caused rumblings in the Twittersphere for not being inclusive. It turned into quite the hot potato and got the brand burnt for overlooking digital accessibility. After a flurry of negative feedback, Taco Bell reposted the video along with captions. Hurrah!

Digital accessibility, in the context of Twitter, means posting things that are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them. I’ll tell you how to get this right but first let’s briefly address why digital accessibility matters so much.

Digital accessibility been around a long while but the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1, which are coming into force in the UK between 2018 and 2021, are rapidly pushing it up the agenda here. Digital accessibility is now expected from brands. And it’s simply the right thing to do. Up to 20% of internet users have a disability that could affect their online experience, that’s a lot of your potential audience. Accessibility is a big opportunity if done right.

We can learn from that talking potato. Marjon has an active online community and it’s up to us all to make it an inclusive one. Alexa Heinrich, a US based higher ed social media manager and accessibility advocate, wrote these wise words in Adweek reflecting on the Taco Bell fail:

“Digital accessibility should be a priority for everyone involved in the marketing process, no matter where they sit on the company org chart. Being conscious of how inclusive your content means better marketing and a better overall experience for your entire audience.”

How to make your tweets accessible

The good news is it’s mostly easy, once you know what to do.

1. Writing accessible tweets

Be clear and concise. Write in simple language, then rewrite so that you say the same thing but shorter for clarity. Always avoid jargon.

Don’t overuse caps. Full-caps can be difficult to read and they may be read in unexpected ways by screen readers. On social media they can be taken to mean that YOU ARE SHOUTING. Shh.

Use title case for multi-word hashtags. Capitalize the first letter of each word to make hashtags more legible. #WeAreMarjon is right and #wearemarjon is wrong.

Put hashtags and @mentions at the end. They may disrupt the flow when text is read aloud by screen readers.

Limit emoji use. When read aloud by assistive tech emojis come out as things like “loudly crying face” or “raised fist – medium dark skin tone”. Stick to one, ideally at the end of your tweet.

Avoid special characters and custom fonts. Swirling fonts can be hard to read and assistive tools read special formatting very differently, if at all. Just don’t do it.

2. Designing accessible images for Twitter

Don’t put text over an image; text is harder to read if you’ve got a busy background.

Never rely on colour-coding to convey meaning, some people can’t see the colour or see it differently to what you’re expecting them to see.

Always provide alt text. Alt text is used to describe images to people who can’t see them. When you tweet on either desktop or mobile use the ‘add description’ option to add your alt text. This could be typing out text which is in the image (because screen readers can’t read out images), naming the people in the image when the tweet is specifically about them or simply describing what is happening in the image, for example e.g. two exhausted students sit at a desk which is piled high with dozens of textbooks.

Use an adequate font size. Make sure text is big enough to read, remembering that most Twitter users will be viewing your image on the small screen of a mobile phone.

Provide adequate colour contrasts. If there is text in your image you need a high contrast between the two colours. You can use colour contrast checkers like WebAim. In terms of the Marjon colours we recommend #003D50 (Marjon Navy) or #8B3666 (Marjon Heather) coupled with #FFFFFF (White).

3. Posting accessible videos on Twitter

Always include video captions. Captioning can be closed or open. Closed captioning can be toggled on or off based on the preferences of the viewer, whereas open captioning is burned on to the video. I like open captions for social media because many people watch videos with the sound off.

Sounds like a lot of work? It doesn’t have to be thanks to great captioning services being available; I use the MixCaptions app on my phone and our Video Producer uses Rev.com for all our videos.

For best in class captioning don’t forget the descriptive audio. This means describing the important non-verbal elements of the video for example ‘The Vice-Chancellor enters. He is wearing a red ceremonial robe and cap’.

And that’s it. Well I’ve probably missed something; please tell me in the comments, I want to get better at this stuff too!

Digital accessibility is a habit that is worth getting into. Not just for social media managers but for anyone who wants to connect and share online. Give me virtual high-five if you agree! But please only one high-five emoji because on a screen reader it comes out as the less catchy ‘hand with fingers splayed’.

If you’d like to read more about digital accessibility check out ‘How to make your website accessible: A beginner’s guide’, which was also written by Laura Bell.

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