Tuesday, 6 November 2018

How to Make Social Media and Blogs Accessible for the Visually Impaired


A pink background, shown from above, with paper clips, a plant and a keyboard
Reading is something most of us take for granted, but if you are visually impaired it can present a challenge. Traditionally, braille, or audio books, have been relied upon, but this can be a problem. Not everyone who is visually impaired can read braille, and not everything you may want to read is available in this format. What if you are visually impaired and just want to browse the internet in a more spontaneous way, without waiting for a more accessible translation to come along? This post explains what we can do to help the visually impaired access social media and blogs.



Thanks to screen readers, the internet has become more accessible for the blind, giving them more of the same instantaneous user experience that the rest of us have become used to in recent years, which is brilliant, but there's a lot more that bloggers, and other internet content providers, can do to help. 

Anyone who posts something publicly online is a content provider, because anyone can read and interact with that post. For example, if you post a photo on Instagram (unless you opt for a private profile), or twitter, or if you make a public post on Facebook, you are providing content for the general public to enjoy, or interact with. A public post on any forum suggests that you want people to see it and be able to interact with it, which includes those who might have trouble physically seeing it, so how can we help make our content more user-friendly for blind and partially sighted people? 

A motorbike parked in a Parent and Child space, in front of a large sign, indicating the purpose of the space.


The first, and possibly most obvious answer lies in pictures. When you post a picture online, a blind person might use their screen reader to find out what the picture is and how it relates to the post. So, if you post on social media a picture of, for example, a motorbike parked in a Parent and Child parking space, with the caption; 'Look at this! How selfish can you get?!' A blind person will be able to read the caption, using their screen reader, and any accompanying comments, but won't have any idea what the selfish act was, or why everyone is angry about it. Can you imagine how frustrating that must be? It's actually pretty easy to put right though. Every time you post a picture on social media that isn't explained in the accompanying post, add a little description, in the same way that Sass has done in this post from her @sassys_blog Instagram feed.




What’s cuter than 1 guide dog? 2 guide dogs!! 🐾 These two are like sisters, so wonderful to watch them play, even if a lot of the time it does involve humping 🀦🏻‍♀️πŸ˜‚ As I mentioned in my @metro.co.uk article when guide dogs are off harness they run riot, play, and act daft like any normal dog does! 😍🐢 Ida had tired poor Olga Out, so she was hiding away upstairs, however the lure of carrot soon found her reappearing so we could snap this cute as cupcakes picture ❤️ Photo description: On the right is Ida and on the left is Olga, two black labs, looking upwards in eager anticipation towards @lucyedwardsofficial who is holding carrot sticks. πŸ˜‚πŸ₯• #idatheguider #BeautifullyBlurred #guidedogs #Rnib #friends #dogsofinstagram #doglife #dogsarefamily #dogsarelife #bestfriend #doglovel #frendship #thinkingoutloud #sassystyle #sassysblog #disabledbutcute #disablity #disablityawareness #disabledbutable #disablityblogger #disabledblogger #disabledyoutubers
A post shared by Sassy Wyatt (@sassys_blog) on

Most social media require you to enter the image description yourself, but Twitter has a brilliant little image description box, where you can add a description that will be read out by a screen reader, but won't be visible on your post, or affect your character count for the post. You can find out how to set it up via this link: How to Make Twitter Images Accessible

Another really interesting fact, that not everyone knows about, is that coloured backgrounds can make text really hard to read. It's a recent feature on Facebook and it's very pretty, but if you have elderly, or partially sighted Facebook friends, they may struggle to see what you've typed if you use a coloured or patterned background. They can make the screen bigger, if they need to, to help them see text, but they can't take away the colours to make it easier to see. Also, flashing images, or backgrounds, can cause big problems for people with sight problems, so are best avoided, unless a warning can be added prior to the post being viewed.

If you are a blogger, there are lots of small changes you can make to allow better accessibility for blind and partially sighted readers. Adding an alternative (alt) text description to your images is vital, as this is what the screen reader reads out. If it's blank, or contains some irrelevant SEO-type blurb, this is very frustrating for the blind person trying to put some context to it. A short, concise description of what is in the picture is the point of the Alt Text box and could read something like this: "A black and white cat sits on the seat of a parked red motorbike, looking defiant." This tells the reader exactly what the image is, and gives context to it, instead of having to ask someone else what is in the picture, or be left wondering.


A black and white cat sits on the seat of a parked red motorbike, looking defiant

Another way to help improve accessibility for your blog is to make sure you use percentage-based font sizes, as opposed to those expressed in pixels. This ensures that readers can adjust the size of the text if required. Also, don't make a link open in a new window. This is often a tick box when you add a link to a post, but by leaving it unticked, it is much less confusing for blind users, as a screen reader won't always tell them a new window has been opened. 

There are other, more technical ways to help improve your blog's accessibility and I have found a really useful article that explains a bit more about it, from the American Association for the Blind. If you know anyone who is blind, or partially sighted and you think they might benefit from using the internet, there is lots of information on the RNIB website, including this article; Beginner's Guide to Assistive Technology. Personally, I can't imagine how hard it must be for people with sight problems to access the instant media that we all take for granted, and if we can make it even a little bit easier, with just a few small changes, that's a great start. With thanks to Sassy, from Thinking Out Loud for her help in creating this post. 

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6 comments

  1. These are all great tips and I've even learned something new with the Twitter description option. I'm going yo look into that. And I must get better with my alt text on images.

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  2. Such fantastic advice. Thank you so much for sharing. I will be making some changes to my blog posts now.

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  3. I do use alt text in images but I will be honest and say I had never even thought about social media. Some great tips x

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  4. You know this is great. Anyone at any time can have sight issues, so anything that makes blogs more inclusive is a great idea xx

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  5. Some fab tips, I have to admit it’s not something I had considered before although I do always rename my photos

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  6. This was a very interesting read. I must admit, I hadn't given much thought to this topic before reading this post but I will definitely be looking into it further now.

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