Accessibility and social media

Organisations of all kinds are using social media to communicate with customers and clients. This includes New Zealand Government agencies, which are increasingly using sites and services like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, to name only three.

Just as NZ Government agencies need to deliver accessible websites, they also need to consider the accessibility of the social media that they use to deliver their content.

Social media platforms can present barriers

The accessibility of online social media platforms is generally improving, but many or most of them still present at least some barriers to people with disabilities and others. The reduced accessibility of social media sites can be difficult to address, since their design and development are outside the direct control of their users. For example, in October 2013, the iOS version 7 update caused issues for blind users of the iOS Facebook app. The issue was resolved within two weeks, however access to Facebook during that two-week period relied on the user having access to another device.

Similar concerns exist with the integration of social media tools in a website, for example, third party sharing widgets that are embedded in a web page, or user generated content and the interface used to create it. In many cases, there are accessible solutions available. For example, it is relatively easy to add simple "Share on Facebook" or "Share on Twitter" links to a web page, as opposed to using off-the-shelf widgets.

Don’t rely only on social networks

It’s also important to note that not everyone has a Facebook, Twitter or Google+ account. Not being part of this or that third party network should not be a barrier to accessing NZ Government information and services online.

Agencies should therefore avoid using non-government social media sites as the sole avenue for publishing government content. If the official version of content is located on a government website, people with disabilities will still have access to that version, regardless of the accessibility of the third party social media site.

This goes especially for what the Web Accessibility Standard classifies as high-stakes information or services, that is, information or services whose unavailability or inaccessibility could reasonably be expected to have a negative impact on an individual’s emergency preparedness and response, health and safety, or critical civil and political rights, entitlements, services, or obligations. Instead, social media should be used as a supplemental channel to deliver added value to the public.

Agencies are encouraged to explore the uses and benefits of social media for engaging citizens, but they are urged to ensure that their use of social media is not limiting or restricting people’s access to the content and services they are responsible for delivering.

Tips for making social media accessible

General

  • Use social media as part of a multi-channel communication strategy, in addition to radio, TV, email, internet, and other methods such as SMS messages.
  • Ensure that your website provides ways, in addition to social media, for people to contact your organisation: provide a general contact email, a postal address, phone number, and contact form.
  • Ensure that your website’s address is listed in the ‘about’ section of your social media profile in order to provide an easy point of entry to more information.
  • Avoid the use of abbreviations (including acronyms) and text messaging shortcuts which can be mis-pronounced by text-to-speech technologies.
  • If abbreviations must be used, expand them. Spell out the first instance of the abbreviation and add the abbreviation in parentheses after, e.g., Ministry of Social Development (MSD). This is especially helpful for those using text-to-speech technologies such as screen readers.
  • If you are sharing an image, video, or audio, be sure to link back to the web page that contains the image, video, or audio and its full caption/transcript.
  • Upload videos to your preferred accessible online video service. Make sure you provide closed captions, and that the videos will play on mobile devices.
  • Use "CamelCase" in hashtags: capitalise the first letter of each word in a compound word, e.g. use #EarthquakeCommission instead of #earthquakecommission.

Blogs

  • When sharing a website link on your blog, make sure that the link is labelled with a description. Text such as ‘click here’ can make it difficult for people using screen readers to understand the nature of the link.
  • Provide text equivalents (alternative text) for images you post on your blog to make sure that they are accessible for people who can’t see the images for whatever reason.
  • Avoid placing your social media buttons, e.g. Share on Twitter, before your blog post or article. Place them after the post or article so that they don’t interfere with users of screen readers or other text-to-speech software trying to read the article. Users are probably more likely to use the social media buttons after having read the article, so placing them after the article makes sense.
  • Choose a simple template for your blog. Most blogging tools provide a number of different templates to make your blog look unique. Consider at least starting from a template that is known to be accessible. You can then make changes to it while ensuring that those changes don't reduce accessibility.
  • Ensure that your blog uses proper HTML markup, and makes good use of headings, paragraphs, and lists. This will help make the structure of your content clearer, and its navigation more efficient for users of assistive technologies.
  • Provide a link to videos that you embed in your blog posts, as some embedded video players can pose accessibility challenges to some users. If you do embed videos, try to ensure that the player and its controls are as accessible as possible to all users.

Twitter

  • Always put your main content at the beginning of a tweet, and hashtags at the end. This is particularly important for screen reader users.
  • If a tweet contains an image, video, or audio, indicate this at the beginning of the tweet, e.g. with the text “[PIC]”, “[VIDEO]”, or “[AUDIO]”.
  • Make tweets as descriptive as you can so that they provide context. Include a link back to the relevant web page for more comprehensive access.

Resources on social media accessibility