How to make social media accessible to disabled people

Making social media more inclusive is easier than you think. Small changes can make a big difference for blind and/or deaf people interacting with your posts!

In this quick 5-step guide, we’ll help you understand how people with visual or hearing impairments use social media, and what you can do so that your posts are accessible.

How do blind or deaf people access social media?

Disabled people will often use tools to interact with social media. Getting a good idea of how these solutions work will help you understand how to approach social media from an inclusive angle. Some of the most commonly used are:

  • Screen reader software: also known as text-to-speech, these programmes read web pages out loud, from text to emojis and images with descriptive text.
  • Braille displays: like a screen reader software, these tools take what’s on a web page, and display it on a piece of equipment that uses tiny retractable dots to display braille. Braille displays are vital communication tools for those with multi-sensory impairments, like people who are deafblind.
  • Magnifying tools: these help people who are partially sighted by blowing up text and images.

5 simple steps for accessible social media

  1. Alt-text
  2. Subtitles
  3. Voice description
  4. CamelCase hashtags
  5. Use emojis sensibly

Step 1: Alt-text

Descriptive text is what text-to-speech or text-to-braille software will read to describe images on social media. It will help the person paint a mental picture of the image you posted. You don’t have to go into a lot of detail – just pick a few key messages.

Most platforms will have an accessibility settings tab when posting, where you can enter your alt text. You can also simply type it at the end of your caption!

Step 2: Subtitles

Captions are essential for people who are deaf or hard of hearing to be able to watch your videos. They’re also extremely helpful to people with learning disabilities and sensory processing disorders.

Many in-app video editors allow you to add text to your videos, and you can also download additional apps to do so (search “closed captions” on Google Play store or Apple store).

Not only will it make your videos more accessible, but also more engaging to those using their mobile with the sound turned off – which is up to 80% of users, according to social media platform insights!

Step 3: Voice descriptions

Consider producing a version of your video where you describe what’s seen on the screen. A quick test for this is to play the video with your eyes closed. Have you missed something because you couldn’t see? Then you might want to consider narrating.

You can also add a descriptive transcript, a text that can be read by a screen reader or screen-to-braille device.

Step 4: CamelCase hashtags

Capitalising the first letter of each word in a hashtag will help screen reading software detect multiple words. This is known as CamelCase. If not capitalised, words in a hashtag are read as if they were one long word!

For example, instead of saying #accessiblesocialmedia, use #AccessibleSocialMedia

Step 5: Use emojis sensibly

Text-to-speech software reads all elements of a web page or social media post – including emojis! Avoid long strings of emojis, or alternating each word with an emoji, to make the experience more accessible to people with visual impairments.

For the same reason, avoid emoticons (little pictures constructed using text characters, e.g.: ʕ•́ᴥ•̀ʔ).

Fancy text characters you wouldn’t find on a normal keyboard (like this 𝔢𝔵𝔞𝔪𝔭𝔩𝔢) are not simply a different font – they are scientific symbols that are used to mimic unusual text. To make your posts accessible, you should avoid using these online “fancy text generators” and use your normal keyboard instead.

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Being born blind meant braille was a life saver growing up in the 90’s

A man and woman walk arm in arm through a large hall. The man has a white cane and is wearing a cochlear implant

The amount of braille based devices on offer was the one thing that really stood out to me when I attended last year’s Sight Village assistive technology show.

As Sense’s Technology Officer, it got me thinking back to my own relationship with braille over the years, and why I think that even in a world where there’s so much assistive technology, braille – certainly for me – has been incredibly important.

Continue reading “Being born blind meant braille was a life saver growing up in the 90’s”

Can broadcast live subtitling be improved?

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For deaf people, accurate live subtitling can allow full engagement with the visual content. That’s why, as a deaf person, and a Sense Digital Champion, I was particularly interested to learn more about the development of subtitling technologies at a recent Ofcom round-table event, feeding back on the quality of broadcast live subtitles.

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As more of our lives happen online, how do people with sensory impairments stay connected?

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The internet is playing an increasingly important role in our everyday lives; we use it to talk to family and friends, search for jobs, navigate the streets, pay bills and buy Christmas gifts. But for many people with sensory impairments, accessing the internet and using new technologies can present huge challenges.

