One in five Canadians and one in four Americans have a disability. A disability isn’t always negative, but our environments make it challenging for everyone to enjoy the same resources. This week is National Accessibility Week (May 30-Jue 5, 2021) so I’m using this space to help the small business community make your online marketing accessible because I know this is something many of us haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about. However, a recent study by IPG Media Brands found social media are the most difficult platforms for many people with disabilities.
In our physical environment, good businesses make their space easy to reach even if you see, move, hear, think, or learn differently. Parking spots are reserved close to the buildings. Malls include both steps and elevators. Wheelchair ramps are a must.
As the world moves online, you can also make your digital spaces more welcoming. Inaccessible digital content is not only demoralizing to people with disabilities, it excludes close to a quarter of your audience. As you grow your brand online, it’s vital to make your content easy to enjoy. Not only will you improve your reach, but you’ll help create a world that’s more accessible and a little friendlier for everyone.
I’m certainly not perfect in doing these things myself, but I am trying to create new, better routines to include these things on a regular basis. Here are a few easy steps you can take to make your online marketing accessible:
Make your social media accessible.
Most of the world is on social media, so make sure everyone can enjoy your content. On Twitter and Instagram, add alt text to your photos. TikTok and Instagram released auto-captions in April of 2021. This feature automatically adds captions to your videos. You can edit them for accuracy after. YouTube and Facebook also automatically add captions to videos. Consider adding image descriptions in the captions to Facebook photos.
Add alt text to all your images.
Alt text refers to a typed description of an image. Web hosts have a special section to add this hidden description.
Many people use screen readers, which read written text out loud. When the screen reader reaches an image, it will read out the alt text. No alt text? The screen reader will likely just say, “Image,” making the content of that picture completely inaccessible.
When you write alt text, keep it simple. Describe the main components. If you described the image to someone over the phone, what would you say? Around 125 characters is often enough. Installing a plugin such as Yoast SEO can help you remember to do this.
Search engines prioritize websites that include alt text in images, so alt text is also phenomenal for SEO.
Reconsider your emoji placement.
Integrate emojis so they flow well on a screen reader. When used carelessly, emojis make text irritating or burdensome to people who use screen readers. For example, text full of emojis might read, “We love our new style stuck-out tongue face sparkle sparkle sunglasses face sparkle sparkle.”
- Add emojis at the end of sentences (instead of in the middle) so they don’t interrupt the message.
- Avoid using emojis as bullet points. (See photo right. I avoid this now.)
- Avoid repeating a single emoji. If you’ve ever used a screen reader, you probably stopped listening after a string of emojis.
- Place your call-to-action and your most vital info before emojis. You want people with a screen reader to hear your most important text.
Use person-first language in your copy.
Person-first language emphasizes the individuality and dignity of people with disabilities. It introduces the person, then notes the impairment or medical issue. For example, rather than saying “epileptic,” switch your language to “person with epilepsy.” Instead of saying, “a schizophrenic adult,” or, worse, “a schizophrenic,” opt for “an adult with schizophrenia.”
In addition, replace negative language with neutral language. For example, switch “a person who suffers from a hearing impairment” to “a person with a hearing impairment.” It’s up to the individual to decide if their disability is truly negative. Words such as nuts, crazy, crippled, lame, insane or deformed should be purged completely from your copy. And let’s not forget the R-word, a particularly offensive word in my books. If the word might be used as an insult, delete it.
Not all individuals or communities embrace person-first language. Some groups in the autism community, for example, feel that autism is not a disability but a part of their identity. “Autistic person” is sometimes preferred to “person with autism.” (You can read Lydia Brown’s discussion of the debate on Autistic Self Advocacy Network here .)
In general, we recommend defaulting to person-first language, but educate yourself. If you’re writing extensively about a community, consult reliable sources in the community. Alex Kronstein is one example you should follow in the autistic community. If your content includes interviews with or stories about individuals, ask them. Allow the people in your content to define their language. Their preference is more important than any guideline.
Add transcriptions to audio content.
When you post audio content, make a transcription available. Transcriptions make it easy for people with auditory or visual disabilities to enjoy your work.
Use CamelCase for your hashtags
This is perhaps the easiest thing to do from this entire list. Whenever you use a hashtag consisting of more than one word be sure to write it in CamelCase or capitalize the first letter of each word. This helps screen readers properly decipher longer hashtags and read them out as intended. Need examples of how this could go wrong?
- SusanAlbumParty vs. SusAnalBumParty
- NowThatchersDead vs. NowThatChersDead
- NBAContracts vs. NBaconTracts (apparently this is a problem?)
Similar to emoji use, you’ll also want to keep your hashtags to the end of your updates and not intertwined in the main text.
Add an accessibility plugin to your website.
A quick Google search for accessibility tools will show you a wide range of things you can use to improve your marketing graphics, copywriting, podcast and website. Some tools will be easier to implement than others, but if I can make one suggestion for your website it would be to add the EqualWeb plugin (or an equivalent if you’re not using WordPress).
You may have noticed a new icon in the bottom left corner of this site if you’re visiting on a laptop. This is the EqualWeb widget. Open it up. Check it out. See the accessibility features you could be offering on your own website. I’ll admit I just added this plugin today while writing this article, and I’m excited to share it with you because they have a free version. That means if you have a WordPress website, there’s really no excuse to not have these accessibility features available now. It took me less than five minutes to set it up.
If you haven’t started making your content more accessible, you might feel overwhelmed. A fully accessible online presence might seem out-of-reach. Remember baby steps are better than nothing. Consider your first steps: add EqualWeb to your website, include alt text captions on your website photos and social media posts starting today. Spend a few minutes practicing person-first language so it feels natural.
Marketers love to talk about engagement, reach, and views. When you make your online marketing accessible, you not only improve these metrics, but you include everyone in the conversation.