More public safety agencies are using social media to relay information before, during, and after emergencies. While this is a positive change in communication strategy, one topic has been lagging behind in social media technique: accessibility.
As many of us know, providing content to reach those with access and functional needs is EXTREMELY important if we want to protect and help the whole community. On top of the will to reach everyone, it is also a legal issue. There are legal requirements that other official content is accessible, such as press conferences, television content, and website content. With social media being added as a new way to release official information, it is assumed that the legality extends to posts as well. This is especially true if we consider the release of life-safety and life protection calls-to-action that may be primarily pushed on social media. If we are using social media to evacuate residents or do another action of protection, it could be seen as discrimination to not provide this content in an easy-to-access format. Additionally, if government resource or recovery information is not presented in an accessible way, we may be stunting the recovery of those with access and functional needs.
While there hasn’t been a lot of “chit chat” about this issue yet, we are sure to be on the cusp of that discussion as we address other accessibility issues with virtual technology brought on by the pandemic. It’s only a matter of time before government and public safety accounts are held accountable for their poorly accessible content. So while the topic is fresh, why not make the change now so that accounts can aim to serve EVERYONE through social media content. Luckily, many accessibility changes are simple and easy to implement!
1. Alternative Text on Graphics
If you are a social media manager, then you are very familiar with the need for pretty pictures to enhance resident understanding and to also catch their attention. These graphics take a lot of time, and can also have a ton of written information on them. Some of these graphics are designed with instructions on evacuations, shelter locations, or resource locations.
Unfortunately, text on graphics cannot be read by screen readers. A screen reader is a tool that converts the words and content on the screen into audible speech that can be heard. In a sense, a screen reader “reads” the text and content out loud for someone who may be unable to see the screen. This tool is used by those with vision loss. This high tech tool does a great job reading words, but it cannot read words on a graphic file. To get around this, we can write “alternative text” that the screen reader can read out loud instead when it comes across a graphic.
When uploading a graphic, add alt text to the photo. Facebook, Twitter, and Hootsuite all allow for the addition of alt text. When adding the alt text, be sure to include the crucial information that the graphic is trying to convey. Don’t leave out any information that someone with vision may be able to receive from the graphic. When creating graphics, be cognizant of the alt text limit. Facebook and Twitter vary with alt text character limit. It may be better to provide longer and specific information (such as shelter addresses) in the actual post or linked to a website that is accessible.
2. Camel Case Hashtags
While it is October, we are NOT talking about those delicious square caramels you get trick or treating! Camel case is simple capitalizing each new word in a hashtag. An example of camel case would be hash-tagging like this:
rather than this:
#DELICIOUSSQUARECARAMELS or #delicioussquarecaramels.
Screen readers have a hard time distinguishing between the different words when camel case is not used. And to be honest, it’s easier to read the hashtag for those who are not relying on screen readers as well. Also, try to use hashtags towards the end of posts.
3. Video Subtitles and Transcripts
Perhaps one of the most well-known forms of accessible content involve videos with a subtitle option. However, there are still many videos used on official public safety accounts that do not have subtitles. Find a video app that has them already built in for ease. Also, test the app t make sure the subtitle translation is effective. YouTube is another option to ensure closed captioning. Some social media platforms (Facebook) either have an ability to assist with providing captioning or automatically can do it. Most of these are not great or far from development. It may be better to do it yourself. Lastly, if you cannot provide captions (and even just for bonus points), create a transcript on an accessible website and link to it.
4. Official Statements on Website, Not Graphic
During a crisis, you may see organizations or agencies release a lengthy, official statement to the press on the subject. To avoid issues with character limits, many organizations place the entire statement on graphic to post. As we covered in #1, screen readers cannot read graphics! Official statements need to be accessible to everyone.
To deal with this, it is better to post the statement on a website and link to it. The content can be summarized in the post text and a graphic with alt text. You can also thread the entire official statement and include a link.
5. URL Shortener
This tip is more for screen reader convenience. Lengthy URLs are read character by character by a reader, which can be very annoying! To make reading easier on those relying on this tool, it is best to use a link shortener for each link. Also if given an option to make a URL with words (medium.com/EasySocialMediaAccessibility) rather than clutter (medium.com/d634effohof9), opt for the former. It makes consuming the content easier.
6. Emoji Mindfulness
Emojis are fun! I use them in almost every post. However, keep in mind that emojis are read based on their “alt text” description. Twitter allows you to see what the description of each emoji is when you mouse over them before you choose one. Some are quite long, like “Smiling face with mouth open” or “Smiling face savoring food.” If you add 10 of the same emojis, the screen reader will read the description 10 times in a row. Not the most fun to hear. Also, if you use the emoji, but the alt text of the emoji doesn’t match what you are trying to convey, the screen reader listener may miss your message.
Be mindful when choosing emojis. Try to limit amount and know what the alt text of each is. It’s not a bad idea to also use them towards the end.
7. Access and Functional Needs Content and Inclusion
While things are rapidly improving, public safety and government accounts could improve the amount of content shared for those with access and functional needs (AFN). Not only is this content specific content and explanations related to “calls to action” for those with AFN, but it is also including photos and graphics with AFN in them. Those with AFN are a part of our community, and we should include displaying them in our content.
There you have it! Seven easy ways to improve public safety social media content accessibility. They are all fairly easy to implement and can be done with all posts. Do you have any other tips? Share them with me! The push for accessible content is fairly new to me as well, so I am always looking for additional ways to ensure we are communicating to the entire community.
Thanks for reading!
Ashley Morris (@MissAshes92)