Online Today, a Big Lottery funded project, supports people who have sensory loss to get online. It explores how participants can develop independence through the use of technology and the internet- for example, gaining assistance from specialist accessibility apps to identify household products or navigate to a particular destination. At Sense, the internet plays an important role in helping individuals in Sense accommodation to stay in touch with family and friends.

Continue reading “As more of our lives happen online, how do people with sensory impairments stay connected?”

What questions do six year olds have for deafblind people?

A seated man with a group of students, seated on the floor
Steven Morris with the Year 2 students

Last month, I went back to school… well for an afternoon at least!

Over the last few years, I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to one of my local primary schools, Chepping View Primary Academy in High Wycombe – where my wife works – to talk about living with a sensory impairment.

My visits have helped the children to understand more about the work Sense does, and the people it supports. As a result, the school council decided to run ‘Sense cinema day’ just before Christmas, raising more than £800 for the charity.

Each year, I speak to the Year 2 children about braille, certain technology that I use, and then I brave their questions!

Continue reading “What questions do six year olds have for deafblind people?”

How accessible and useful is the Amazon Echo?

Two men seated by a table with a black cylundrical device
Tony Lodge and Steven Morris with Tony’s Amazon Echo

You may have heard about Amazon’s Echo, a hands-free, voice controlled device that uses Alexa (Amazon’s version of Siri, a talking digital assistant) to perform various tasks such as play music, control ‘smart’ home devices, read the news, set alarms, add items to shopping lists and more.

I met up with Sense member Tony Lodge to learn more about using the Echo and how it might be of help and accessible to disabled people. Tony brought one with him and we and put it through its paces.

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Pairing a landline phone to my hearing aids

A man holding a landline cordless phone
A DECT phone being discussed at a Sense technology training day

As a user of hearing aids, my latest technology experiment has been to hook up a new Bluetooth cordless DECT (Digital Enhanced Cordless Technology) home phone to my Oticon Streamer Pro – this is a Bluetooth streamer allowing the sound to be transmitted directly to my hearing aid.

I have always used an ordinary cordless DECT handset and have sometimes struggled to hear the person on the other end of the phone line clearly. In the past I’ve resorted to plugging in wired headphones with a boom microphone connected to the handset. However, even this was prone to problems with quiet connections, and I couldn’t increase the volume level any further.

This is why this new setup, using the Bluetooth wireless technology is so brilliant. Not only in removing those pesky wires, but it also has the ability to increase the volume level. Even better, I can turn off my hearing aids’ own microphone to cut out all background noise and boost the clarity of the incoming call. This means that I can now have a complete hands-free operation and have perfect clarity of sound of whoever is talking to me.

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Cochlear implants six months in – There have been no eureka moments, but I’m told I’m doing well

Steve with his guide dog Kasper
Steve with his guide dog Kasper

In November last year I wrote about my first experience with cochlear implants. I have now had my cochlear implants for six months and it’s official: I can hear better now than I could prior to implants.

At least that’s the result of the tests from a few weeks ago, where I had to retake the tests. I was tested with very low sounds to see exactly what I could hear and random sentences to see how much I understood. Finally I could make out individual words. The results showed a marked improvement over what I was hearing a year or so ago.

When I last wrote four months ago, I was hopeful that things were going to get better. While they have, there have been no eureka moments, it’s more a case of suddenly realising that I am doing something I haven’t done before.

Continue reading “Cochlear implants six months in – There have been no eureka moments, but I’m told I’m doing well”

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Hands holding a smartphoneHello my name is Sarah Leadbetter and I’m one of Sense’s Digital Champions, which is part of the Online Today project. I started to run a tech group in Leicestershire for people with sight loss and other disabilities, to discuss and support using accessible technology.

I’m partially sighted myself, and I wanted a group to discuss different types of technology, for example, what apps are good to use with voice on my smartphone.

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How accessible are Apple’s devices for people who are deafblind?

Steven with a man who is discussing an iPad
Steven discussing his iPad at a Sense technology workshop

For many people who are deafblind, smartphones and tablets can offer a lot in terms of accessibility features. Whether it’s a screen reader like Voiceover on an Apple iPhone, or an iPad or Talkback on Android models, it’s great to see that manufacturers are considering accessibility at the heart of what they do.

That said, the vast array of features can be bewildering. As an Apple user, I make use of several online resources to help me get the best from my devices.

Continue reading “How accessible are Apple’s devices for people who are deafblind?”