Social Media for the Visually Impaired

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Businesswoman holding a smartphone with a blank smartphone screen. The focus is on the smartphone, and the rest of the image is blurred.

A businesswoman holding a smartphone with a blank smartphone screen. The focus is on the smartphone, and the rest of the image is blurred.

It seems like the whole world is on social media, but what about people with visual disabilities? Do people with blindness, low vision, and other visual disabilities use social media? Yes! Screen readers and other accessible technology have made it easier than ever for people with visual disabilities to like, comment, share, and create content on social media.

close-up of an iPhone with social media apps on the screen

A close-up of an iPhone with the words “good to know” and social media apps on the screen.

According to a Facebook accessibility research report from 2016, “people with visual impairments comment and like photos [on Facebook] as often as people who did not [have a visual disability].” But the largely visual nature of social media—which is filled with videos, photos, memes, GIFs and those clever little emoji icons—does present unique challenges for people with visual disabilities.

This is where you come in.

Should your company (and you as an individual) worry about making social media more accessible? Yes, again! Customers now expect to engage with brands on social media for marketing and customer service. Inaccessible content on social media is a barrier to equal communication access for your customers with visual disabilities. 

This isn’t only about best practices. It’s also the law. Social media falls under Section 508 of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 for government agencies, and even non-government entities need to  make their social media comply with ADA standards of equal accessibility. Not only will this keep you in compliance with  accessibility guidelines,  it will also ensure that you are including all of your customers equally.

map of the city with a pushpin marking the company's new location

A map of the city with a pushpin marking the company’s new home.

Make photos on social media accessible.

Imagine posting a picture of your company’s newest location, only to discover many of your customers couldn’t view it. This is what happens when a person with a visual disability interacts with a photo that doesn’t have descriptive text included in the post.

Sighted social media users have become familiar with post text that introduces an image, but does not explain it. This doesn’t work for people with visual disabilities. Their screen readers cannot interpret an image.

To make photos of accessible for screen readers, always include a caption in the post text. Be sure to mention the names of people tagged, the location, and any other important details in the photo.

Transcribe memes and GIFs.

If you’re not quite sure what a “meme” or “GIF” is, don’t worry. A meme is simply an image, with text overlaid, that is widely shared on social media. They’re often humorous in nature. GIF stands for Graphics Interchange Format, and it’s a small clip of video that auto-loops.

You’ve probably experienced both in your personal social media feeds. They dominate conversations in social media, and are so commonplace that both Twitter and Facebook have a GIF option built right into the platform.


Caption: Here’s a GIF that replicates the vision of a person with glaucoma. It is a picture of the famous London Eye. The Eye is clear, but the details all around it are fuzzy. 

For people with visual disabilities, memes and GIFs are often missing from their social media feeds. That’s because screen readers view memes and GIFs as images and cannot read the copy included in the image. Similar to a traditional photo, you can make memes and GIFs accessible for your customers by adding a caption in the text.

Remember that screen readers translate emojis literally.

Unlike photos, GIFs, and memes, screen readers can read the little icons that seem to pop up everywhere in social media. (They even show up in emails now.) But, technology has not caught up with culture yet, and screen readers provide literal translations of emojis. This means that a Facebook post such as, “Is it Friday yet? ? ? ? “ will read “Is it Friday yet [face with tears of joy] [face with tears of joy] [face with tears of joy].”

pile of blue signs with the word "#hashtags" written on them

A pile of multiple blue signs with the word “#hashtags” written on them.

It’s clear that emojis lose some of their whimsical nature in the translation. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use them, but be aware of how many you use and how often. Doing so will give your customers with visual disabilities ? [grinning face].

Fortunately, social media platforms are working to be more accessible.

Many social media companies are working to make their visual content more accessible. For example, Facebook plans to roll out AI-powered automatic alt-text to all screen readers. Twitter already has AI-captioning for images, however, it is up to the individual user sharing the content to turn on this setting.

Hashtags on Tumblr help people with visual disabilities. If content is tagged with #captioned or #uncaptioned, a user with blindness or other visual disability can simply click on the hashtag and interact with all of the captioned content. They can alternatively filter out all uncaptioned content.

Do your part to make  social media more accessible.

Limiting emojis, adding captions and the #caption hashtag are simple ways to make your social media more accessible. Here are a few more things you can do:

  • List alternative means of contact, such as your phone number of a Contact Us link, on your social media platforms.
  • Add hashtags and mentions (@example), at the end of a post. This makes your content read clearly for screen readers.
  • Avoid overuse of acronyms, abbreviations and “text message” language unless it’s very common, such as LOL
  • If you’re linking to a PDF document, make sure it is 508 compliant.

Social media is used by the majority of the world, and it’s only getting more popular. Make sure you’re including all of your customers in your company’s social media by making it accessible.
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This post was written by Braille Works

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