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Why accessible content should be the next big trend

a person with pink hair in a wheelchair on a beach, hands in the air. Text above reads "accessibility is cool"

With reach being one of the key metrics people aim for on social media (I have a whole post on vanity metrics), it surprises me that making content accessible isn’t a higher priority for those same people. Why? Because accessibility directly impacts your reach and engagement. If you put out amazing content which can’t be consumed or understood by a percentage of people, those people can’t engage with it and aren’t going to share it or follow you.

Simply put, if you want to reach the maximum amount of people with your content, everyone needs to be able to consume and engage with it.

What is accessibility?

“Accessibility” refers to anything that makes your content accessible to more people. We’re talking captions / subtitles, image descriptions, content warnings, not using flashing or strobing effects in videos, including line breaks and utilising paragraphs in your text and using fonts which are easy to read.

There are many different types of disability which can affect how people consume content online and working to make what you share accessible to them is both good for business and a nice thing to do for your fellow humans.

Isn’t it hard / expensive / time consuming?

That really depends but it is becoming easier, cheaper and quicker to make your content accessible as technology advances. Ultimately it comes down to where you place value and therefore what you prioritise but if you’re on the fence about accessibility it’s worth noting that there are other benefits in terms of SEO and user experience, among other things.

Here are some of ways you can make your content more accessible.

Subtitles and captions

There are a lot of free auto-captioning tools available now and they are improving in accuracy, but I recommend listening to what deaf activist Rikki Poynter has to say about the issues with auto-captions. I use Rev for my video captions but before I started outsourcing I used YouTube’s auto-captions which I went in and manually edited. Transcripts of your video content are another useful way to make your content more accessible, or you could simply provide a written blog post which includes the same information.

Top tip: create fewer or shorter videos and spend the time you’ve saved editing auto-captions.

Alt text and image descriptions

Many social networks now offer options to add alt-text to your images, some even prompt you to do so. Whether you use the inbuilt options or add an image description to your caption, remember that you don’t need to describe the image in detail. Ensure you provide the key information or objects in the image or describe that parts which relate to the rest of the post.

Top tip: alt-text is also great for SEO.

Formatting and fonts

Sure that swirly font on a busy background looks super cute and is so on brand but can anyone actually read it? From Instagram captions using characters and symbols to create bold, italic or otherwise different fonts, to blog posts which are a wall of text, this is a real issue on the internet.

Try to format your captions and blog posts in a way which provides natural breaks and emphasises key information. Paragraphs, bullet points, bold or italic text, using headings and spacing your text out all makes it much easier to read for everyone, not only disabled people.

Top tip: when using hashtags as part of a caption, ensure they’re #CamelBackHashtags.

Content warnings

There has been a huge backlash against content warnings for reasons I will never understand because their purpose is to prepare people for something and give them the option to avoid it if they want to. They’re also not just for graphic topics; if you’re using strobing or flashing images or GIFs (which are best avoided), add a content warning for that at the start of the video or in a slide before if posting on something like Instagram Stories.

In written media when discussing potentially triggering topics, simply add “CW” or “CN” followed by the topic at the start of a post, for example “CN: violence.” In video you can add content warnings to the title, description and/or in the video itself.

Avoid censoring the topic in the content warning, as in CN: r*pe, as this will cause it to slip through filters that people may have set up to avoid seeing that content, it’s also not helpful for those using screen readers.

Top tip: use Twitter’s thread feature to keep the content itself away from the content warning.

Text and design

In both vocabulary and design, keep it simple. Avoid jargon, unless your demographic is people who will definitely understand it. Keep instructions clear and websites easy to navigate by using things like descriptive page titles and links.

Top tip: hire an accessibility consultant to check out your content and website.

The accessibility tl;dr*

Whether you do it because you want to actively include everyone in your content, to increase your reach or to boost your SEO, making your content accessible is worth the time and effort or money it costs you. Andrea Lausell’s video explains how important this is within creative and art circles and offers a more in depth explanation of some of the things I’ve covered here.

If you haven’t been making your content accessible so far, hopefully you feel more equipped and motivated to change that now. There is always more we can do to make our content more accessible, in writing this post I’ve made changes to my own Instagram 101 course (which includes accessibility tips specifically for Instagram) switching out PDFs for text documents. The key is to keep listening to disabled people and to do better when we know better.

*tl;dr = too long; didn’t read. The key information from the post.